On Saturday Dec. 1, an army of beautiful, full-figured women, femmes and men descended upon New York City’s Times Square with their confidence and their bodies on display. One by one, they stripped down to their lingerie, balking at both the chilly temperatures and the traditional beauty standards so often placed upon them by a society that still rejects their bodies. “The Real Catwalk” fashion show, organized by ANTM runner up KhrystyAna and in partnership with the Full Beauty house of brands, was a moment of defiance and celebration — that part was undeniable. But even as their smiles were the definition of unbothered, the show was one of many recent displays of plus size women without their clothes, an increasingly popular trend for fashion brands. And it begs the question — can plus size bodies only be recognized and celebrated when they take their clothes off?
Like all companies in this age of changing digital algorithms, so too must plus size fashion brands have their “viral” moments for the sake of good business.
As noted fashion writer Robin Givhan wrote in a recent article about plus size advertising, the mainstream fashion industry “has politicized, weaponized and fetishized fat.” In that environment, it makes sense that high profile plus fashion influencers KhrystyAna and top brands like Lane Bryant, Torrid, Simply Be, and Full Beauty have all made attempts to take back control of that conversation in defense of their fanbase and customers. As Givhan suggests, fashion never needed to be the political game that it is. Clothes have always had an unspoken, obvious rule — they should fit the person who wears them. But in a society that consistently dismisses fat bodies, the act of making fashion to fit them has become an act of defiance.
“No one should feel restricted in their clothing because of their size,” KhrystyAna said of her event and collaboration with Full Beauty. “Everyone should feel beautiful in their skin and in their clothes.”
In that same vein, so too has showing ads featuring plus size bodies in natural settings become a welcome part of the revolution.
After all, fat people fall in love, have sex, have families, exercise, swim and do countless other things that the media has so often failed to show in a positive light. When I asked the team at Full Beauty why they thought so many plus size influencers were now turning to nudity to publicly embrace their bodies, they said:
“It’s less that nudity is “needed” for acceptance, and more that by redefining societal beauty, all bodies have the right to be praised and seen.”
Similarly, plus size model Tara Lynn, who was recently named one of Sports Illustrated’s Class of 2018, said that posing nude throughout her career has always felt “natural” and that she was proud to help people feel validated.
“Helping people love and accept their bodies is the most important part of what I get to do in my job,” she said.
It can’t be overstated that the plus size body remains a marginalized one, and attempts to change that should be praised.
And yet, marginalization in American history has consistently walked hand in hand with hyper-sexualization. This is especially true for women of color, whose work in the body positivity movement has been the unrecognized foundation on which we have been able to make strides toward acceptance. It is in this environment that we must never stop asking how much power we actually have if we are only being noticed when we take our clothes off.
To further explore this, I turned to my social media following to have them share their opinions with me.
In response to me asking whether or not there was too much nudity in plus size fashion marketing, I received the following:
At one time, nudity, using Plus bodies, was to empower women to genuinely love the actual skin they’re in. To not just become comfortable with their bodies, but to explore it. To know what their nude rolls look like when used as images of power. However, now it is nothing more than a shock value tactic – @fortheloveoflily
There’s been nudity in high-fashion/art 4ever. But +fashion is using it for gimmicks, not art – @judy_w
Yes, why must confidence be associated with how little I wear in public. – @tuffaz_shellz
It’s like they’re saying the only way to body positivity is nudity – @im_alicia
It’s past the point of saying I am proud of my body or normalizing +size bodies in society, it’s to an extent (and possibly only to me), making it seem like my body is only worthwhile when nude or nearly nude. – @piquepaula_xx
While a few women responded with answers like “no way” (@carlaaa_barla) or “no, not at all” (@iampamelarenne), the overwhelming sentiment was that too much nudity had indeed become an issue.
Similarly, when I polled my followers to ask whether they have ever felt pressure to take their clothes off on social media, more than 60 percent of respondents said yes.
Taking it one step further, when I asked if they believed other influencers were feeling compelled to take off their clothes to increase their numbers, an overwhelming 85% said yes.
Even an arbitrary search of the hashtag #plussizefashion turns up dozens of shots of scantily-clad women. Many influencers with more than 100K fans have feeds dominated by shots of themselves in bathing suits and lingerie. While it’s hardly fair to make the leap that this is the reason for their numbers, nor should they be criticized for their empowered celebrations of their bodies, we can’t ignore what that means for those who choose not to strip down on their feeds. For more “conservative” plus size fashionistas, who also put in countless hours of work and research to craft their looks, but choose not to post lingerie or nudity, it can sometimes feel as if they’re the ones left behind by the very industry they are trying to uplift.
To evolve, our industry must find the balance between a celebration of plus size bodies and the designs that are meant to clothe them.
As the Full Beauty team notes, body positivity and inclusivity in fashion go “hand in hand; one cannot grow and develop without the other.” But if plus size consumers are ever to truly take back their power, it will be critical for us to know how to do it in both our power suits and our birthday suits.
A news-junkie with a passion for style and entertainment, Allison McGevna has been working in digital media for more than a decade with a specialty in fashion, film and television. She has worked across multiple platforms and has experience in several roles, including a writer, producer, host, and style architect for major brands and personalities. More…