Model Myla DalBesio published an essay for the October issue of Suited Magazine where she catalogued the history of her body as well as the criticisms she’s received throughout her career. Many of the criticisms circulate around DalBesio’s weight; she falls into the fashion no-go zone between plus size and size zero. “You would be more beautiful if there were more fat on your stomach,” she writes. “…Or less. Or less in your thick, thick thighs, and more in your lips. They tell you all of that, that’s what being beautiful is.”
Her piece highlights the strange world of extremes operating in fashion advertising. The average American woman is a size 12, but most models are size zeros. Professional plus size models are typically a size 8, yet plus size clothing begins at size 16. Massive retail chains don’t stock plus-sized clothing. We know there’s an industry-wide lack of racial diversity, too. Rather than embracing the reality that women are all different shapes, sizes and colors, the industry remains operating within a world of constraints where only a few types of women’s bodies are represented.
Here’s the thing: we have power as consumers to change the way brands market their products to us and the models they choose. We buy these clothes! Our demand could change the supply.
But is our demand really there? Do we really want to see all types of bodies — our bodies — on billboards and runways?
This is a squishy, uncomfortable question, because the gut answer is of course, yes. Yes! But the reality is more complicated. We know that beauty isn’t defined by one weight or one look. We remind our friends and younger siblings that we don’t have to look like models, that beauty comes from within. Mothers have been saying it for years.
Yet, at least for me, all those good intentions somehow don’t stop me from being critical of myself for not looking like a Victoria’s Secret Model. It doesn’t stop me from shopping at stores that don’t carry anything above a size 10 in protest, and worst of all, it doesn’t stop me from privately picking apart other women for being too thin or too fat — or too in-between.
I’m going to choose to believe this behavior is a product of our environment. It’s hard to change your way of thinking and start calling yourself and others beautiful when there’s a whole industry selling you a different, limited ideal. But I think it’s important to try. If we create enough demand, brands will have to create accessible clothing for all sizes of women, advertised and worn by all sizes of women.
S0, great! Now…how do you change a thought process? To be honest, I’m not totally sure. But I have been trying to tell myself to shut up a lot when I start thinking negatively about my body or begin judging some girl in a too-tight dress. No more talking about how thin some celebrity is just to make conversation, or stalking models out of jealousy on Instagram. I’m trying to pay attention to how different clothing lines market their product— like Lane Bryant’s #I’mNoAngel Campaign — and support those I respect with my meager spending money.
These may seem like baby steps, but they’re baby steps in the right direction. Maybe they’ll lead us to a day where this is the norm: We open a magazine. There’s a denim ad inside, and it features jeans we want to buy not because we aspire to someday look like the models wearing them, but because these women already look like us. And our butts look damn good in those jeans.
Collage by Krista Anna Lewis; artworks by Picasso, Mickalene Thomas, Boticceli, and Davinci.