How online body positivity is changing the fashion industry

28 March 2019

Photograph: Pixabay

“It’s toxic to live in a world where the number on your clothes can have such a huge impact on self esteem”, says Ly H. Kerr, blogger and freelance writer. These words reflect the frustration a lot of women and men, including myself, feel when it comes to buying clothes in-store and online.

So, when did numbers become so crucial in dictating the way we feel about our bodies?

It all started with a tweet by a Scottish teenager back in February of this year. Chloe Martin posted an image of five pairs of jeans piled on top of each other with the caption: “incase you’ve ever wondered why women get so frustrated with our clothing sizes – every pair of jeans pictured, is a size 12.”

Photograph: Chloe Martin

The jeans in the photograph all look completely different, which is what sparked the discussion.

And she was not alone in her frustration: with over 300k likes, 102k retweets and more than one thousand comments, the tweet went viral, and as a result, was picked up in a range of women’s magazines.

Speaking to The Glasgow Sloth, Martin said: “I’m surprised that a tweet about jeans could reach so many people, but honestly, I feel like women are so sick of being made to feel larger than they are because clothing stores sizes are terrible.”

In the comments, people have been sharing their experiences of clothing sizes and have acknowledged that buying jeans is one of the most exasperating moments when shopping.

Lindsay Dickinson remarked: “I remember years ago a friend and I bought the same trousers from a clothing store in the same size.”

“Mine were too big and hers were too small so we swapped. Ridiculous. I just want to go shopping and not take the same item to try on in 3 different sizes.”

Another woman added: “(A high-street clothing store) also made me cry as a 31-year-old woman, I can’t imagine dealing with that as a teenager.”

What is surprising is not the fact that the jeans in the 18-year-old’s picture are all different, but rather how this sentiment is echoed by a number of women. Buying clothes seems to affect women and men’s self-esteem a lot more than previously thought.

When I asked Martin how she felt about clothing sizes and how it affects women’s self-esteem, she said: “I think clothing sizes do affect a person’s self-esteem. Especially for vulnerable people, it can be really damaging if they’re having to go two sizes up in one store just to fit into a pair of jeans they like.”

A recent study conducted by YMCA, a youth charity based in England, Wales and Scotland on body image and mental health found that 34% of teenage boys and 49% of teenage girls “had been on a diet in an effort to change their body shape.”  Until recently, this was thought to have mainly affected young girls, but research shows that it is an issue faced by young people regardless of gender.

It further concluded that 52% of 11 to 16-year-olds “worry about how they look”, and 30% “isolate themselves from certain activities because of body image anxiety.” Only 48% of teenagers “had learned about body confidence/positivity in school.”

Infographic: Ana Lorang

These numbers show that body image and self-esteem are interconnected and that more steps must be taken to ensure that teenagers and vulnerable people are being supported in learning to accept themselves and their bodies. Worrying about clothing sizes should be the least of young people’s worries.

Kerr, a blogger and freelance writer from Glasgow, created her blog in an attempt to talk about mental health, body positivity and social justice, “all with a feminist slant.” She encourages people to be more loving of their bodies and describes herself as a “35-year-old fat woman who is learning to love her body.”

On her blog, the writer gives her readers a personal insight into her world, thoughts and struggles. She openly admits that she “spends way too much time in her jammies”, and that she wasn’t always comfortable with the way she looked. The blogger previously struggled with mental health, self-harm and weight issues.

Photograph: Ly H. Kerr

When I asked her what she made of Chloe Martin’s tweet and how that relates to self-esteem issues, she replied: “I think this is frustrating and undoubtedly makes people question their bodies.

“The bigger problem is the importance society puts on what size your jeans are in the first place. Oh and the fact that most of the brands she showed probably don’t even do my size in the first place.

“I’m more concerned about all the bodies that aren’t represented at all. Plus the fact that so many people are so worried about having to buy the next size up. It’s toxic to live in a world where the number on your clothes can have such a huge impact on self-esteem.”

In recent attempts to promote different body types, a range of high-street fashion brands have been launching “plus-size fashion campaigns” and hiring models that are mostly between sizes 16 to 24.

Kerr was optimistic about this, saying: “I think plus size fashion is improving. There are more options. Cooler, more affordable options are available. But still mostly online and mostly only for smaller fat sizes.

“So, ultimately yes. Fashion is still mostly for and about slim people.”

She added: “I think it’s a step in the right direction. I also think they (fashion brands), mostly hire hourglass, size 18-20 white women. We are nowhere near radical representation.”

In an attempt to promote self-love and body positivity, the blogger shares posts of clothes that make her feel good about herself. For Kerr, blogging is a way to express herself and share her experiences with others.

She said: “I got into blogging via the online plus size community. I have always written in one form or another and it seemed like a good way to explore body positivity. I spent years hating my body and discovering the bopo community changed my life.

“Absorbing the content and images of other fat women helped me accept my own body as it was. Photographing and writing about my body strengthened that acceptance.”

The body positivity movement firmly believes that all human beings should have a positive body image and challenges the way that society promotes unrealistic beauty standards. The movement wants representation of all bodies, because all bodies are beautiful.

In starting her own body positivity project, Kerr wanted to “give people who live in marginalised bodies an opportunity to embrace self love.”

She said: “I have experienced how amazing it feels to be confident in the body you live in, I want others to feel the same.”

Non-profit organisation oPeration BoPo is all about spreading self-love in a world that continuously tells women and men to improve or change the way they look. It aims to “organise accessible body positivity events.”

In 2016, its first event involved an exhibition of photographs and artwork of diverse bodies. More events are currently in the works.

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