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Style Reflections: ii. Changing Body Size and Fashion

  • According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975. In 2016, 39% of adults were overweight and 13% were obese. Overweight is defined as a BMI over 25; obesity as a BMI over 30. Overweight now affects the health of the population more than underweight in all areas of the world, except some parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

  • Clothing manufacturers have responded to the demand for larger clothes with plus-size ranges and brands now widely available. A study in Sage Clothing and Textile Research Journal - 'Body Mass Index and Body Satisfaction. Does Availability of Well-Fitting Clothes Matter?' (Grogan, Gill, Brownbridge et al, 2020) found that body satisfaction across a wide age range of women (18-81 years) decreased the higher the BMI, but this was partially mediated by the availability of a range of well-fitting clothing. The study also found that lack of availability of larger-sized clothing, particularly in shops, led to feelings of shame and stigmatization.

  • Research from the 'The UK Plus-Size Clothing Market Review' (2017) shows that the plus-size market is now about 36% of the UK fashion market for women. Obesity in the UK is associated with age (age 55-64 have the highest levels) and income (low but not the lowest have the highest levels). Plus-size purchasing decisions are driven mainly by value-for-money and online availability.

  • The USA currently has the largest plus-size clothing market in the world, with increased demand forecasts set high for UK, China, Italy, Germany, France, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and many other countries.

  • The study also found that increased body confidence in plus-size consumers increased sales and that this was positively affected by plus-size influencers with large followings. However, the issue of body confidence is a contested area.

Plus Size Models modelling Jeans and T-Shirts

  • Out of the 'Fat Acceptance' movement of the 1960s, the 'Body Positivity' movement emerged, focusing on 'Fitness for All' in the 1990s. It gained traction as a response to social media culture in the 2010s, with Instagram and everyday exposure to extreme or unrealistic beauty standards. Body Positivity seeks to challenge present-day beauty standards as an undesirable social construct, believing us all to be placed in a power and desirability hierarchy. Many fashion and beauty brands now use a range of differently-sized models that reflect Body Positivity ideals.

  • Body Positivity aims to increase body satisfaction and reduce related mental health issues, such as depression, body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. However, it has also faced criticism for celebrating an obese appearance and not acknowledging that obesity is a primary factor associated with diabetes, hypertension and infertility. Some feminists have also criticised the movement, as well as social media culture, for putting too much emphasis on appearance and its connection to self-worth.

  • 'Toxic Body Positivity' is the label given to an overemphasis on Body Positivity with the consequences of denying negative feelings about oneself or failing to achieve positive feelings, which could threaten to undermine a person's subjective reality - how they feel about themselves.

  • In conclusion, obesity is now a worldwide health concern, which negatively affects body satisfaction and is associated with mental health concerns. A wide range of fashionable and well-fitting clothes for people of all sizes helps to mediate negative body satisfaction. The fashion industry has responded to changing body size and demand for plus-size clothing, particularly for value-for-money garments and online availability. The Body Positivity movement aims to de-stigmatise being overweight and reduce associated mental health issues, but could also enforce manufactured positive feelings about one's body image.

  • My Style ID system works for all shapes and sizes and I encourage body confidence and self-worth in all my clients. Please consult a medical practitioner if you feel you need help with any of the above issues.


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