DISRUPTING THE STATUS QUO
The fashion industry has long run an ill fated discourse of excluding a mass of its prospective audience from its consumption – people with larger and diverse body types. Gripped by and in many discriminative and cultural practices, the normative fashion system has affected scores of us, objectifying and reducing us to little more than our bodies. As we at IKKIVI work to create changes around the politics of dress and the body, we spoke with six women from all over the world who are challenging the fashion business in influential ways and trailblazing powerful conversations on the subject, showcasing the urgency to look into contemporary models and issues that impact us at grassroot levels.
I am 25 and I have only been fat for around 4 years. It’s funny to think that the experience I have in shopping as a plus size person is much better than it would have been in the past since it is so bad! I presume that the new advances in sizing are mostly to do with the fact that the majority of women in both the UK and US are what would be considered plus size, but it’s hard to stomach just how ill-equipped the fashion world is for the needs of this majority. It often feels like these advances have been just incredibly unwillingly made and it consistently shocks me how little businesses seem to care for the huge amount of profit they are missing out on but many businesses truly do not see fat people as their audience. I think social media has given us power to connect and act and attempt to fight for change, it also gives people regular access to contact businesses directly and repeatedly. Any advances we are having in this area are down to the tireless work of fat activists who have had to constantly educate and push and risk their own mental wellbeing for progress. Apart from being such a small proportion of businesses providing for any extended sizes, the ones that do, have a hard limit on how big they are willing to go. A lot of this is because willingness to listen is only extended to fat people that are considered ‘palatable’, ie: those with hourglass figures, thin faces, and, of course, less fat- essentially leaving fatter people out in the cold. People are remarkably good at forgetting the people who are less privileged than themselves, even those who think of themselves as radical. We need to not just be listening to fat people, but the fattest people, and within that group we need to prioritise those who sit at other intersections, i.e. race, disability, and gender and sexuality. Disabled activist group Sins Invalid say that disability justice cannot be enacted without ‘leadership of the most impacted’ and I truly believe that applies to all areas when trying to create a more equal world. While we are seeing fashion make progress, we are not yet seeing what I would call visions of true ‘fashion justice’ that include fat people and the fattest people.
I think the biggest direct impact my work has had is in helping individuals break out of the cycle of self hatred, people who are fat are taught to be their own bully, to push themselves into unhealthy mindsets and lifestyles, to think that they are undeserving of kind thoughts towards themselves. Over the years I have had many messages from people saying that the way I speak, learn openly, and present myself has given them more patience for themselves and their bodies and for that I am incredibly grateful and proud. When you spend a lot of your time exhausted and advocating for change with very little visible change it is wonderful to remember that to make even one person feel safer in themselves is an incredible impact. I don’t like to claim that my work has been the direct cause of bigger things like businesses extending their sizing but I do know a lot of fashion business owners follow me and I’d like to think that I’ve been a part of influencing some of these more widespread changes as well. I think seeing a fat girl be hot and stylish and confident without playing into the tropes of what fat women are expected to be in order to earn social desirability is an undervalued thing that truly does have a huge amount of power alongside other forms of activism.
In my opinion the two biggest drivers of modern anti-fat bias are racism and ableist classism. As I learned more about intersectional struggles and their history it became extremely clear that anti blackness plays a significant part in fatphobia, after this realisation I went on to read Sabrina Strings’ excellent book on exactly this theme called ‘Fearing the Black Body’ which is an incredibly useful, clear outline of how historical white ‘race science’ and the white religious and medical communities throughout colonial history have colluded to make fatness synonymous with both blackness and moral and physical inferiority, I think a difficult pill to swallow for the modern person is how much of our thinking is still based heavily around the made up, unresearched, and unproven ideas that evil rich, white, colonialist men had about who they deemed desirable. In a capitalist society we cannot get away from classism and the idea that those who are unable to make lots of money have no value, so many assumptions are made about the ‘health’ of fat people and implicitly, their ability to work and generate capital which of course produces a system in which fat people find it harder to obtain employment and earn lower on average. While many fat people are actually ‘healthy’, the problem doesn’t actually lie in whether or not they are, it’s in valuing people based on their potential for profit. In a society that sees fat people as worthless, moral failures, emphasis is placed on changing fat people into thin people rather than providing for them to have full and beautiful lives living in whatever bodies they have at the time. I believe this is a large part of the root of not making plus size fashion readily available. A lot of fat activists talk about the idea that a fat body is always considered temporary, so why provide nice things to someone who surely won’t look like this much longer? These are the attitudes we are up against. And the lack of investment in fat people having careers in fashion spaces is absolutely shocking. I have almost never come across fat people working in mainstream fashion and when they do it is often working on clothes that will never fit them. In fashion courses there is a distinct lack of fat students and absolutely no teaching in that area in the majority of schools. The lack of fat people in any part of the design process is so apparent in the way things are graded, fitted, styled, and fabricated and as a fat consumer I found that the only way I started getting clothes that properly fit me was by becoming an expert myself. I have had to learn a wild amount of information on construction and fit, knowing which measurements to look out for, learning to avoid any brand without a comprehensive sizing chart, learning to spot tell tale drag lines on models’ clothing in shoots that shows that the fit is not as good in real life, learning how to make my own adjustments to ill fitting clothes, and learning which types of pieces are not worth investing in without getting a chance to try them on. In shopping for my own needs and learning to make my own where shopping has failed me, I have learned enough to become a professional fit consultant and that should absolutely not have to be the case to be a consumer. In terms of shopping in person, I do not have options. There are 3 shops on my local high street that stock my size, all of which I would not want to visit due to style and ethical concerns. Because of this I only shop online and usually only with small businesses who I can give sizing feedback to which is often unpaid labour. I have seen a lot of smaller brands around me increase their sizing to my size and no bigger, which is disheartening because it lets me know that as soon as life throws body changes at me again I will be back where I started.
I’m constantly surprised by the type of people who feel impacted by me just living my life. It’s such a strange concept for even average sized girls, teens and even older accomplished women to see a girl my size celebrate her body and play with fashion. I’m amazed that it’s not just the plus-sized girls. It’s everyone who doesn’t feel comfortable in their body that finds some positivity on my page. It brings me so much joy to help people see themselves in a new light. And it also drives me to unapologetically express myself, be kinder to myself and share my insecurities with my beautiful community.
I think it’s important to understand that curvy bodies are shaped differently and need a more detailed understanding when creating the perfect fit for them. It’s not just about scaling the size, but also adapting a silhouette to drape the body better. I think designers need to work with a fit model to adapt better designs that don’t simply “hide the fat” but celebrate the curves.
I really like what you’re doing at IKKIVI. It’s delightful to shop on a website without that looming fear of size rejection! I think it’s important to shoot on diverse body types to see how an outfit looks on different sizes. Curvy girls find it impossible to find quality basics that are so easy for straight sizes. It’s a good category to look into. T-shirts, shorts, shirts, LBD, pants, blazers… I think sizing is such a variable when it comes to Indian designers. A standard size chart would be ideal!
I started my blog because Australian plus-size women weren’t being catered to by Australian brands and I wanted to provide personal reviews for people who were unsure about whether to take a gamble on the few International brands who were doing plus sizes. After a while I started to receive emails and messages from women thanking me, and I realised that simply being a visibly fat person in the public sphere was giving others the confidence to stop hiding themselves, and to try styles they hadn’t thought would suit them because they’d just never seen other fat bodies wearing them. My mum once described my blog as a “place for people learning how to make friends with their bodies” which I love.
There’s still issues around the representation of broader inclusivity. We’re seeing plus-size women in advertising and the media, but they’re predominantly white, young, and able bodied. There’s also a strong bias towards ultra-femme styles, which often excludes people who are queer, non-binary, trans, or aren’t comfortable with their bodies being reduced to a conglomeration of boobs-waist-hips. Plus size fashion is still fairly homogeneous. It’s full skirts and dresses, floral prints and polka dots. The trends are often several seasons behind, and they outstay their welcome. There’s also the issue that many brands have been dragged kicking and screaming into size inclusivity and it shows: They don’t offer everything in extended sizes, they add unnecessary embellishment to the “plus size” versions of things, they don’t show plus size women in their social media or advertising, and even if they have bricks-and-mortar shops they almost always make their plus sizes ranges online only. It’s like plus size women are being told “we want your money, but we don’t want to have to actually see you in our shops”. In addition to that, in the past it’s been virtually impossible to find plus-size fashion that is made well, from premium quality materials, or even natural fibers like silk, cotton, and linen. Where the positive change is happening is with small, independent designers and labels. They’re the ones with inclusive size ranges, more interesting cuts and designs, and more quality materials. FINDING those brands is the hard part though, which is why over the past few years my focus has really narrowed in on promoting small, independent labels.
Simply adding centimeters to seams is a lazy way of increasing size ranges, and it results in poorly fitting clothing that fit in some places and not in others. The hems are too long, the sleeves are too baggy, the necklines are too wide. Bodies come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and for a good plus size fit you usually need to start with a new block. As a plus size woman I’m more likely to trust that a plus size designer will understand the needs of my body, but at the very least I would hope that any designer looking to expand their size range would enlist a plus-size fitting model to ensure that their sizes sat properly on a human body. IKKIVI’s custom-make option – where you provide your own measurements – is amazing, and increasingly I won’t buy online from a business that doesn’t offer the same unless I know from experience that I can trust their size chart.
The shift that we see in recent years is because of the awareness generated by various mental health platforms and vocal people in India. People who understand the nuances and the consequences of imposing a linear mindset onto something as subjective as dressing. It’s through their own lived experiences that people understand the drastic effects of aspiring for a particular body type. The idea of absolutism is redundant since the more we understand body types and style choices of people, the more we understand how personal fashion is. So the collective experiences of people in their personal struggles of fashion, style as well as expression has given activists and designers a much needed push to bring about this level of normalcy in the fraternity and the larger population. Something that still remains unsaid, or I would like to say less explored, is making this more widespread at the grassroot level or making size inclusivity more acceptable in highly competitive areas of work. Especially having an understanding of size inclusivity in the early years of fashion education and creative fields would be beneficial. Also having a deeper understanding of body types and a clear distinction between healthy living and the extreme levels of fitness to fit body types are some things that need more executive action amongst the general population.
What’s considered fashionable, trendy clothing for leaner people is rarely acceptable for fat people. Any fat person with even a bare interest in fashion knows this has always been the case. Thin women in tight clothes are probably empowered; fat women in tight clothing are criticized for being overly sexual. The only development that I see is how people are becoming a little conscious and respectful towards individualistic choices.
Mid and plus sized clothes have always been very difficult to find. The market has never been exactly what people think of when it comes to fashion, glamour, and trendy clothing. It barely allows women to look sexy and fun. With garments being mostly made in a way to disguise the form of the body, it’s very difficult for us to accentuate our beauty. I’ve had terrible experiences when it comes to shopping for myself. For what I found sexy and chic, I’d end up pushing myself extremely hard to get in it.
My body has changed a lot over the last 8 years as I have been in recovery for an eating disorder. So for most of my life, it has been less about whether I can find clothes that fit me and more about finding clothing that I feel good and confident in. With more size inclusion happening in recent years, it has allowed me and so many other people to find clothes that fit our personal style and make us feel cute and hot no matter what our size is. Giving people more options to choose from at larger sizes is so important in helping to build a sense of personal style, which helps to build confidence and improve mental health.
Fit is so key for true size inclusion – no one wants to wear a garment that isn’t designed with their body in mind. Poor fit could mean gaping buttons over a chest, not enough room in a pair of pants so the waistband doesn’t sit straight, or pant legs that are graded too widely. No one wants to feel like their size was an afterthought, and it is often in these small fit details where that happens.
I have loved seeing how small brands enthusiastically prioritize plus sizes in their lines. It is so refreshing and encouraging to watch the brands that have made an effort in terms of size offerings, fit testing, marketing, and imagery really prove to everyone else how it can be done and how it can also be very profitable to do so. Plus size folks make up half the consumers in the US, yet have such a small fraction of options, and it’s refreshing to see brands realize this. It is also really wonderful to see brands make clothing in larger sizes that are also fun, trendy, and brightly colored.
Writer MALINI MATHUR
Photography & Design RHEA GUPTE
Editor RHEA GUPTE
Graphic Design & Layout VEDHIKA HV
Co-ordinator & Producer NIVI MURTHY AND ESHA VISHNOI
IKKIVI Zine is a property of IKKIVI by Founder NIVI MURTHY