To indulge in a burger or stick with a salad? To exercise to drop ten pounds or embrace a little paunch? To count calories or be free? These are questions that course around our minds on a daily basis. Insecurity is an inevitable part of every girl’s life, due to the immense amount of significance placed on appearance. Although this obsession is not new to females, the baggage that women have to carry is weighing them down substantially.
In North America, the average woman is a size 12 to 14, which is considered whale-like compared to the sample size of super models. A size 6 is now considered a plus size in the fashion industry. This vanity-prioritizing era has proven to be a cause of low self-esteem for women, especially teenage girls.
A study conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada discovered that 37 per cent of girls in grade 9, and 40 per cent of girls in Grade 10, think that they are overweight. A Health Canada study also indicated that 28 per cent of girls in grade 9 and 29 per cent of girls in grade 10 undergo weight loss behaviours.
Every generation has a certain body stigma, which defines the very essence of “beauty.” Today, we have fallen into the era where the fashion industry describes a beautiful body as a tall, thin figure. As seen on the fashion runways and magazines, stick thin has been the popular body type since the popularization of the waif-look in the 90s.
Eighteen-year-old Emily Park stated that all she is exposed to by the fashion industry are extremely skinny, almost frail models.
“I don’t think they [the fashion industry] are showing an everyday image of girls properly. It’s not very realistic, but they are making it seem realistic,” she said.
Park recalled a moment when she felt her insecurities being dragged out of her when she encountered a skinny model while ordering clothes online.
“So, I was like ‘ if I order this, I don’t think I’m going to look the same’. I felt so insecure,” she said.
Throughout time, body image has shifted back and forth from thin to curvy. During the 1920s, when flappers were considered the ‘bees knees,’ a boyish figure was celebrated and women tried to hide their waistline. As time passed, and World War II occurred, women were more sexualized and a curvier figure became popularized. The decades that followed played tug-a-war between curvy and thin. Our generation adores thin.
The teen clothing line, Abercrombie & Fitch, famous for its provocative advertisements, gained major scrutiny for its controversial attitude towards clothing size, a few years ago. The company does not carry any size larger than size 10, which is below the average size of women in North America. In their stores it is impossible to find sizes labeled XL or XXL. Mike Jeffries, the clothing line’s former CEO, once said to Salon Magazine, “A lot of people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” The chairman’s comments wrapped the company in controversy as he made the assumption that only people who look a certain way can wear his brand’s clothes.
Models like Jennie Runk are definitely ineligible to work for brands like Abercrombie & Fitch. You will never find someone her size in an advertisement for the clothing line, however you can find her in other brands that take pride in celebrating ‘unconventional body types’ in the fashion industry.
“People assume ‘plus’ equates to fat, which in turn equates to ugly. This is completely absurd,” said Runk, in a Daily Mail interview.
The model gained immense media attention for her gorgeous face, and her ‘everyday American’ size. Runk is a plus size model, who is the average size for women in North America. She initially gained media attention when she appeared as H&M’s 2013 swimwear mode. Her goal as a plus size model is to promote positive body confidence in young women of all sizes. She also told the Daily Mail, “There’s no need to glamourize one body type and slam another.”
Even with the Abercrombie & Fitch situation, today we see a gradual shift in media, and fashion. Curvy bodies are slowly becoming trendier, and being considered “a better look.”
Women like Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj and Kate Upton are gaining fame for their curvaceous, fuller shapes. Body equality campaigns, advertisements and music artists are attempting to promote a fuller body type, but arguably, at the expense of putting down females that are naturally skinny, and do not have certain features that define typical femininity. As a result, concerns have been raised of how all body types can be celebrated equally.
According to a 2014 Vogue magazine article, we are now in “the era of the big booty,” with artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Meghan Trainor singing about having fuller bodies. Although these musicians were gearing their fans and listeners to see the beauty in women with voluptuous bodies, they simultaneously bashed females who are considered boyish because they do not have natural curves. In Minaj’s song, Anaconda, one of the verses goes, “F--- the skinny b----- in the club! I wanna see all the big fat a-- b----- in the muthaf------ club.”
Contrary to the conflicting ideal body types being advocated by the media and certain fashion brands, there are still numerous examples perpetuating a positive take on body image. Aerie, the lingerie sister store to American Eagle launched it’s #realaerie campaign in the spring of 2014. In their advertisements they used models of all different sizes and shapes, and they didn’t retouch the images afterwards. It reinforced the idea that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. The company was successful in challenging the unrealistic perfection of airbrushed supermodels, at the same time making a positive impact in the fashion industry.
Additionally, numerous foundations and charities advocate for the strengthening of self-esteem in young girls and women, as well as female empowerment. The Canadian Women’s Foundation is one of those advocacy groups. It is dedicated to helping build women and girls’ self esteem. The foundation created “the Girl’s Fund” and since 2009 they have provided support for 14 organizations that work to better the lives of girls across the country.
Feminist blogger, Ann Theriault, wrote the article titled “Don’t Fat Shame, Don’t Thin Shame, All Bodies are Good Bodies,” in the Huffington Post. Theriault made points on the idea of body image in our society. She emphasizes the divide between those who prefer thin and those who prefer skinny, and how trying to declare a winner between the two is not the answer to the dilemma we face today. The dilemma of insecure women, and the ridiculous importance placed on body image. She stated, “All bodies are good bodies.”
“The best way to fight the patriarchy is to stand united. The best way to empower ourselves is to celebrate all body types. The best way to f*ck with beauty standards is not to change them, but to do away with them all together,” she said, offering a solution to the issue at hand.
Curvy or Skinny? Which one is better? Is there really a single body type that is better than all the others? Will our society ever stop caring about these superficial things? There are foundations and companies like Aerie, H&M, that are making strides, but it almost seems impossible to completely dissolve the fantasy of “true beauty.” There are many steps we have to take until we come to the conclusion that beauty is absolutely subjective, and that “a beautiful body” cannot be held to a single standard.