If there is anything that has been consistent with the female experience it is that our bodies have been openly scrutinised by society throughout the ages.
From ever changing beauty standards to our bodily autonomy being regulated and controlled – it’s a dance I am quite frankly sick of. In recent years this scrutiny has evolved into new terminology that operates under the guise of female empowerment and body positivity.
Four little words I find hugely divisive. Before we go further let me preface this post by stating that I understand the social movements and strong identity attached to these words and why the terminology is perceived necessary in a world that overlooks women who don’t fit into socially constructed beauty standards. From a fashion perspective I also appreciate the terminology, as women are fighting to be recognised by an industry that has excluded them nor valued them as consumers. Furthermore, in an industry that has a globally recognised traditional sizing system I appreciate the terminology from a business perspective.
From a wider angle I question why in the fashion industry and society these same terms are not applied to men? Surely men’s bodies are just as diverse as their female counterparts. Surely, just as women’s bodies have changed both in height and shape through the years, so has those of men. Yet labels are not applied to men, nor promoted and by doing so they are not categorised by the superficial. In trying to break beauty stereotypes with inclusive terminology my concern is that we permit and promote being separated and grouped by the shapes of our bodies. We label women as the “other” by separating them into a different group based on size.
In doing so I fear we are leaving the door open for women to be marginalised should they not conform. It saddens me that as women we allow this hypocrisy. On the contrary, the only terminology applied to men who require garments outside the traditional sizing structure are that of “big and tall,” adjectives that commonly have positive connotations whilst women are awarded adjectives that traditionally carry a negative narrative. Statistics demonstrate that both men and women are bigger and taller yet the fashion industry has not excluded male consumers through the years or created labels. They have moved with the times, adapted and accommodated for men’s changing bodies whilst women have had to fight for the same recognition.
For me this speaks to a wider issue pertaining to beauty standards and what is deemed acceptable by society and the fashion industry as a whole. By accepting that men’s bodies have changed and leaving women to fight for that same inclusion demonstrates that the beauty standards propagated for women is almost doctrine. Standards surrounding male beauty have been relatively consistent, dare I say unchanging, since the dawn of time. Yet for women what is perceived as attractive is consistently changing yet exist within unspoken boundaries. Anyone one else sick of the game? From the 1950’s alone we have seen ideal body types for women change as quickly as the decades themselves at the cost of the average woman’s relationship with her body.
Progression is underway, but we need to be careful of the labels we allow to be attached and consider if they actually do more harm than good. Women come in all shapes and sizes, as do men. If we allow men to simply be sized as men can we allow women simply to be sized as women, not plus sized, not traditional, not full figured … just women.