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The "Size Inclusive" Buzz Word: What Fashion Brands Just Don't Get

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

Article written by: Carrie Langham

Like so many others living and existing in fat bodies today, I have fallen victim to big brands touting "size inclusivity" to just be disappointed yet again that I find myself not fitting into their ideals of an acceptable full-figured woman. Either simply not offering anything above a 2X or 3X, or falsely claiming that they go up to a 6X when in reality it fits like a slim 2X, brands just don't understand or care about the role they play in continuing to feed this fat-phobic fashion industry with more damaging lies that have a direct impact on the mental health of young girls and women.

As more and more brands chase the illusion of being inclusive for the sake of sales, terms like "size inclusive" and "plus size" are being vastly misrepresented and mis-used causing confusion for shoppers. And, don't get me started on the poor representation of models on their websites and marketing further confusing consumers on how these garments will fit their body type! Picking a single, slightly thicker woman to be the token representative of an entire demographic whom, she herself, doesn't even wear a plus-size to begin with IS NOT the solution - you aren't fooling me!! FASHION INDUSTRY - STOP STOP STOP perpetuating these lies - your fat-phobia is showing.

Many brands that make a cheap attempt to extending their sizes, claim that due to difficult business results they have to stop production on their larger sizes... <clearing my throat> ahhem Ann Taylor Loft. What's more likely? 1) There aren't enough women wearing plus-sizes shopping for clothes at a median price point that results in low demand and poor sales...? ORRRRRRRRRR 2) Is it the fact that these brands don't really give a shit about this segment but want the clout for being "inclusive" so they just "make it bigger" with little-to-no validating resulting in poor fit, poor styling decisions and limited options that resulted in the decline in sales? I'm thinking the latter.

How is it possible that when 68% of women in America wear a plus size that the fashion industry is only comprised of less than 14% of plus-sized apparel?! Let me guess - the diet industry and the fashion industry have been profiting off of women's insecurities for decades and decades. Lack of representation in the fashion industry for marginalized body types implies that if you don't "fit in" you must shrink yourself to fit into an unrealistic, thin, white, cis-gendered female beauty standard... oh and the diet industry will surely help you do so! Oh, and if you are so lucky to find a brand that makes extended sizes amongst their straight-sized line, they put a piddly amount of product in-stores giving you only the option to shop online. Why? Well, because they don't want their skinny clients to feel uncomfortable that fat shoppers are shopping in the same store, therefore building shame around being in a fat body further feeding into the toxic fat-phobic, racist and misogynistic idealistic beauty standard - even if this is covered in a veil of 'size inclusivity'.

So, when I see brands claim inclusivity, I am immediately skeptical. Too many times now, recognizable large brands have claimed inclusive sizing to completely fall short on this promise. And those that continue to play in this sandbox are still missing in some areas to truly be inclusivity - and not just in the products they create, but also the executive leadership representing the brand (the high number of "plus size" brands led by white, middle-aged men is frighteningly true).

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplashed

What do I look for when evaluating a brand's inclusivity?

1) Size Chart:

I keep my body measurements handy when shopping online especially with brands I haven't shopped with before. When looking at size charts, I know I am a traditional Women's 26/28 - and how that translates into alpha-numeric sizing is the major inconsistency across the apparel industry, but for shits and giggles I am a 4X across most plus-size specific brands. When looking at a brand's size chart, if they claim going up to a size 6X but their measurements correspond for that size smaller than 26/28 (4X), then I know that they are not true-to-size and simply not designing product for fat bodies.

2) Product Offering & Assortment:

If the "plus" options are limited, less than, or very different from the "regular" sizes, I know that they are approaching their extended sizes as an after-thought. They don't see fat bodies as equals to their thinner core customer therefore telling me that they are chasing a tick in a checkbox more than providing quality design and options for plus-sized consumers.

3) In Store vs Online Only:

When a brand offers almost everything on their site in straight-sizes at their brick-and-mortar shops, but their plus-sized offerings are "limited" or "online only", again for me this is a clear sign that they are building shame around their fat-bodied clients. If brands actually cared about this community they would recognize how imperative it is for this consumer to have in-store experiences. Oh, and if they have some offering in-store, I also evaluate how their staff treats me and how the store's offering is situated. Shoving me to the back, creepy dark corner? No. Having attitude of "yeah, we don't have that big of a size here"? No. Never approaching me and giving me side-eye wondering why I'm even here? No. I'm not giving you my hard earned cash for your blatant fat-phobic criticism.

And to clear it up, I am not someone who seeks confrontation. I am the one who doesn't send food back even though it's not what I ordered, am overly patient with indecisive people holding up lines, etc. So, if I am the one feeling insecure, criticized or put-off by how I am treated by a retailer... it's because it is so blatant that you cannot dispute it.

4) Models:

If you are only representing your plus-sizes with a token small-fat, perfectly proportioned flat-bellied model, then you are not fooling me. By not showing me a wider variety of sizes and shapes, tells me that there isn't pride in serving this community authentically and that they are still operating through the eyes of an "ideal" beauty standard.

5) Business Leadership:

When I want to see where my money is going, I take a look at the creators behind the brand. Lack of female (especially POC women and even more so women of shape/size) representation at the top chains of the brand tells me that their values do not align to mine and they may be part of the overall scheme to chase market demand and dollars through marketing tactics, and not so much through care and compassion for this community.

6) Customer Reviews:

Hearing it directly from the mouths of customers is always super helpful. I like to find customer-created content either on their product reviews or across social media. The TikTok hauls from various content creators can be brutally honest - or if anything, can show me what's really going on in terms of sizing (ie: if I see a content creator who is a size XL/1X that says they had to size up to a 2X/3X, then I know their sizing is way off.

So, is it harder to make product for fat bodies?

The short answer is no, not really in the bigger picture. But, it does take time to develop the skill and eye to design garments that take a wide variety of body shapes and sizes into consideration. Nothing about it is an easy cut/paste, formulaic exercise. More than anything, it really is about the amount of time, money and CARE that a brand is willing to invest in this - and for many brands, they aren't willing to do so. Rather than adjusting their size scale to mirror the true sizing range of women, brands tend to stick to the formula set in placed nearly 100 years ago. To them, it's "easy" and they won't risk alienating their loyal thin clients.

So what's the answer?

Like many trends, things tend to fade. Brands that are not really invested in this consumer will eventually move away from 'size inclusive' language as a buzz word and move on to some other gimmick to chase sales. Those that are here to stay and are actively trying to do good by this community will continue to evolve, learn, make mistakes, learn again, and slowly do their part in changing the landscape of the fashion industry. As knowledgable consumers, we need to do our part in not feeding into the perpetuation of lies by supporting brands that are causing more harm than they do good. Be critical - don't be a sucker for buzz words without doing the research. Challenge the status quo. Watch where you are spending your hard-earned dollars. Support small brands that aren't using cheap tactics and gimmicks that actually truly give a damn about this community - because they ARE this community. Recognize that the answer is not always in cheap, fast-fashion - and if that's your jam, don't be too disappointed that the garments don't last, they are ill-fitting, etc.

Stay tuned for my list of my favorite truly inclusive and plus-size brands, as well as recaps of recent shopping experiences and what to look out for.

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