Big Girls in a Small World


Paging through the pages of any fashion magazine be it Vogue or Harpers Bazaar, we are confronted with the same body type on every page. Yes, models in these magazines come in every colour and height but the size of their frame remains concurrent. Thigh gaps and flat stomachs are what seems in be the constant “in” trend when it comes to successful models, leaving me asking the question, “what place is there for the more rounded women in fashion?” In a society where we are taught that everyone is beautiful no matter their shape or size, why is it that social media influences our thoughts on what looks right in society? People place images of stick thin girls into our faces and tells us “this is what looks good.”

Growing up, I was never small. My whole life I was surrounded by tall, thin girls and for some reason, I had convinced myself that that was what was beautiful, and if I or any one else didn’t look like that then their bodies were ugly. The concept of “big” being beautiful is something I feel is really in the eye of the beholder, especially as far as the fashion industry is involved.

Even looking at some of our retail shops in South Africa, it is upsetting to see that shops like The Lot only stock one size of their clothing and if you body is a little wider, you have to source your fashionable trends elsewhere. But could this also be because the clothes they sell just, do not suit their body shape? As much as I want to don the latest fashion trends, I feel some of them are just not meant for big thighs and bulging stomachs. In my opinion, high-waisted shorts and a crop top were just not made for a girl who wears a size twenty-two.

Fortunately, there are shops like Woolworths and Foschini that have sizes ranging from a two to a twenty and even have ranges for larger women, that go up from a size sixteen to a 40. As wonderful as this is, clothing ranges by brands like Donna Claire are often targeted to bigger, adult women and not so much to young adult women.

Fox News wrote an article in 2009 on the pressures to be skinny in the fashion world and even though it has been 3 years since the article was published, these pressures still vey much exist today. The image of many models are constantly under scrutiny by the industry in which they work. The fashion world has an obsession over unnaturally thin body types. Karl Lagerfeld in previous years has even said that:

 “No one wants to see curvy women. You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.”

As much as I value my opinion, I was interested to see what other people who are in the fashion industry had to say on the matter. Kyle Springate, a model and photographer stated “whole point of the fashion industry is to create an illusion, a utopia, something that doesn’t exist. The idea is make the clients want to look and be that person” and as true as this maybe, Kyle also explains that there is a logic behind designers wanting to use smaller models,  “the logic, the designers need to make clothes with the least amount of fabric”

I asked Stacey Jacobs, a Cape Town Stylist what she thought the role of bigger women was in the fashion industry. Stacey feels that bigger women play a “significant role” in the industry as they portray a more realistic and relatable image to women rather than “encouraging the perceived perfect image” which in Stacey’s opinion, presents limitations to an unhealthy lifestyle. Healthier looking models promote a culture of acceptance of “different female forms” among consumers.


Jahaan Van de Ross, a fellow fashion blogger and student, who did a piece on the “plus size model”, shared her thoughts with me, explaining that the way in which we perceive body images is because of the fashion industry, calling it the “leading poison” that makes women, in particular,  feel inadequate.

Another question came to mind whilst I was trying to figure this out, “why is it that we have this notion of “skinny” being right in society?” When I asked Kyle Springate why he thought this was, he explained that fitness and health have always been associated with being thin and the fashion industry pushes this idea by encouraging smaller body forms. It has become an accepted form within in society that skinny is the way to go and this is only reinforced by print and social media. “The scrutiny of weight is an undeniable issue in this in industry” says Stacey Jacobs.

The Fashion industry and the culture associated with it show’s us what their “ideal women” is and we as consumers buy into it.  We question ourselves and compare and contrast our own body types to not only high-end fashion models but every day girls on the street who match up to this “perfect” ideal.

“Big girls represent big girls” says model and student Jason Francisco. Yes, the fashion industry is dominated by a size zero mind set, but it doesn’t mean it’s right. Until women across the world realize that their minds are their own worst enemy when it comes to their body image, we will continue to play into these ideas and in doing so begin to devalue our own worth as a women and will continue to feed these demons that constantly tell us, “we aren’t what’s beautiful and our size isn’t right.” As big as the role is that the industry and social media play, it’s up to us as woman and as ambassadors for fashion, big or small, to show everyone that what is beautiful isn’t what is thrown in our faces by fashion magazines, but it is being happy with who you are and what you look like and not being afraid to show it.


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