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New Illusion Of Body Inclusivity is Curve-Washing

woman in white tank top sitting on stairs

Is this the age of inclusivity in size? It would appear that we are living in the age of size inclusivity as more curvy models grace the catwalks, magazines covers, and brand campaigns. But, when we look at the marketing strategies behind this progress, it becomes performative at best and fatphobic at worst. Many brands use the promise of catering to all sizes and shapes as a marketing ploy. It’s also known as curve-washing.

Retail strategy is pervasive, but it can be difficult to spot. Curve-washing refers to brands using body-positive imagery, marketing, and language to make themselves appear inclusive, when in reality they are not. This is often seen when brands use different-sized models in advertising campaigns and runways, but don’t actually sell the same sizes.

In a recent video, @hannahleelifestyle, TikTok’s creator, said that she was seeing “curve-washing” everywhere. She pointed to an ad by swimwear brand Youswim. Although the company has plus-size models featured on its website, they only offer sizes up to 14. “I keep seeing more ads like these and want to shop these brands. I click on it and wait for my size. Size 14 is the only size available.”

Over the years, the body inclusivity movement has grown stronger. This forces the fashion industry to either represent all sizes or be subject to public scrutiny. Some labels are turning to tokenism instead of putting in the effort to make real changes. This is evident when luxury brands make pieces for celebrities, plus-size models and influencers, but not for their customers.

The trending Miu Miu micromini skirt was viralized by Paloma Elsesser, a model who wore it to the top of 2022. However, the skirt was made specifically for her and is not available for purchase. Although Lizzo wears custom Moschino pieces often on the red carpet (size 14), the brand does not offer larger sizes. Versace was famous for casting Precious Lee, a curve model, on its runway in 2020. But real customers can only buy up to a 12 size.

Gina Tonic, a writer, calls this “fat baiting” and says it is worse than brands that are explicitly exclusionary. Refinery29 writes that fat people might think these brands cater to them. The eventual and predictable letdown feels worse than when they stumble across brands that only post images of thin people wearing their clothes.

Fashion brands can operate unaffected by curve-washing while still being praised for their representation. Old Navy is an example. Just one year after its launch, the retailer has reduced its range of sizes for women in its stores. BodEquality promised a positive shopping experience through stocking sizes 0-28 at all of its stores. However, the brand is now limiting larger sizes to their online store. According to reports, the brand blames supply chain and demand issues for the change.

Other times, products that are specifically designed for plus-sized shoppers don’t offer a wide range of sizes. H&M’s “Body Collection” claims to be all about “embracing every body.” However, the collection’s tops and dresses are XXL or a size 18. Lizzo’s shapewear brand Yitty, however, offers sizes up to 28.

In order to end the exclusion of large bodies from fashion, it is important to practice size diversity in clothing. True activism is not a lie in this supposed age of body acceptance.

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