22 January 2014

We've been conditioned to think that only skinny people can be beautiful

Scrolling through H&M’s latest beachwear collection, modelled by Jennie Runk, it’s difficult not to wonder where the thigh gaps and flat stomachs are for a minute.  However, that soon passes as you’re struck by just how beautiful Runk looks paddling around on a desert island.  Smiling as she runs her hands through the sea, she looks the personification of summer holiday bliss.

Runk in H&M+

I find it slightly bizarre that we’ve been conditioned to think only skinny people can be beautiful. It’s not like we’ve even had a choice. The only models we are ever shown are devoid of any fat at all, so who are we to know that other body types can also be beautiful? And most shops sell clothes up to a size 16, usually, but these are only ever photographed on models that are a slim size 8 – or smaller.

The public have applauded H&M’s brave use of a plus-size model in their advertising, but Runk is only modelling their H&M+ range. Click on the brand’s general swimwear pages, and you return to the familiar world of girls that are light enough to be carried on a male model’s shoulders. At a size 16, Runk is actually small enough to fit into H&M’s standard ranges. and H&M+ caters for sizes 18-28, meaning that Runk’s size doesn’t accurately reflect the collection she is modelling. What message is that giving to the target consumers if the model in the campaign is smaller than the lowest end of the size range?
H&M's mainline swimwear
Even worse, designer labels often don’t sell clothes larger than a size 12 or 14. Considering that the average woman in the UK is a size 16, are they confined to only shopping on the high street? Relegated to catwalk trends interpreted in polyester – and potentially manufactured in a sweatshop? Is it fair for women who don’t conform to standard sizing to be forced to choose from a limited selection? As a society, there’s no denying that we are getting bigger. Being overweight is by no means healthy, and perhaps this is something that should be considered when judging the image put forward by the fashion industry. With numbers of obese children at worrying levels, maybe it would be wrong to use overweight models in advertising campaigns.
Mark Fast uses plus-size models for his catwalk show
I’m not sure there is a right or wrong answer to the problem of choosing sizing in clothing ranges or models. However, I think as a culture we really need to move on from judging people by how they look. As well as plus size being thought of as ugly, there is now a backlash against skinny people. Magazines attack women for being too fat, then criticise them when they lose weight. I fear for how this trend may develop in the future, and how it will affect teenage girls as they grow and develop. This hatred towards women and their bodies has got to stop.
First published on Running in Heels.

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