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Op-Ed | Why the Plus-Size Revolution Will Fail

Disturbing as it might sound, fashion and inclusivity are incompatible, argues Liroy Choufan.
Revlon Live Boldly Campaign Spring 2018
By
  • Liroy Choufan

TEL AVIV, Israel —Why isn't there good fashion for everyone, or to put it more bluntly, why are there some people who are "in," while others are "out?" The question of inclusivity has become a primary issue in the current fashion discourse. Ideological declarations such as "fashion should include everyone," op-eds about diversity on the runway, magazine covers showing multitudes of people or collections that take inspiration from a wide range of mundane sources — from workwear to class-appropriating service uniforms — are trying to channel and challenge the idea that fashion belongs to a certain type of person, usually bourgeois and western.

One of the main aspects of the discussion relates to the exclusion of certain body types from the fashionable circle. It has been a favourite topic of many articles that have been published recently, not only to point out brands and designers that focus on a size range that is limited to those which require little fabric, but also to show that there is no correlation between the average body size in a specific society and the supply that can be found in the local mall. In fact, every available tool is being used to demonstrate the gap between the tiny fantasy and the much bigger reality, from detailed scientific and empirical surveys to the firsthand experiences of frustrated shoppers.

The proof is clear and the numbers do not lie. Yet in the case of fashion, the options dwindle the higher one rises up the size scale. The situation seems illogical. Not only does it belie all theories of supply and demand, it also does not make any sense how, with all the new awareness about the issue and vocal public demonstrations everywhere, the fashionable size chart still hasn't reached its full potential.

So back to the original question — where, and who, is the devil that keeps preventing the majority from having fashionable goods, and why?

The common, simplistic perception that there is some kind of well-orchestrated campaign being run by detached and malicious designers simply misses the point that we are living in an age when everything is so quantified, and major fashion houses are so commercial and unoriginal. Moreover, and without underestimating the importance of designers despite the current tendency to glorify them as kings and gods, their superpower personas are usually used as communications tools. Ask any designer who works for a big brand and they will happily talk about the aggressive involvement of the commercial department in the aesthetic decision-making process.

Part of the reason why a clear answer is elusive is because the ways of the devil are, as always, serpentine. Answering the question or trying to understand why exclusion is still in trend, using an empirical perspective, is doomed to fail. In many ways, it is similar to the paradox of religion — you can bring all the solid evidence you wish to show that God does not exist but the majority of the population of the world (up to 85 percent according to several sources) will still believe in some sort of divine entity.

The very existence of fashion questions the capacity of society to accept the true idea of plurality and a non-hierarchical agenda.

Fashionable motivation should be seen not as numbers, but rather, as a belief. It will never change due to charts, no matter how accurate they are. Part of this is because fashion reflects social criteria. The fact there is evidence to contradict the existence of God, or the fact that most people are not size 0, have nothing to do with what people want to have or be. Despite a cry out for diversity and a scientific approach to life, people continue to use their bodies in the completely opposite direction — they still pray and subscribe to very specific and limited stylistic hierarchies.

That is why we still have churches and politicians who continue to use the name of God to motivate crowds and why fashion brands still show preferences for slender (and younger) body types. People still believe that these are better. As a result, they continue to embody a certain look and reinforce it, no matter what they might say. Naturally, that has led to a common phenomenon whereby photos on social media platforms like Instagram are not retouched or tagged #nofilter for the sake of inclusivity, but the person in them is botoxed.

Indeed, there has been continued growth in cosmetic procedures over the last year. According to reports from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were 17.5 million surgical and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the US in 2017, a 2 percent increase over 2016. The statistics also reveal Americans are “turning to new and innovative ways to shape their bodies.”

Brands are simply targeting the unspeakable desires of society, or as Christian Dior is claimed to have said regarding the success of his ultra-feminine and retrogressive New Look in 1950's, it's because women long to look like women again. From that perspective, the plus-size revolution's failure is inevitable. Not because perceptions or tastes or the ideal body type can't change or evolve (history shows that they can and they will in the same way religions and gods change over time, producing different beliefs, rituals or fashions). But those changes are always limited at any given time. And therefore, the revolution must ultimately fail in its attempt to promote true and radical inclusivity.

In fact, the very existence of fashion questions the capacity of society to accept the true idea of plurality and a non-hierarchical agenda. While the public wants everyone in — or at least wants to declare that without too much thought — it completely forgets the unavoidable and almost absurdly simple meaning of fashion. Fashion, as a system, as a force, as commerce, as logic and as belief, is all about exclusion.

Perhaps only if we lose fashion, the desire to renew and to favour what is “in” over what is “out” will we be able to win the game of inclusivity. In order to be able to change over time, to address the body as reflected by the current visual agenda — which is the most basic meaning of the term “fashion” itself — it must define what is left out at any given moment. Disturbing as it might sound, one cannot promote unfashionable ideas such as inclusivity using a fashionable mindset.

So, when it comes to hunting the devil that makes us feel left out, it's best to remember that it is useless to point the finger at designers, skinny models or multi-billion dollar brands. Because while "l'enfer c'est les autres," as Sartre famously said, and although that critique might be just, we would do better to remember that the devil is — and always was — us.

Liroy Choufan is a lecturer at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and a fashion writer and researcher based in Tel Aviv.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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