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body positive

“Body Positive:” Still Most Popular Fake Buzzword in Lingerie Industry

  |   By Holly Jackson

Over the past year, we’ve seen one body positive headline after another.

The most notable was a viral photoshoot with Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke for Lonely Lingerie. It showcased the two stars in a series of un-photoshopped images. Another from the new Curvy Kate Scantilly line featured a group of non-traditional models, from women in wheelchairs to older women.

Both of these campaigns garnered lots of criticism, some of which can be hard to understand if you don’t work in the lingerie industry. Today I’m going to talk about the state of actual body positivity in the lingerie industry (still pretty much non-existent). I’ll cover why these two campaigns hit a nerve—as well as what the industry can try to do better in 2017.

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body positive

Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke – shot by Zara Mirkin and Harry Were for the Lonely Girls Project
via Forbes

1. Plus Still Isn’t Popular

I have the privilege (and the occasionally horrifying burden) of getting to hear unfiltered talk from lots of lingerie brands. Several years ago, plus-size lingerie buyers weren’t part of the equation at all. Companies now realize that catering to plus-size customers is hugely profitable. But consumers shouldn’t necessarily equate this with support for actual plus-size people. More times than I can count, I’ve been in meetings where using a plus-size model is discussed—only for several people to put forward that they should be “really tall and hot.” Many brands believe that fat just isn’t attractive. And they won’t show plus-size pieces on plus-size models at all. While options for those of us above a size 12 have gotten better, internal industry attitudes haven’t changed much—either on the brand or blogger side.

body positive

Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke – shot by Zara Mirkin and Harry Were for the Lonely Girls Project
via Forbes

Almost every lingerie blogger and writer now claims to be body positive. But many spend their time privately defending the right of every brand to cater to small sizes. Or they argue that plus-size women don’t have a right to be part of the whole diversity push. I’ve even heard bloggers declare size diversity isn’t an issue for them anymore, which I find incredibly disheartening.

2. Photoshop As a Frontline Issue

Photoshop issues have become conflated with the body positive movement, which I don’t quite understand. Yes, seeing real people in lingerie helps customers and our sense of what’s normal regarding body images. But light Photoshop doesn’t change the essential nature of a picture. It’s easier to argue about how much Photoshop we should be using and harder to argue about more deeply entrenched things like a societal hatred of fat people. If you’re not photoshopping your models but you’re using tall and thin models who don’t need it, that isn’t exactly putting body positive ideas first.

body positive

Curvy Kate Scantilly Campaign

3. Sizing Is Still Limited

Lonely Lingerie was criticized for marketing as a body positive lingerie brand without making a broad range of sizes—which is a legitimate criticism we can apply to many industry brands. If you market yourself as a body positive company while using terms and principles from the Health At Any Size and Fat Activism movements, you’d better be making more sizes than S to XL. Unfortunately, this is more than acceptable regarding size diversity within the industry. The fact that the average woman wears a size L and up hasn’t been taken into consideration yet.

4. Criticism Comes Before Appreciation

The Scantilly campaign took a more extreme approach to diversity, featuring a 65-year-old model, multiple women of color, several models with disabilities and a transgender model. Everyone not only looked fantastic but got to tell their personal story in detail through the Curvy Kate website. Industry commentators universally panned this campaign, either by not featuring it on blogs that would have fostered dialogue or just through Facebook comments and discussions.

body positive

Image via Curvy Kate

If you’re a regular lingerie fan and don’t work in the industry, this probably didn’t make a ton of sense. Part of the reaction had to do with some previous negativity surrounding Curvy Kate’s PR efforts. Most of it had to do with the fact that bloggers didn’t feel that the campaign hadn’t done more. I saw criticism that the plus-size models weren’t plus enough and that the women of color didn’t have dark enough skin tones. While these are all valid criticisms, I feel like some people missed the forest for the trees, so to speak.

size diversity

Image via Curvy Kate/Tigz Rice

The Scantilly campaign represents the most extreme diversity campaign a company has put out so far, which is worth supporting even if it wasn’t perfect. It’s easy to take to social media to tell companies what they did wrong. But I see very few people using it to tell companies when they’ve done something right. In an industry where we see non-traditional models and customers as less worthwhile, we need to go out of our way to applaud companies who put in a bigger effort—even if we’d like to see some changes for the next ad campaign.

body diversity

Image via Curvy Kate/Tigz Rice

In general, bloggers and industry commentators are supposed to push the industry to be better. We’ve been on the forefront of online shopping and marketing, urging brands to become more internet savvy and offer greater availability online. We’ve pushed for diversity and for imagery that represents customers and not outdated industry standards. But on this issue, I feel like brands and industry writers have decided to settle for less. Ultimately, the general population sees fat people as having less value to society. So it’s not terribly surprising that those in the fashion and lingerie industries would feel the same way.

We’ve spent the last few years hiding the real problems in the industry when it comes to plus-sizes and diversity with the “body positive” label. This year, I’d love to see brands and bloggers either step up and live the claim or stop making it at all. At least that way no one would be lying to us.

What’s your view? What do you think of these body positive lingerie campaigns?

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Holly lives in an old house in New Orleans with her husband, two dogs and far too many bras. By day she runs The Full Figured Chest, the preeminent lingerie copywriting and marketing firm in the industry. She is the number one recommended copywriter by The Lingerie Journal and her blog was recently featured in Lucky Magazine as one of the top three lingerie blogs online.