Image Credit: Oh Polly, Fashion Nova
It’s no secret that society has quite a ways to go as far as inclusion, diversity, and representation are concerned.
We’ve entered into a space in social media where we glorify the IG model and those that fit that aesthetic. Everyone wants to be an influencer, and with people chasing a certain look visually, everyone is starting to have the same look. It’s nothing new that a large part of social media is about obtaining likes and the validation that comes from the praise of viewers. Fashion brands, especially those that got the better part of their influence and recognition from Instagram, understand the power of the social media influencer and seek out women that they feel embody their target woman to catapult their engagement and likes. If nothing else, it is effective.
The adverse effect of this marketing tactic is that brands oftentimes alienate a good part of their customers by featuring one type of women, be that body type or complexion or ethnicity. To combat the backlash that would come up, brands may make an auxiliary page in an effort to showcase how truly diverse the brand really is. The authenticity of this tactic is a topic for another day, as this is sometimes a bandwagon effort.
A host of today’s popular fashion brands have come under fire for excluding groups of their consumer base at one time or another, namely Fashion Nova and Oh Polly. The same can even be said for a mass market, fast fashion company like Forever 21. Collectively, these brands feature largely white, light skin, or racially ambiguous women with a signature body shape. They have also made claims to be supportive of body positivity and inclusion.
Image Credit: Oh Polly, Fashion Nova
Fashion Nova has a separate page dedicated to their curvier shoppers, and, more recently, UK-based fashion brand Oh Polly came under fire for their efforts for inclusion. Their Instagram account @ohpollyinclusive was deleted rather quickly following the massive backlash the brand received. Influencers and consumers alike were quick to call out the brand on its irresponsible community-building marketing efforts, questioning the reasoning behind a second page if inclusion is actually the goal. “Imagine calling yourselves inclusive and not wanting to post women that don’t fit your ‘aesthetic’ on your brand page lmao,” tweeted beauty influencer and photographer Alissa Ashley. “Brands will include shades, sizes, you name it to appear inclusive and to get consumers to feel accepted but their pages reflect a totally different message. That’s why you really gotta pay attention. This goes for clothing brands, makeup brands, etc.,” she went to say in her thread that followed.
Image Credit: Instagram / @fashionnovacurve, Twitter / @alissa_ashleyy
We’ve definitely seen the rise of brands becoming aware of the consumers’ response to representation and inclusion. Unfortunately, they haven’t always gotten things quite right to make their consumers feel a part of the larger picture. There’s such an emphasis on making this big, huge push to make your brand seem inclusive, whether the effort is genuine or not. Everyone is making all of these animated gestures trying to say “Hey, look over here! We’re inclusive!” It’s like brands are acting like pick-me’s, and the consumer sees right through it every time. The answer is so simple—just do the work of making your audience feel included and seen. More work and effort has to be put in to include people who exist outside of what’s deemed conventionally beautiful or acceptable. The ‘othering’ of those individuals makes things so complicated when it really doesn’t need to be. There is always a way to fit everyone into your aesthetic, especially when you make claims to be inclusive of everyone in your marketing tactics.
For a fashion brand to feature the typical European, lighter skinned, or racially ambiguous women with the hourglass or slim thick figures on their main page and separate her from the women with varying body types, complexions, and ethnic backgrounds sets a clear divide. While the goal may be to create a community outside of a brand’s official page, it sends a message to the consumer and potential consumer that they exist outside of the vision of the brand’s aesthetic and target woman. It’s like “you can wear the clothes, but we’re still going to group you in over here.” Claims of inclusivity are void when a large portion of the consumer base isn’t being represented properly within the brand imagery.
This speaks to a larger problem concerning beauty standards and how women maneuver through them in today’s social climate. For plus size women (and men), the message is constantly being sent that they don’t deserve to take up the same amount of space, often being made to feel like they have to shrink themselves and apologize for it. The constant pressure exists to either hide or alter their bodies. Less value is placed here because they don’t fit that traditional mold of beauty. It’s because of this that we still get so hype for women like Lizzo and other body positivity enthusiasts who are undoubtedly confident and claim their space without apology. Adversely, this is also why Charlemagne (and others because many have been told the same) feels like he can tell Lizzo that she’d look stupid at a smaller size. It’s why people felt the need to leave negative comments in response to Chika’s Calvin Klein #MyCalvins campaign or why people feel emboldened to leave ugly comments under any plus size woman’s picture because she chooses to proudly showcase her body in any way she sees fit. For black women, you have people feeling the need to tell a dark-skinned girl or woman that she’s “pretty for a dark-skinned girl,” and it is so disrespectful every time. In media, token black girls are used as a means to fill a quota, or you get either a woman of a lighter complexion or one of a darker complexion with no in between. At the end of the day, people just want to be allowed the space to just be, without the constant critique of outside opinion. They want to feel seen, like they’re not an afterthought.
Image Credit: YouTube
Image Credit: InStyle
People are beautiful period, no matter their size, skin tone, body type. Brands do so much better in terms of engagement and good press when they include everyone—and that goes for everyone from plus size to disabled bodies. To continue to ostracize people based on antiquated views on beauty and acceptance is simply lazy.
We definitely have a long way to go. One day we’ll be fortunate enough to witness a truly inclusive future reflected in all forms and on all platforms.
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