The Fall-Winter 2023 fashion season has come and gone, leaving behind a troubling trend. Despite recent progress towards body positivity and inclusivity, there was a notable scarcity of plus-size models on the runways in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. This is particularly concerning given the current influx of prescription weight loss medications available on the market.
In the United States, there are currently five injectable medications that can be used as appetite suppressants available by prescription. These include Wegovy and Ozempic, both of which contain the same active ingredient, semaglutide.
Ozempic is primarily used to treat Type 2 diabetes but has also been reported as a Hollywood weight loss secret. Comedian Chelsea Handler even claimed that her “anti-aging doctor just hands (Ozempic) out to anybody.” Meanwhile, Elon Musk tweeted about being on Wegovy.
In the United Kingdom, two weight loss medications have been approved, marking the largest influx of such medication in the country in almost a decade. One of these medications, Rybelsus, is taken as an oral pill.
The rise of these weight loss medications is concerning in and of itself. But when coupled with the lack of plus-size representation on the Fall-Winter 2023 runways, it’s clear that the pursuit of size zero is becoming increasingly normalized and accessible.
This rollback on body positivity and inclusivity in the fashion industry has been widely criticized in the style media. And its potential impact is being assessed more broadly. With prescription weight loss medications readily available, the message being sent to society is that being thin is a necessity, regardless of the potential harm to one’s health.
It’s important to remember that there is no one “ideal” body type. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and all are deserving of love, respect, and representation. The fashion industry has made progress towards inclusivity in recent years, and it’s vital that this progress continues.
Furthermore, the promotion of potentially harmful weight loss medications as a quick fix only perpetuates harmful diet culture and ignores the root causes of weight stigma and discrimination. Rather than prioritizing weight loss, we should prioritize overall health and well-being through practices such as intuitive eating and movement for pleasure, not punishment.
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Fashion Progress in Recent Years
Despite some progress made in recent years, this season saw a visible lack of plus-size models on the catwalks of major fashion houses.
In 2020, Fendi made headlines by casting models Jill Kortleve and Paloma Elsesser, who are outside of the traditional sample size range, for their runway show. Similarly, Valentino’s haute couture show in January 2022 featured models of various body types. However, this season, both brands were noticeably lacking in curve bodies on their runways.
According to a size inclusivity report by Vogue Business, 95.6% of all looks presented for Fall-Winter 2023 were in a size US 0-4, despite the fact that 68% of American women wear a size US 14 or above. The number of mid and plus-size models also dropped by 24% compared to the Spring-Summer 2023 shows, according to fashion search engine Tagwalk.
IMG model agent Mina White, who represents plus-size and curve supermodels, including Ashley Graham and Elsesser, expressed frustration at the lack of size diversity on the runways this season. “It was frustrating to see some of these designers not using curved bodies where they had in the past,” she said.
Fashion journalist Amy Odell went even further, writing in her Substack newsletter that “representing a wide array of body shapes and sizes in runway shows or in fashion imagery is not a priority for the industry.”
However, there were some smaller brands that pushed ahead with size diversity this season. In London, Di Petsa, Karoline Vitto, and Sinead O’Dwyer showcased lineups of size-diverse models. In New York, Christian Siriano, Coach, Kim Shui, Collina Strada, and Bach Mai stood out for their inclusivity. Belgian brand Esther Manas also continued to be a consistent flag-bearer for size diversity, staging one of Paris’s most refreshing runways with an assortment of fun, sensual, feminine looks that complimented a range of bodies.
While there were a few mid- and plus-size castings to be seen elsewhere, the lack of size diversity on the Fall-Winter 2023 runways highlights the ongoing issue of size inclusivity in the fashion industry. As the industry faces increasing pressure to be more inclusive and representative, it’s time for brands to take meaningful action to make size diversity a priority.
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The majority of runway models still adhere to a narrow beauty standard, with sample sizes often being tailored to fit only one body type. This means that plus-size models, who already face significant barriers in the industry, are often left out of casting calls or left to wear ill-fitting clothes that do not represent their bodies.
Despite the challenges, there are signs of progress. More and more fashion campaigns, magazine covers and editorial shoots are featuring plus-size models, and there is growing enthusiasm for inclusivity. However, as fashion consultant and former model Rachel Peru White notes, this progress can only go so far without a fundamental change to the industry’s approach to sample sizes.
White argues that prioritizing the same body type in sample sizes is a major part of the problem. Fashion houses use sample sizes to save time and money, as they can be easily interchangeable among models. However, this approach also reinforces a narrow beauty standard and excludes a significant portion of the population from participating in the industry. White suggests that an industry-wide standard could be established, with a few different body types catered to in sample sizes, to ensure more inclusivity and diversity.
Stylist and editor Francesca Burns also emphasizes the importance of major fashion brands taking responsibility for promoting inclusivity. Rather than putting the burden solely on young designers, Burns argues that powerhouses in the industry need to take action and prioritize inclusivity. This could take the form of increased representation on the runway and in advertising campaigns, as well as a more intentional approach to designing for a wider range of body types.
Inclusive representation matters, not just for the sake of fairness, but for the bottom line as well. As the fashion industry continues to adapt to changing cultural and social norms, brands that prioritize inclusivity will be better positioned to connect with consumers who are seeking out products and brands that align with their values. It’s time for the industry to take a hard look at its practices and make a concerted effort to create a more inclusive, diverse and equitable future.