For starters, you are relentlessly reminded that there is something wrong with your body and you need to change it. You’re told to shrink your body until it fits into the prescribed (narrow) beauty standard. Next, you need to perform the near impossible, Herculean task of finding fashionable clothing that fits your fat body.
Having worked primarily in the Indian fashion industry for the last ten years as a designer, stylist, consultant and blogger — and as a plus size consumer — I can confidently say that the plus size fashion industry in India is as good as non-existent. Fact is, while a large percent of women in India fit into this category, plus size fashion is mostly ignored, overlooked and underrepresented.
Fashion industry’s problem with plus size is a complex issue. It is no secret that the film industry and the fashion industry have constantly equated beauty with thinness. Unfortunately, for the longest time, fashion industry’s outlook has been that plus size and fat bodies are not meant to be celebrated, validated, or seen.
When it comes to plus size fashion, the major problem is the elitist attitude of the fashion industry that believes fashion exclusively belongs to a select slice of the population.
No Plus Size Representation
It is not just the Indian fashion industry that has ignored the existence of plus size women. Knowingly or unknowingly they have ignored plus size women to such a large extent that we have become invisible. There has been passive discrimination against plus size and fat bodies by formulating most dialogue around thin and straight size bodies only. This is applicable to most industries. Especially, the entertainment and media industry. From toothpaste to dream vacation and from detergent to mobile network, it is only straight sizes bodies that are visibly using it, selling it and endorsing it.
The question is: would your product not sell if a plus size woman was seen using it and endorsing it?
Globally there are full-figured and plus size women who have broken body stereotypes to prove that talent comes in all shapes, sizes and colour. From Adele to Mellisa McCarthy, from Gabourey Sidibe to Tess Holliday and from Ashley Nell Tipton to Gabi Gregg (Gabifresh) plus size and visibly fat women have had immense success in all aspects of fashion and entertainment industry.
On the other hand, Indian entertainment and fashion industry have been aversive to plus size women. Here, we don’t have a single body positive, plus size role model young girls can look up to. The complete absence of plus size representation is why a country of 1.25 billion people doesn’t have a single plus size role model. NOT ONE!
We have a handful of plus size people in Bollywood and the entertainment industry. The most recognisable face is comedian Bharti Singh. And she is famous for her self-deprecating, fat shaming brand of humour.
When one of India’s biggest fashion weeks, Lakmé Fashion Week, wanted to host the first ever plus size fashion show in India, they needed to do an open audition. The fact that we don’t have plus size models in the Indian fashion industry speaks volumes about our discriminatory attitude towards plus size bodies.
The dearth of plus size bodies and lack of attractive plus fashion in mainstream Indian magazines is especially disconcerting when you consider that more than 60 percent of women in India wear some amount of plus size clothing. The only time plus size consumers are represented in fashion magazines is when the magazine does its annual “shape” or“curve” or “body” issues inspired by the global body positive movement or when they want to cash in on the novelty factor. Otherwise, the magazines are mostly devoid of any plus size representation.
The best way to bring about an attitudinal change towards plus size women is by normalising plus size bodies. This can only happen with equal and fair representation. Plus size women need to be seen alongside straight size women on a regular basis and not once a year.
Celebrating body positivity, body diversity and plus size bodies is not the same as celebrating Diwali, Eid or Christmas. It needs to be done regularly and not sporadically.
Lack Of Plus Size Clothes
I am a plus size woman who loves clothes. I am extremely passionate about plus size fashion and I try out as many different looks as I can with whatever limited clothes I can find in my size. But more often than not, a major part of my fashion life is spent yearning for things I can’t have and I am forced to make do with what is available.
What infuriates me most is, brands that have a plus size range internationally don’t retail it in India. Forever 21 has an exclusive plus size range, but it is not available in India. H&M has up to size 20 in limited pieces; haven’t seen the H&M+ range in India yet. It’s one thing if a brand doesn’t cater to larger women globally, another, to have the range available in some countries and not in some others.
Worse is, none of the major voices within the Indian fashion fraternity have questioned these brands. No one has asked them why they choose to ignore plus size women of India?
People often tell me, “But you get plus size clothes online. ASOS has great plus size pieces and they do free shipping to India. So, why are you still whining?”
Here’s a scenario: Imagine if you don’t get electricity at your house. But your aunt who lives at the other end of the city does. Why whine about lack of electricity in your own house when you can go to your aunt’s place and use her electricity? Sounds about same, right?
Just because it is available online doesn’t mean we should not demand for more!
Online shopping is a great option but it is not the solution. What about impulse or urgent purchase? Some of us like to try things before we buy it. I don’t have the luxury to walk into a store like a straight size person and get what I am looking for. What is accessible for you is a privilege for me! The basic act of shopping that some have taken for granted is a luxury for me. ASOS may offer free shipping but most global plus size brands are charging quite a bit for shipping. So now, along with fat tax we need to also pay extra for shipping too. Ain’t that unfair?
Not just clothes but basic things like a bra is a challenge to buy. Not one sports brand in India has sports bra my size. Same goes for many of the different types of bras. The choices are so limited, most of us make do with whatever is available.
If most women in India fall into the plus size category, why do so many designers and brands cater only to women who comprise the 0–12 straight size market?
Truth is, most fashion designers and brands think plus size customers won’t buy what they make, won’t wear it, or don’t deserve it.
It will be completely unfair to say that no Indian brands are catering to plus size customers. We have a few progressive, plus size fashion brands like Alto Moda, All, Westside’s Sassy Soda & Gia that have chosen to to be size inclusive and body positive in their approach.
Indian brands like Global Desi, Biba, AND, Mustard, Fusion Beats and international brands available in India like Marks & Spencer, Dorothy Perkins, New Look, all offer plus size friendly clothing.
While there are few brands in India who are making the effort to be more size inclusive, there is still very limited option for a country with a large plus size population. Most brands – Indian and International – only offer up to size 16, which is the starting size of plus size.
Misrepresentation of Plus Size
Plus size fashion is not only suffering because of lack of representation. Misrepresentation is making it even harder to normalise plus size and visibly fat bodies.
While plus size starts at size 16, fashion industry often depicts women as small as size 8, as plus size. Not only is this misleading but it pushes plus size women further into a corner and away from what should essentially be their space.
The term plus size was created for women who are size 16 and up, and/or are visibly fat. It is misleading to show a size 10 woman with a slightly protruding tummy or a size 12 woman who is sitting on the cusp of straight and plus size, as plus size.
The whole misrepresentation of plus size bodies is not restricted to magazines and media. Very often, we see plus size clothes on straight size bodies. If you want a woman who is a size 22 to buy your clothes, you can’t expect a size 12 model to sell it.
Showing plus size clothes on non plus size bodies is not only deceptive but also disrespectful towards plus size customers. To get an idea if a certain garment will work for my body type or not I need to see it on someone with a similar body type and not on someone who kind of looks like me, but not really.
We also need plus size voices to be heard. There are no plus size fashion columns advising plus size women what to shop, where to shop and how to style. And if there is an occasional op-ed piece, it is often by a straight size woman rather than a plus size one.
Even brands that keep plus size clothes haven’t made an effort to promote their clothes on larger and plus size bodies. Occasionally, international plus size fashion bloggers get mentioned in Indian magazines but we barely see any Indian plus size blogger in it. The absolute disregard for Indian plus size fashion bloggers and their work by the Indian fashion fraternity shows how prejudiced the industry is towards plus size bodies.
The Future Of Plus Size In India
The future of plus size fashion in India needs a fundamental change. If we want the plus size industry in India to become a profitable and attractive business, then we need to do a lot more than create a few extra garments, just for the sake of it.
First off, we need to stop all kinds of size discrimination and have a more inclusive approach. Fashion needs to let go of its elitist approach and constant favouritism of thin bodies. For plus size to become relatable and aspirational, celebrities, models and bloggers of all shapes and sizes need to be promoted equally. Plus size models and bloggers need to regularly be seen alongside straight size ones. On all fronts, plus size needs to move from the margin to the mainstream.
The dialogue has started. Now, the visuals need to match up to it. When talking about plus size, we also need to see plus size and visibly fat bodies as a part of it. That is the only way forward.
Disclaimer: An earlier version of this article was published on the author’s blog here.
All images courtesy Amena.