Talks about inclusivity and diversity are all the rage right now. These 'buzzwords', be it in entertainment, beauty or fashion, seem hopeful and resolute in terms of the direction our society is heading. But, even with all the changes and leaps we’ve taken as individuals or as a collective, is our world today — especially when it comes to fashion and size inclusivity — really as inclusive and diverse as it claims to be? We talk to three plus-size women to find out.
The role of fashion in self-expression
Personal style is, as the term directly implies, something that is true to one’s personality and preferences. But sometimes, it goes beyond self and extends to making an individual statement.
For Malaysian body-positive influencer Nazirah Ashari, fashion is “simply an outlet” for “creativity and confidence-boosting.” But as someone who is a hijabi and a plus-sized woman, she also recognises fashion’s role as a way to show representation and expressed that women outside of the ‘usual standard’ “exist” and “can rock fashion too”.
Julia Agana, a Filipino illustrator who created her own fashion line for plus-sized women for her university project, defined fashion as a way to “easily figure out who a person is just by looking at his or her clothes.” This is not to profile someone from a very surface manner but rather to prove that one’s style is always representative of an individual's identity, whether they are aware of it or not.
On the other hand, Filipino content creator Stacy Gutierrez shared that while fashion used to only be a means to reflect her “ever-changing moods”, it has now become a tool to help her be “more confident” in taking on the tasks for the day.
Understanding the struggle
For plus-sized women, fashion inclusivity starts first and foremost with addressing the size-inclusivity issue, especially within our region. While the Western world is adjusting to the ongoing call for a higher level of inclusivity, Asia — more specifically East Asia — is still on a slower pace given pre-existing standards on the preference for petiteness.
“My sister and I started the body positivity revolution in the country with our blog, theplumpinay back in 2009,” shared Stacy. “We definitely saw the lack of fashionable clothes offered to bigger bodies, and we used blogging as a means to voice out our opinions on the matter. Since then, a lot of online stores for plus size girls have sprung (even using the word "PLUMP" in their brand name often), and we're very happy about that.”
For Julia, her frustrations with fashion’s lack of inclusivity growing up were apparent. “Imagine a teen plus girl trying to find cute clothes she can wear — to express herself more — but can’t because she was forced to wear adult clothes because that’s what fits her. That was my teen years; I have spent my whole life trying to find clothes that fit me to a T.”
As someone who did a study on fat-shaming and body inclusivity for her university thesis, Julia also shared that “plus-people tend to be more depressed and ashamed when fat-shamed and in this time and age, it is very easy to be judge and pick on.” With this, she found it incredibly unfortunate that for something as simple as self-expression, “plus women can’t do it simply because of their size”.
Nazirah shared that since no one actively talked about fashion inclusivity since years back — with plus-sized women just taking what they can based on what’s available — it “automatically became a blind spot for businesses”. This isn’t to excuse brands from their actions, of course, but for Nazirah, she understood that the thinking might be that “if there’s no demand, why would we bother serving these segments?” She expressed her delight that this situation has somewhat evolved in the recent years, as a result of active talks about inclusivity in many aspects, even outside of fashion.
Local fashion inclusivity today
“Major retailers are also being more inclusive, like H&M and Forever21. To be honest, I think the playing field is already levelled globally,” said Stacy. However, she can’t help but pointed out that “it wouldn't hurt to have more designers represent bigger bodies locally.”
Julia shared similar thoughts, saying that while in the last five years or so the fashion industry has generally evolved, she has still yet to find “a local plus store that offers designs and styles” that she wants. She elaborated: “Most local plus size stores offer limited and typical plus-size silhouettes that don’t really fit in with the style the I want.”
This led her to create her own clothes to fit her taste and style. “I want more [from the fashion industry] and I’m sure as hell people with my size want the same thing as I do,” she expressed.
She summarised the current sphere of plus-sized clothing based on tiers, ranking luxury and couture fashion as not yet inclusive but partially understandable given obvious business reasons; fast-fashion as “inclusive but with reservations” since some brands seem to dip their toes into it but don’t fully commit; and local fashion as “not inclusive” as there’s still “a long way to go” when it comes to exploring plus-sized fashion in the country and that “famous local fashion brands only offer one-size-fits-all plus-size outfits” which makes it “ironic” given these brands’ aim to be “inclusive” yet remain to be restrictive when it comes to plus-sized women.
“In Malaysia we have MisClaire that’s doing an amazing job in serving plus women sizes 2XL up to 6XL or the Singaporean/Malaysian brand The Curve Cult and their selection of plus size clothing for all occasions including beautiful festive clothing,” said Nazirah. “We’re also seeing fashion aggregators like Zalora offering its own in-house plus brand and carrying more plus brands into its mix, just to name a few.”
However, she was quick to note that even if this is finally happening, “there is still so much more to do especially when it comes to size diversity and style options, among other things.”
“At the end of the day, we have to acknowledge that fashion inclusivity is at its core, a business and a consumer issue before it is a representation issue. When we start democratising the fashion business, then we are slowly on our way to making the world more representative and inclusive.”
Is ‘true’ fashion inclusivity really achievable?
Even with all the efforts made by the industry, it’s clear that from these women’s sharing, there is still a lot of room to improve on. Which begs the question: is ‘true’ fashion inclusivity really achievable?
For Stacy, knowing where to start makes for a good foundation in answering this question.
“Representation — we need to see more plus size women represented with dignity and grace in the fashion industry,” she said. “I wanna see bigger bodies in ads and runways normalised, and not as a special category that's always set aside from the ‘regular’.”
She shared that “the definition of ‘absolute diversity’ is different for everyone” but believes that “it can be achieved if only more brands will really consider the fact that there is a bigger market — pun intended — if they start including plus sizes in their production.”
Nazirah also chose to remain optimistic about the situation, saying that if everyone does their part — from designers, brands, media, and even consumers — to continuously invite the conversation and create better opportunities for plus-sized representation, then it would be possible.
“I always believe that having a selection of clothes should not be a privilege but a choice,” said Julia. “Creating a brand for the plus can be really tiring and expensive but it is attainable. Plus-sized women are willing to pay a good price for the right quality, design, and style offered by the brand. Plus-sized women are also very loyal to brands because it is very difficult to find the perfect clothing so, once they found the perfect one, they won’t leave it.”
You heard them, fashion industry. Now get to it.
Looking for another plus-sized woman championing inclusivity and diversity? Meet the Japanese Beyonce Naomi Watanabe and find out her thoughts on the matter here.