Throughout history, the sexualisation of women's bodies has changed almost every decade. Victorian England saw the most desirable shape to be plump, well-figured, and with a cinched waist, however, only two decades later, the roaring twenties favored a more flat-chested and boyish figure, highlighting how quickly preferences can change. In this instance, the sexualisation of plus-size women became extinct within 20 years, with slimmer and curve-less figures being more popular.
Only 10 years later, the hourglass figure came back into fashion and a curvy woman with a larger bust and slim waist became the most desirable silhouette, with women such as Marilyn Monroe being the Golden Girl of Hollywood. The speed at which these trends take place can be very damaging to women who like to fit in with society's expectations. The constant change of what is desirable can make women unhappy with their appearance and can even make them uncomfortable.
The influence of social media:
The physical standards expected from women are often considered to be unattainable and unrealistic. Research has shown that women are more likely to aim for a body type that is smaller and thinner than what they currently are, whereas men are typically happier with their current body shape as their ideal doesn't stray too far from their actual body type. Due to the constant objectification of the female body, women experience multiple psychological and physical consequences as a result of living in this society, and their ideal always seems to be just out of reach.
The increased body shaming in our society comes as a rejection of the body-positive campaigns seen by brands such as Dove, Nike, and influencers like Celeste Barber. Celeste uses her social media platform to highlight how the unrealistic standards expected from women are just that. Her social media consists of showing her very real body in comparison to the idealized bodies of many famous individuals like Kim Kardashian; her aim is to show people that the 'ideal' body that women have been compared to is not going to be attainable through genuine means and that it is not always possible to be a size 0.
Through her platform, Celeste has provided individuals with the confidence to embrace their bodies as they are and has helped change some of their habits to live a more positive lifestyle, rather than attempting to achieve the unrealistic goal.
Representing plus-size women:
In the UK the average clothing size for women is 16 - 18, however, any size over a size 12 is considered plus size to most brands and stores. The idea of 'plus-size' clothing creates confusion in most stores and clothing suppliers; most women have experienced the challenges of finding their true size, with many stores having their sizes smaller or larger than other retailers. For example, if you were to purchase a size 10 pair of jeans in one store and the same style of jeans in another, the size 10 may run larger or smaller. This can be confusing and damaging to many women's perceptions of themselves, leading them to feel uncomfortable with certain items of clothing or their body image.
The lack of representation of these sizes highlights how plus-size women are under-represented in the fashion industry, with some stores only carrying sizes up to 18 or 20, making it difficult for plus-size women to find clothing that they feel comfortable in. Their lack of representation means they are also often forgotten about. Victoria's Secret is a brand that is known for the tall skinny women who showcase the brand's underwear at widely publicised events, and it wasn't until 2019 that they included their first ever plus-sized model. Ali Tate Cutler was invited to walk in the Victoria's Secret Fashion show as the first plus-size model, although this is a major step in the representation of curvy women, Ali is still only a size 14. With the average size in the UK being 16-18, many plus-size women still feel under-represented by this gesture despite it being a move in the right direction.
In addition to this, curvy women often have a much smaller and restricted choice of clothing, underwear, and swimwear. With their clothing being less revealing and flattering with a smaller range to choose from, brands are forced to be more inclusive if they want to remain popular as the support for plus-size women grows.
With many mainstream brands trying to bridge the gap in the market, many are unsuccessful with their pitiful selection and lack of availability in most stores, restricting plus-size women further by forcing them to shop online. However, with the help and rise of more indie brands, plus-size women have more choices and selections than ever. Brands such as Universal Standard, Free Label, and Threads For Thought, carry a wide selection of sizes for women and show that fashion does not have a specific mold and should be available to any woman of any shape and size.
A small reminder
It is important that we recognise how plus-size women are sexualised, as we need to be able to include them in our ever-changing world of fashion. Their lack of representation still has a long way to go, and fashion providers are under a lot of pressure to improve and expand their size ranges. Equally, we need to remember that our bodies are our most important possession, and they are capable of the most amazing things, and they don't always need to be judged based on the number on the tag. Confidence is the most fashionable thing you can wear and you should always feel proud of the body you have; the reason we are beautiful is due to the fact we are all unique.