From London to New York and Paris to Milan, Fashion Weeks are being held across the globe this February. But these events aren’t without their downsides, with eight in ten Britons believing the fashion industry has harmed their perceptions about appearance.

Despite the rise of the body positivity movement, championed by celebrities such as Ashley Graham, very little progress is being made within the fashion and modelling industries to increase size-inclusive representation.

The Figures Don’t Lie

Vogue Business releases a bi-annual Body Inclusivity Report, which calculates the percentage of size-inclusive representation on womenswear catwalks across the world.

The report for Spring/Summer 2024 reveals that 95.2 per cent of models at Fashion Week were straight-size (that’s a UK size 8 or lower), 3.8 per cent were mid-size (UK 10-16) and 0.6 per cent were plus-size (UK 18 or above).

‘If you look at runways, not much has changed,’ Ashley Graham tells Mail Online. ‘If you look at designers, some of them are dressing different types of bodies, but it’s not the norm. It’s been this tiny crawl.’

While larger fashion houses lag in terms of size-inclusive representation, smaller brands, particularly those based in London, are the trailblazers in this area.

Baby Steps Towards Change

Despite the tiny percentage of models on the catwalk who are above a size 8, the latest numbers are an improvement from Autumn/Winter 2023, showing that brands are recruiting more mid-size and plus-size models.

Nevertheless, the fashion industry has a long way to go before it can be called an inclusive place for ordinary women and models alike.

In December 2023, plus-size model Paloma Elsesser won ‘Model of the Year’ at the British Fashion Awards. At the age of 31, she became the first curvy model to win the award. However, shortly after the awards ceremony, she posted a message on Instagram to announce that she was ‘taking a beat off [social media],’ having received ‘hate’ comments online.

Positive change seems like a hard pill to swallow, for some.

Modelling’s Dark Past

2023 became the year when the modelling industry’s dark past resurfaced.

With the release of the Supermodels series, viewers were able to watch the rise of some of the industry’s most iconic members: Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington.

The four recounted their experiences of rising to prominence in the ’90s, especially the adversity they faced to achieve international fame.

Evangelista gave the most candid view of the relationship between her career and her weight. Being told repeatedly that she needed to be thinner to be more beautiful, she went on numerous starvation diets to lose the excess ‘fat’.

‘I got to where I wasn’t eating at all. I thought I was losing my mind,’ she said of trying to ‘fix’ her body.

In 2016, she underwent a non-invasive cosmetic treatment called ZELTIQ CoolSculpting. This promised to reduce fat cell size. However, the treatment backfired, leaving her with unsightly areas of hardened fat clusters. Evangelista said her body was ‘unrecognisable.’

When one of the world’s most beautiful women is repeatedly told her body isn’t good enough, what kind of message does this send to younger generations of girls?

By all indications, the expectation that models need to lose weight to get work and stay competitive is here to stay.

Statistics on models and eating disorders reveal that 62 per cent of those who enter the modelling industry are told to lose weight by their agency or another industry professional. Over half (54 per cent), engage in disordered eating or skip meals. And 81 per cent of models have a Body Mass Index that is medically characterised as ‘underweight.’

Unrealistic Ideals

The idea that thin bodies with skinny legs and serf-board stomachs are the most desirable has been a persistent, and insidious, fashion industry standard.

In truth, the ‘perfect’ body is an unrealistic and arguably fluctuating ideal that is simply not worth starving yourself for.

Unfortunately, the majority of the media we consume, whether that’s catwalks, magazines, or social media posts, perpetuates being slim and equates it with beauty. This undoubtedly harms many women’s self-esteem. According to a study conducted by ScienceDirect:

‘Women who are exposed to images of idealised bodies internalise the thin ideal and strive for an unrealistic standard of beauty, which can result in feelings of shame, body dissatisfaction, and low mood when they cannot achieve the same body type.’

In the U.S., 91 per cent of women are dissatisfied with their bodies and 58 per cent of college-aged girls feel pressured to be a certain weight.

In the UK, nearly half of all women aged 20-25 are unhappy with their bodies. This figure rises to almost 60 per cent for those aged 35-40.

What About Accountability?

Some use the monetary argument that it is just not profitable for brands to accommodate plus-size bodies. Following Victoria’s Secret dalliance with size-inclusive marketing, sales plummeted. The company has now reverted to using its tried and tested ‘Size Zero’ template.

Others insist that the body positivity movement in fashion is equally damaging by normalising overweight bodies.

But I — and I suspect many other women too — believe the fashion industry needs to take some accountability for the harm it keeps causing women and young girls.

Deliberately hiring models below a size 8 ostracises the average woman and glorifies an unhealthy preoccupation with body image. It’s time the fashion houses addressed their dark practices. Worrying about achieving the ‘perfect’ body should never become any woman’s life obsession — or cause of despair.

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