June 4, 2023

Models walking the finale of Miu Miu spring/summer 2023

As the most recent fashion month comes to a close, buyers, editors, and fashion insiders are left to analyze which trends topped the runways, and which were officially deemed out of style. But beyond the belts, fringe, and return of evening gloves, many were disheartened to see one “trend” take a backseat: Size inclusivity.

“It’s 2022, and I never thought I would see so many shows still, as a model, and sit there and just watch literally no one that looks like me,” model Ella Halikas shared on TikTok. “Some of the shows had a few token curve girls, a few plus-size—but it’s still not enough. The way photographers, paparazzi, and all of them on the street treat you compared to your thinner counterpart model is unbelievable.”

Halikas’ comments echoed those of many other fashion week attendees this season, including former Fashionista.com editor-in-chief Tyler McCall, who took to Twitter after photos surfaced of Miu Miu’s runway presentation to write, “please, I am so tired of this. I know we’re all pretending this isn’t about bringing back thin worship or whatever but I can’t keep doing this.”

Bella Hadid walking for Miu Miu.

Bella Hadid walking for Miu Miu.

Across the plus-size community—and industry as a whole—fashion month felt like a noticeable step backwards for body diversity. And a new report from InStyle summarizes just that.

Surveying the brands listed on the official fashion month calendar, writer Tess Garcia analyzed that “of the 327 industry-approved designers on the calendar, 9% offer clothing in a size 20 or above. That’s just 30 brands in all, 22 of which are based in New York.” These findings are in line with data from The Fashion Spot’s diversity report, which although not yet released for this season, has found that size-inclusivity on the runways has struggled to regain the momentum it built pre-pandemic.

Understandably so, size-inclusivity advocates are frantic to figure out why this is happening, and how they can push conversations forward once again. The problem appears to be much larger than fashion, however.

Models walk the finale at Givenchy

Models walk the finale at Givenchy.

Pandemic times and Gen Z’s TikTok obsession has rebirthed the Y2K aesthetic in recent months, and with it has come the early 2000s fascination with optimal thinness. Many fashion journalists have been quick to attribute fashion’s lack of interest in body diversity to the resurgence of Y2K. And while it’s no surprise that the style has come back—trends are cycled routinely in fashion—the roadmap of Y2K’s new popularity explains much as to why body diversity is falling to the sidelines.

As the conversation around size-inclusivity grew rapidly post-2010 during the rise of social media, many advocates—myself included—worried that the movement might indeed become one of fashion’s hottest trends. Plus-size fashion did not begin with notable names like Ashley Graham, but is rooted back to the 1990s—and even earlier than that, as outlined in my newly released book, “The Power of Plus: Inside Fashion’s Size-Inclusivity Revolution,”—when supermodels like Emme and Kate Dillon took the industry by storm. Post 9/11, however, the industry came to a standstill. It would take platforms like LiveJournal, Tumblr, and eventually Instagram to bring plus-size fashion back to life in a vibrant new format.

Just as plus-size fashion once faded and was resurrected by social media, the same has happened to Y2K style. Fashion has simply repeated itself, and in that, shown us a terrible truth: To many designers, plus-size fashion was yet another passing trend, not a core fundamental for the future.

The issue runs deeper than trends, though. In pre-pandemic times, a slight societal shift began to occur in regards to health and self-love. Thanks to the work of fat activists and body positivity advocates, less attention was placed on size and more on doing what’s best for one’s body on an individual level. But as obesity was stigmatized and attacked once again due to COVID-19, many retreated back to old, antiquated mindsets around weight and size. Societally, that minuscule level of acceptance felt in 2019 was stripped away, replaced by concerns that weight could be the leading killer in the global pandemic.

That thinking quickly infiltrated fashion, as it did Hollywood. From Rebel Wilson to Adele, celebrity weight losses during the pandemic sparked major noise in the social media sphere. Thin became more than just in; thin was what you needed to stay alive.

Hand in hand with the resurgence of Y2K fashion, this toxic mentality was evident on the runways this fashion month. From Miu Miu to Givenchy, bodies reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada-era were paraded on runways without a thought as to the impression they may give audiences. Analyzing the various shows that are presented throughout New York, Paris, Milan, and London, it is evident to many that we’re not just working backwards, we’re getting skinnier, sending a frightening message as to what the future of fashion could hold.

Precious Lee walking for Tommy Hilfiger.

Precious Lee walking for Tommy Hilfiger.

The question of “well, what can we do?” remains. Many are turning away from the legacy brands, sending their support to the inclusive designers who understand diversity on a fundamental level, like Christian Siriano, Selkie, Berriez, and Tommy Hilfiger. Writer Aiyana Ishmael advocated for the need of more size-inclusive fashion education programs, so that the designers of tomorrow are well-equipped to design for the average American woman. Others are wondering whether this is a seasonal dip, or a terrifying truth of the changing fashion tides.

As the size-inclusivity community rallies together to find a new way forward, one point remains clear: The issue is much larger than fashion, and will take all of us working together to bring about the societal change needed.