The Body Positivity Movement began in the US in the 1960s, where activists began reclaiming the word “fat” as a description rather than an insult. They encouraged a pushback against diet culture and discrimination against bigger bodies, and this movement was reignited in the social media era with plus size bloggers, models and influencers like Tess Holliday and Gabi Gregg.
And as the popularity of plus size fashion and body positivity grew online, some brands inevitably began adopting this trend in to their business and marketing strategies, which in turn led to a very limited representation of body positivity in the mainstream. Young, able-bodied, cisgender white women with hourglass figures were held as the radical alternative to traditional beauty standards.
This article by Anna Kessel, which is a great summary of the Body Positive Movement as it stands today, explains very clearly why it’s inadvisable (if you truly want to adopt this movement in your business ethics) that you don’t just put a cute, curvy white woman on your advertising and call it BoPo. In 2018, Made in Chelsea star Louise Thompson received a huge backlash after releasing a diet and exercise book called “Body Positive.” I’m sure it sold very well, but in the context of building authentic brands, this is a prime example of how disingenuously co-opting a trend can seriously damage your reputation.
And this is certainly not a market that you want to be shut out of, especially if you are in the fashion industry. It has been reported that in 2017, £1 in every £5 spent on womenswear was spent on plus size clothing, and this market continues to grow. It is estimated that plus size menswear will be one of the fastest growing sectors of the fashion industry, up 22% by 2022. Almost half of all plus size women in the UK purchase their clothing online, an audience that small businesses could take great advantage of with the right SEO and digital marketing strategy.
But it’s not just fashion and beauty industries that need to be embracing the Body Positive Movement. Any industry that relies on traditional beauty standards to market their product or service (with celebrities or models, for example) needs to adapt their practices or be left behind. Research shows that advertising that challenges stereotypes and celebrates individuality and diversity now significantly outperforms advertising that relies on “the traditional aspiration of perfectly polished, glossy women.”
We live in an era of mistrust; mistrust in politicians, mistrust in the media (#FakeNews), mistrust in celebrities (#MeToo), mistrust in businesses. It’s no wonder that the demand for “realness” is at an all-time high, and businesses that cast off unpopular practices like air-brushing and embrace beauty in all its forms will be the ones that gain the trust and loyalty of their customers.