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Why 2015 was a good year for body positivity
It might not have been perfect, but there’s a lot to celebrate.
The clearest way to see how our concept of the “ideal body” evolved is to look back on previous decades and generations. Looking back this year, however, we can see great strides during a smaller demarcation of time. 2015 was a year of increased visibility for a more diverse array of bodies in the glossy pages of magazines and on the runways of fashion weeks—fuller female bodies, men’s bodies, trans bodies, differently-abled bodies, young bodies, old bodies, and others in between.
Here’s what we’ll remember about the body positivity movement in 2015—as well as the times we seemed to be taking two steps back:
If you want a sign that pop culture is becoming more inclusive of all body sizes, look no further than Ashley Nell Tipton, the first plus-size winner of Project Runway. After 12 seasons of winners who designed “straight” sizes, 24-year-old Tipton showed judges and fans in season 13 that couture and plus-size clothing can be one in the same.
In a couple hours is the part 1 of @projectrunway season Finale. Don’t miss out home visit with @timgunn. Styled: @styledbyreah Top: @eloquii Skirt: @dominodollhouse Glasses: @hotel_de_ville Hair colored: @catthompson #lifetimetv #designerashley #projectrunway
A photo posted by Ashley Nell Tipton (@ashley_nell_tipton) on
Tipton herself is plus-size and designs for other women like her—those who want to participate in trends as well as make them. As she told BuzzFeed, “I’m trying to put plus-size on the map. We can be fashion-forward.”
Speaking of putting plus-size on the map, size 22 model Tess Holliday continued to grow her #EffYourBeautyStandards campaign, which encourages people of all shapes and sizes to proudly flaunt their bodies. Holliday constantly reposts photos of reader-submitted photos on Instagram and has ambassadors spreading the word about the campaign.
One group who contributes to #EffYourBeautyStandards on social media are plus-size male fashion bloggers who want the mainstream fashion industry to know they exist. These men frequently Instagram their outfits and blog about life as larger, style-conscious men.
Photos via Alex / Instagram (CC BY 2.0), Kelvin / Instagram (CC BY 2.0), James R. Sanders / Instagram (CC BY 2.0), Chubstr / Instagram (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman
“I felt like a lot of fashion ads and online stuff, they didn’t have people that looked like me: bigger guys that are stylish,” blogger Kelvin Davis of Notoriously Dapper explained to the Daily Dot. “They just had the slim white guy with the beautiful hair, clothes that fit so perfectly, like an angel. It just seemed to be so unreal.” That being said, Davis and others agreed that they are still waiting for a “watershed” for plus-size menswear and models. Perhaps a future winner for Project Runway?
This year also saw a plus-size lingerie contest hosted by U.K. company Curvy Kate. The “Star in a Bra” contest asked for women of all sizes to submit their sexiest, sassiest lingerie photos in hopes of winning an exotic photo shoot and a modeling contract. An online vote crowned Sophia Adams, a 21-year-old police trainee, the winner.
“I used to have so many body hangups, hated my size and wanted to change myself,” Adams, who wears a 32JJ cup, said. “But as I get older, I’m realizing it’s all about self-love and treating your body like the temple it is!”
Elsewhere in the plus-size world, Corissa, the blogger behind Fat Girl Flow, started the “We Exist: Diversity In Plus-Size Bodies” campaign to acknowledge a more diverse array of body types than is sometimes depicted in the plus-size blogosphere. As Corissa wrote in a post:
“Being fat is not exclusive to one gender, sexual orientation, or race, and it doesn’t discriminate based on your physical or mental capacities. Being fat is something people across cultures can experience, and even people who are not fat can identify with body image issues. So why do we frequently see the same body shape and size celebrated in plus size fashion???”
A photo posted by Laurel D (@laureldickman) on
2015 was also the year the body positivity movement made waves at TED. In a powerful TED Talk, model and activist Ashley Graham challenged whether the term “plus-size” should even exist. In her talk, she parsed how the fashion industry divides women into categories by body type, and explained that even though most women are technically “plus-size” (12/14 and up), that market is still considered niche. “The fashion industry might persist to label me as plus-sized,” said Graham. “But I like to think of it as my-sized.”
Of course, it’s not all good news: 2015 had its moments of hurtfulness and offense as well. Perhaps most notably, self-proclaimed comedian Nicole Arbour posted a video in September called “Dear Fat People” that equated the fat-acceptance movement to “assisted suicide.” The video was briefly taken down from YouTube for being offensive, but was put back up and has nearly nine-million views. (Arbour has since explained it was all just a marketing ploy.)
A group who call themselves “Project Harpoon” also made a point of attacking larger bodies. Their weapon of choice? Taking photos of women and Photoshopping them to look thinner. Project Harpoon spread their message via the hashtag #ThinnerBeauty and via their own subreddit.
Other questionable practices were more homegrown: Body “challenges,” such as the “belly button challenge” and the “collarbone challenge” proliferated on the Web this year. The “belly button challenge” tasked people to purportedly test their thinness by seeing if they could wrap an arm around their back and touch their belly button from the other side. And the collarbone challenge had people see how many coins (or other items) they could balance in their fat-free clavicle.
While it might be impossible to ever remove hate and shame from the Internet—and from our own minds—there are more visible role models than ever encouraging us to not worship the bodies we see in advertisements, but the ones we see in our own mirrors.
A photo posted by @amyschumer on
Amy Schumer did it this year. Maybe next year, it’ll be you.
Illustration by Max Fleishman
Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.