Fashion Design Masters student Naila Mollel under the supervision of Dr. A, Mason at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria conducted a research titled “The perceived role of the advertised thin fashion model on full-figured South African women’s self-esteem and dressing styles” She send through her research findings to us and we thought they were too interesting not to share. Here’s her report:
The fashion industry in South Africa like other Western countries influences society on what and who is fashionable and how to be fashionable. Most people have the impression that full-figured women are not fashionable. In fact even full-figured women themselves share this view. Thin women are usually at the centre whenever fashion is discussed while full-figured women who are equally interested in fashion take a back seat.
The study found that full-figured South African women from diverse ethnic groups felt that the South African fashion industry has dealt with them very harshly. The first reason is that clothes in retail stores for full-figured women are usually unappealing. When the same style of clothing is produced for thin, average and full-figured women, the clothes never fit full-figured women the same way nor look as appealing as they do on other women. The lack of appealing and well-fitting fashionable clothes for full-figured women has negative effects on their self-esteem and dressing styles. If we are constantly presenting full-figured women with the latest fashionable clothes through thin fashion models, can we really expect them to desire and wear clothes that are not considered fashionable? Some women in the study blamed their bodies for the lack of fashionable clothes while others opted to lose weight so that in the near future they may look fashionable. The fault doesn’t lie with full-figured women but the fashion industry. The fashion industry produces clothes with body measurements of the thin fashion model which are not representative of the South African female population.
The second reason is that full-figured women do not enjoy the same publicity privileges as thin women in fashion media. There are very few fashion magazines that solely focus on full-figured women. When full-figured women appear in South African media they are usually poorly presented. The lack of positive fashionable full-figured models negatively affects the full-figured women’s self-esteem. Full-figured women indicated that they desire to see a balanced representation of both thin and full-figured models in South African media. Advertisers are usually concerned with presenting images and content that is not harmful or discriminative against a group of people. This makes one wonder, has the South African fashion media considered the impact of poorly presenting full-figured women, and the lack of full-figured women on full-figured women and the public?
It is difficult to accept your full-figured body when you are constantly presented with images of fashionable and beautiful thin models. The study also found that, although some of the participants in the study didn’t idolize the thin fashion models, they nonetheless felt pressure to lose weight so they too may be considered fashionable. The full-figured women revealed that their self-esteem decreased because they do not look like the thin fashion models. They felt insecure about their bodies and believe that people find them unattractive because they don’t resemble the thin fashion model.
Women come in different body types; some are naturally thin, others are average looking while others are full-figured. It is genetic and we cannot escape our genetic body types for long. All body types are attractive and have the potential to remain attractive provided that clothes in the market cater for their particular body types. The hourglass body shape is considered ideal but there are other body shapes that are equally beautiful if careful attention is given in the designing of garments for the different body shapes. If we constantly bombard women with a single ideal body and fashionable clothes that only beautify that ideal body, then we breed women who are constantly unhappy with their natural bodies.
The essence of fashion is to enhance a person’s physical appearance irrespective of their shape and size. It is time that the South African fashion industry gives special attention to their full-figured women not only for a little while but for a long time. Just take a look around you; we all have a few full-figured colleagues, friends and relatives. Does it make any sense to ignore these women’s hunger for fashion?
By: Naila Mollel @nailamollel (Fashion designer; Lecturer -Fashion, Graphic and Interior Design; Fashion Design Programme Coordinator -Inscape Design College)