The Year in Body Positivity

This is what got us talking about shape and size in the fashion industry in 2015.
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Chantal Fernandez
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This is what got us talking about shape and size in the fashion industry in 2015.
Ashley Graham models her Addition Elle collection. Photo: Addition Elle

Ashley Graham models her Addition Elle collection. Photo: Addition Elle

The fashion industry still glorifies thin, young, white female bodies. You know that, I know that and a young girl flipping through a magazine knows that. But in 2015, the mainstream conversation about body positivity changed in actionable ways that further opened the door for the acceptance and glorification of different kinds of beauty.

Body shaming isn't just aimed at those bigger than a size 6, of course. In an era when anyone can say anything in an Instagram comment, no one is safe from vitriolic comments about their physical appearance — just ask Gigi Hadid. 

In addition to runways and campaigns, major strides were made in the expanding plus-size apparel industry, which many argue can better attract shoppers by not marginalizing them in a separate category, and which mass retailers such as Target are starting to recognize deserves more attention on the sales floor. 

And while fashion has come to accept prominent transgender people like Caitlin Jenner, Andreja Pejic and Hari Nef this year, in this article we're going to focus on the timeworn issue of different body shapes. There's still a long way to go, certainly, especially considering that the most successful women representing plus-size fashion are white and young. But from the modeling to media to retailers, let's take a look back at the high and low points that got us talking in 2015 — in chronological order below. 

Target angered plus-size shoppers

A preview of the Lilly Pulitzer for Target line. Photo: Target

A preview of the Lilly Pulitzer for Target line. Photo: Target

After initial excitement that Target's Lilly Pulitzer collection wouldn't stop at size 16 like its past collaborations, shoppers were vocally disappointed that plus sizes would only be available online. The collection sold out almost instantly online in April, proving it would make business sense to carry those sizes in store in the future. 

. . .But then it launched its first plus size line, Ava & Viv

From left to right: Gabi Gregg, Nicolette Mason, Chastity Garner. Photos: Target

From left to right: Gabi Gregg, Nicolette Mason, Chastity Garner. Photos: Target

In the midst of Lily Pulitzer plus size controversy, Target was already working on its first dedicated plus-size line called Ava & Viv, which debuted in stores and online in February. The retailer even enlisted the help of three influential plus-size bloggers —Nicolette Mason, Gabi Gregg and Chastity Garner — to consult on the fall line and to model the first spring lookbook. And, in July, WWD reported that Target became the exclusive carrier of Curvy Studio, a plus-size intimate apparel brand for young women — all under $30. 

ModCloth dropped the term "plus"

Photo: ModCloth/Facebook

Photo: ModCloth/Facebook

Recognizing that the descriptor "plus" turns off shoppers who don't want to associate with the term, ModCloth.com dropped the category (but not the sizes) from its site in January. 

Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition diversified

Robyn Lawley is a 2015 SI Rookie. Screengrab: Sports Illustrated/YouTube

Robyn Lawley is a 2015 SI Rookie. Screengrab: Sports Illustrated/YouTube

Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition finally featured its first plus size model this year, Australian native Robyn Lawley, though she technically wasn't the only one to make it into the magazine's pages. The 2015 issue also included an ad for plus-size bikini brand Swimsuitsforall starring Ashley Graham.

France banned thin models

On the runway in Paris. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

On the runway in Paris. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

France passed a law in April stating that a model cannot be hired if her Body Mass Index (BMI) is lower than levels recommended by health authorities. Casting agents and fashion houses who violate the law could be subject to imprisonment of up to six months, and a fine of up to €75,000 ($82,000). It's a potentially impactful piece of legislation considering how many designers and models work in Paris each season. 

Lane Bryant took a jab at Victoria's Secret

Lane Bryant's model squad. Photo: Lane Bryant

Lane Bryant's model squad. Photo: Lane Bryant

Plus-size retailer Lane Bryant stepped up its efforts this spring with a campaign called #ImNoAngel — a not-so-subtle jab at Victoria's Secret that featured sophisticated print ads shot by Cass Bird and starring Ashley Graham, Candice Huffine, Victoria Lee and more. On social media, the retailer encouraged followers to use the hashtag to celebrate their own bodies, and none of the press materials or ad copy used the term plus-size. 

Glamour Iceland shoots Alda

The Alda models bare their butts for Glamour Iceland. Photo: Silja Magg/Glamour Iceland

The Alda models bare their butts for Glamour Iceland. Photo: Silja Magg/Glamour Iceland

Glamour Iceland photographed five members of a model collective called Alda — Ashley Graham, Marquita Pring, Julie Henderson, Inga Eiriksdottir and Danielle Redman — in the nude for an eight-page shoot promoting body positivity. The IMG models formed Alda to break barriers in the fashion industry after they were all dropped by Ford when it closed its plus size division in 2013, according to DNAinfo

Ashley Graham brought her lingerie collection to the U.S.

Ashley Graham models her Addition Elle collection. Photo: Addition Elle

Ashley Graham models her Addition Elle collection. Photo: Addition Elle

The outspoken Ashley Graham isn't just a major model – she also designs a sexy lingerie line for Canadian plus-size retailer Addition Elle, which made its U.S. debut exclusively with Nordstrom. It's since partnered with Lord & Taylor on a New York City shop-in-shop and is also working with Nicolette Mason on an upcoming dress line, according to WWD

Tess Holliday covered People

Photo: People

Photo: People

In May, People magazine put size 22 model Tess Holliday on its cover during a landmark year for the social media sensation, who signed with Milk Model Management in January.

A Saint Laurent ad got banned

Model Kiki Willems in the spring 2015 Saint Laurent campaign. Photo: Hedi Slimane

Model Kiki Willems in the spring 2015 Saint Laurent campaign. Photo: Hedi Slimane

After this Saint Laurent campaign, which appeared in 'Elle' UK, garnered compaints, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK banned the images for featuring "unhealthily thin" 18-year-old model Kiki Willems. 

Lingerie campaigns got "real"

Emma Roberts and a kitty in the Aerie campaign. Photo: American Eagle

Emma Roberts and a kitty in the Aerie campaign. Photo: American Eagle

Also in the world of intimates, American Eagle produced an Aerie campaign starring an unretouched Emma Roberts as part of its #AerieREAL series. Choosing an actress to front the campaign makes it less radical (especially one who looks like Roberts), but it's part of a significant trend in lingerie advertisements that feature women looking more or less how they always look. See also: & Other Stories' recent lingerie campaign featuring women with scars, tattoos and armpit hair. 

Topshop eschewed skinny mannequins

A shopper at a Topshop in Auckkland, New Zealand in March. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

A shopper at a Topshop in Auckkland, New Zealand in March. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

After a shopper took to Facebook to call out a Topshop store in the UK for its thin mannequin — "Perhaps it's about time you became responsible for the impression you have on women and young girls and helped them feel good about themselves rather than impose these ridiculous standards" — the retailer said it would no longer buy that style of mannequin. 

Melissa McCarthy launched her line

Photo: MelissaMcCarthy.com

Photo: MelissaMcCarthy.com

Emmy Award-winning actress and former FIT student Melissa McCarthy debuted her eponymous clothing line in August at department stores and her own e-commerce site with the mantra, "Shopping should never make us feel bad about ourselves." In other celebrity fashion news, Rebel Wilson designed a holiday capsule collection for Torrid, in stores now. 

Gigi Hadid's Instagram statement

Photo: Instagram/@GigiHadid

Photo: Instagram/@GigiHadid

Meanwhile on the runway, model Gigi Hadid made major headlines when she posted a note to Instagram in response to online commenters who criticized her body during fashion month. "I have a butt, I have thighs," she wrote. Not too much butt to fit into sample sizes, of course, but with 10 million followers she brought the body shaming conversation to a huge audience. (Selena Gomez experienced similar criticism this year, and told InStyle UK it motivated her to pose nude on her new album cover.) 

Body diversity was seen on the runway

Models line up backstage during the Chromat featuring Intel Collaboration show in September. Photo: Daniel C. Sims/Getty Images

Models line up backstage during the Chromat featuring Intel Collaboration show in September. Photo: Daniel C. Sims/Getty Images

Meanwhile, several designers opted to cast a wider range of body types in their presentations this year, including Kanye West at both of his Yeezy shows and Chromat's Becca McCharen, who regularly casts plus-size women. "I'm so against all white, straight, skinny girl runways," she said in February. 

Demi Lovato posed nude and makeup-free for Vanity Fair

Demi Lovato's revealing photoshoot. Photo: Patrick Ecclesine/Vanity Fair

Demi Lovato's revealing photoshoot. Photo: Patrick Ecclesine/Vanity Fair

Both Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato made headlines this year with proudly unretouched photoshoots for CR Fashion Book and Vanity Fair, respectively. Lovato, who has been outspoken about body positivity in recent years, took it a step further by posing nude with no makeup.

Zendaya called out a magazine for retouching

Photo: Instagram/@Zendaya

Photo: Instagram/@Zendaya

Zendaya also used social media to enact change this year: when retouched images from a photoshoot she did for Modeliste magazine were released in October, she posted one alongside an unedited picture, writing she was "shocked when I found my 19 year old hips and torso quite manipulated." The magazine pulled the images before publication and ultimately released the original images. 

Ronda Rousey covered Self

Ronda Rousey's fashion photoshoot. Photo: Jason Kibbler/Self

Ronda Rousey's fashion photoshoot. Photo: Jason Kibbler/Self

On newsstands covered with perfect models and actresses, a few women's titles chose to stand out. UFC champion Ronda Rousey showed of her muscles in a bathing suit for the November issue of Self and in September, Redbook put seven regular women on its cover for the first time in the history of the magazine.

Annie Leibovitz's Pirelli Calendar featured cool, (mostly) dressed women

Amy Schumer is boss. Photo: Annie Leibovitz/Pirelli Calendar

Amy Schumer is boss. Photo: Annie Leibovitz/Pirelli Calendar

The Pirelli Calendar, which isn't technically a campaign but is promotional material for a brand, eschewed scantily clad models this year for such cool women as Amy Schumer, Patti Smith and Serena Williams. Marina Rinaldi's campaign starring Patricia Arquette had a similar timeless, confident vibe.

Speaking of Schumer, let's wrap this up with 2015's body positivity anthem "Girl You Don't Need Makeup." Enjoy!