Body Positive or Skinny-Shaming?

Ayaki Kimura '17

Assistant Opinions Editor

What type of woman does the word “sexy” connote? The conventional image is of a thin woman but with an hourglass body shape. Media portrayals have perpetuated the damaging idea that a woman must be skinny in order to be attractive and that a woman’s worth is tied to her appearance. In a society that places importance on looks, this assumption is harmful to women because the clear majority of women do not fit this unrealistic ideal. Pressures to fit the mold for a “sexy” body can have harmful consequences, such as eating disorders and body image issues.

Also prevalent in society, and a result of these body type ideals, is a culture of fatphobia. These attitudes are manifested through acts of fat-shaming, which are grounded in the idea that simply being fat is enough to incite criticism from others. Fat-shaming is a serious form of oppression in society, as it not only stigmatizes a certain body type and allows people to form unfair character assumptions based purely on appearance, but also affects an individual’s chances of receiving healthcare and job opportunities.

Lane Bryant, a plus-size lingerie retailer, is making active efforts to redefine “sexy” and to combat narrow-minded views that a woman is only attractive if she is skinny. As part of the campaign for the new Cacique by Lane Bryant lingerie collection, the brand released a video commercial featuring plus-size models.

The campaign, which uses the hashtag #ImNoAngel, makes a direct dig at Victoria’s Secret, a lingerie retailer that hires models who are very thin, which actively perpetuates ideas about the ideal body and enforces a narrow-minded beauty standard. According to Lane Bryant CEO Linda Heasley, the objective of the campaign is to “empower all women to love every part of herself.”

Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel campaign works to defy beauty standards by diversifying the notion of what an attractive woman’s body looks like by presenting viewers with images of “real women.” Many people have praised the campaign for celebrating body diversity and subverting societal ideas about beauty.

However, some have criticized the campaign for only representing one body type, arguing that it cannot truly be considered body positive because it excludes other body types. Some women have also claimed that the campaign itself is an act of skinny-shaming and that, by using the term “real women” to describe only women with curves, the campaign elevates plus-size women by excluding other body types. In addition, other voices have added that the female models that the campaign utilizes are the conventional plus-sizes, with the “correct” proportions, and thus, the campaign is not as groundbreaking as some believe it to be.

My own opinions about the campaign are mixed; on one hand, I feel that it is effective in terms of celebrating a body type that is not conventionally viewed as beautiful. Since we live in a culture of fatphobia, it is necessary for plus-size women to feel empowered and confident about their bodies. I do not take issue with the fact that skinny women are not shown in the campaign, since, as stated on Everyday Feminism,  “something can be body-positive and at the same time, leave thin bodies out of the conversation,” because “eradicating oppression sometimes means decentering the conversation from around the oppressor.” While skinny women are not necessarily the ones oppressing plus-size women, patriarchal beauty standards privilege the former. It is necessary to first empower one set of women to eradicate this beauty standard. In addition, Lane Bryant is a lingerie collection catered towards plus-size women, so it makes sense that the representations within the campaign would reflect the target audience.

However, I agree that using the term ‘real women’ to describe a specific body type is an issue, since it pits different body types against each other. While the campaign seems to be a step in the right direction, it also reinforces the idea that a woman’s appearance is her defining trait. While I hope to see the notion of beauty as tied to self-worth deconstructed, at the present, the two are intertwined; therefore, the goal of future Lane Bryant campaigns should be to empower plus-size women in a way that allows them to feel confident and beautiful as women, not simply as subjects of the male gaze.