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Stepping Outside the Beauty Industry -or- I hate your corporate “love your body” campaign

January 4, 2012

Okay. Here’s what I really think of Dove’s “Real Beauty”, Ruby the Fat Barbie, and all the other corporate body positive campaigns. They are corporate. They are part of a beauty industry that makes money off of women feeling bad about their bodies. And they are really good at it. Any campaign paid by corporate dollars to encourage women to be body positive is a distraction. Their major goal is to still make money off of women buying products, and they just found a different way to do it, by tapping into a thriving and vibrant movement, and distracting it.

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They're even trying to steal our catchphrases!

In Social Movement Theory, it’s called co-optation, one of the five ways social movements can decline.

Co-optation occurs when movement leaders come to associate with authorities or movement targets more than with the social movement constituents. For example, a leader could be asked to work for the organization that is the target of a movement with offers of being able to change things from the inside. Instead they themselves become integrated into the organization and take on its values, rather than the social movement’s values. Leaders could also be paid off by authorities or target groups who ask them to redirect their activities in exchange.

A big example is the plus size fashion industry. Rejecting beauty norms and celebrating fashion as a fat person can be pretty radical, and I love my fatshionistas for that. But the industry does not have empowerment in mind, it has money. And we have to remember that. Fat Waitress said it really well in her speech Public Speaking and Activism in Unsafe Spaces

With the continued growth of the plus size fashion industry and a larger selection of styles for fat women and men to choose from; how clothes can be a political form of activism gets muddled by the ways in which the fashion industry sells us clothing. Messages from clothing manufacturers often tell us we can use clothing to buy our own identity or sense of personal agency. Wearing things fat people are not suppose to wear does challenge people to think differently about fat bodies but you are still going to be subject to fat prejudice. So by believing you can change or hide your fatness through clothing ignores the overwhelming fat stigma people face on a daily basis. It also stops people from understanding the root cause of fat prejudice, which is not the appearance of fat people, but the deep seeded fat hatred ingrained in us from an early age.

The main reason plus size-clothing manufacturers exist in the first place is to make money. While they do try to fill in the gaps ‘straight’ size manufacturers ignore, almost all big names still try to please the masses who do not want to live in fat bodies and believe we all want to appear as thin as possible. With the tremendous number of products like body shapewear or panels in pants to hide bellies or “bad spots” imply there is something inherently wrong with living in a fat body without shame of any part of your body. While they carry these products due to demand, to truly encourage fat positive ideals, they should be pushing for their customers to live in their body with pride for their body, their whole body, not just parts of their body.

We should also be pushing ourselves and eachother to live outside the beauty industry. Stepping outside of consumer culture rejects a beauty industry that is expert at making us feel terrible about ourselves and our bodies. Women creating and manipulating fashion on their own shifts beauty norms and puts that power back into our hands.

There is also  plenty to say about how the forces of consumer capitalism detrimentally affect women worldwide. A big one is how demands for lower costs in clothing and other products (coupled with corporate greed) pushes labor costs down, and with it, worker’s rights. This report from Oxfam, although a few years old, is a pretty comprehensive look at women’s work in global supply chains.

People reading this who know me well know that I don’t always live up to my political views in terms of how I shop. But I’m trying. I have found that cultivating my personal style, from a mixture of items I buy, buy used, or repurpose has really improved my body image. I’m never going to look like a model, and I’m never going to be able to achieve the “real” fashionable look – clothes just don’t fit on me that way, and I refuse to buy any more products that try to squish my body until they do. Getting my clothes used or wearing them in different ways lifts me from that pressure to look just like the model did in that ad – and I find it  freeing.

There are a lot of options out there for how we can step away from the beauty industry and consumer beauty culture. Here are some of my ideas.

  • Clothing swaps – You can do this with friends, or find somewhere else where they’re organized like on fatshionista’s fatshionxchange.
  • Repurposing – I lost some weight this past year, and now a lot of my clothes are a couple sizes too big. Rather than replacing my warddrobe I’m taking the “belt it” philosophy. My clothes still can look cute, but in different ways. There are lots of craft sites that also have patterns and ideas for repurposing old jeans into purses, and the like.
  • Repairing – Make cute patches, fall in love with your local cobbler, DONT GIVE UP ON THOSE CLOTHES YET.
  • Used clothings stores – Old men’s button-ups have been a staple of my wardrobe for years, there’s plenty of other cool stuff to buy.
  • Etsy – if you gotta buy new, buy it from someone who made it themselves! There are so many DIY projects on here, and plenty of ideas for how to do it on your own.
  • Make your own beauty products – My sister-in-law was raving to me about her homemade deodorant, which is easy to do. Homemade soaps, shampoos, and even makeup can get you out of the mall.

I’m one of those feminists that says its okay to want to look good. It’s okay to want to look and feel sexy. But I don’t want to fall into the trap that buying some item that says “Love your body” on it or shopping at a big store that actually sells clothes that fit HALF THE POPULATION is empowering. It isn’t. Taking control of your personal style and shifting your beauty norms to fit how you want to look is. And you don’t need to buy anything to do that.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2012 12:38 PM

    “Love your body” campaigns tend to be limited. Not everyone should look the same…but you should still fall within these parameters and use these specific products to achieve that end. I have seen the Dove commercials, and yes, they depict women of different races and they aren’t extremely thin, but they still aren’t *fat* or disabled.

    I used to have a facial disfigurement and the focus is usually on concealing it. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. There is also nothing wrong with treating it if you don’t like it or it is causes pain or some other disability.

    But for some people that is not possible, and for others, it’s not desirable. So I LOVE your idea of repurposing beauty products and clothes. Instead of using cover-up to conceal my eczema scars, for example, might use hypoallergenic glitter and makeup to turn it into a picture or tatoo. Since I love Halloween, I might want to exaggerate some “flaws” and dress up as a favorite character. Not everyone likes that, because they are already seen as ugly and as freaks, but for some people, it’s a way to reclaim yourself.

  2. January 8, 2012 3:13 AM

    I want fashion and beauty companies to adopt positive body image messages for their products. Especially plus-sized fashion companies. I want them to realise that aspirational does not have to mean thin, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual and able bodied. Aspirational can mean fun, glamorous, empowered, happy. I want them to market to those messages.

    But I don’t want them to be giving with one hand and taking away with the other.


  1. A few thoughts on shapewear | Pretty Large

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