Rihanna’s 2020 Savage X Fenty show featured one of the most diverse casts of models the modeling world has ever seen. The show displayed Savage X Fenty’s capsule collection and featured a range of models and performers of different ethnicities, gender identities and body types. The show challenged former lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret’s outdated notions of what is deemed sexy, with the use of plus sized and transgender models.
The diversity in models extended onto the Savage X Fenty site, where plus size male model Steven Green is featured. The reaction to Green’s photos on the website was overwhelmingly positive on social media sites. Many Twitter users stated that Green’s body type allowed them to feel seen, commending Rihanna for her conscious efforts to promote body inclusivity and positivity.
The social media reaction to performer Lizzo’s Instagram post relating to her participation in the show is a clear demonstration of why fashion brands need to follow in Rihanna’s footsteps, and promote body types outside of what is considered conventional. In contrast with Green’s appraisal, Lizzo’s post was met with vomit emojis and anonymous commenters “praying for her weight loss journey.”
Green faced criticism as well, with social media users deeming him unhealthy based on one image. The body positivity movement is one that affects both men and women, and aims to challenge America’s outdated standards of what it means to be healthy and beautiful.
The standard for beauty in America has historically been white, straight hair, and a thin body. This standard does not allow for diversity in beauty nor is it representative of the diversity of American society. A Psych Guide study found that American women have the worst perceptions of their own bodies globally. The fat acceptance movement in the late 60s, originated by Black women, was the first public challenge to this damaging notion of beauty. It called for the societal acceptance of fat women in the workplace and fashion, and forced fat acceptance to be adopted as an issue within the feminist movement of the 60s.
In the 1990s, the fat acceptance movement transformed into the body positivity movement, which has recently pushed fashion brands to rethink their perceptions of consumers’ bodies decades later. Several fashion brands have created plus sized sections within their stores and expanded their sizing. However, these changes are not solely in support of the body positivity movement, they are careful marketing tools for fashion brands.
Some brands have elected to ignore the diversity of the body positivity movement, exclusively using white plus size models for shoots or fashion shows. After Victoria’s Secret’s chief marketing officer faced backlash, both on social media and in their sales, for comments stating that trans and plus sized women could not sell the Victoria’s Secret fantasy, the brand hired Ali-Tate Cutler. Cutler is a white British plus-sized model. The commodification of the movement by fashion brands has left women of color, the originators of the movement, in the shadows. The fashion brand led version of the body positivity movement has also failed to account for men. The rare plus size man that is represented, is white.
Not only are the plus sized models who are placed into the spotlight typically white, they usually share a similar figure, one that is “acceptably fat.” This leaves women such as Lizzo and men such as Steven Green open to criticism from uneducated commenters, while models such as Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence are considered attractive by society at large.
Rihanna speaks frequently about diversity in the fashion industry, and takes the action to promote it. It is not enough to create a plus sized section anymore. There is not a uniform body that represents all plus-sized people. It is incredibly important to highlight diverse plus-size bodies. The body positivity movement does not aim to fit within the standards that society has already created, it aims to get rid of the standard altogether and allow us to understand that each of us is truly beautiful.
Art credits: Reyna Noriega, @reynanoriega_ on Instagram