Victoria’s Secret, a fashion brand that is known worldwide for its pretty lingerie and iconic pink and white striped pyjamas, recently came under scrutiny after unveiling their first ever plus-sized model: 25 year-old Barbara Palvin. At first glance, it is hard to understand why this could be construed as a negative decision, until you learn that Palvin is a size 8. No, you did not read that wrong. Palvin is a size 8 (a perfectly healthy and natural size), yet she is being branded as plus-sized. To put this into perspective, the average size for women’s clothing in the UK is a size 16. Palvin is half of this. How could this possibly be categorised as plus-sized?
Subtle messages like these in the fashion industry can have catastrophic consequences. A size 8 is hardly revolutionary, but sadly for Victoria’s Secret it is an improvement, thus showing just how “too little too late” this progress is. It is far overdue, and the fact that it is not a big improvement only makes the matter worse. It almost seems like this “improvement” is just simply not good enough from the brand; an angel may have gained her wings, but Victoria’s Secret may never reach heaven if it does not improve its sizes and start representing women of all sizes, as well as being more accurate in their branding.
The real issue that emerges from this situation is the impact on the mental wellbeing of young women and men. We now live in a society where support to deal with mental health problems is more prevalent, but this is all for nought if we do not start working to prevent these problems from arising in the first place. Yes, it is probably impossible to predict who and who will not at some point suffer from a mental illness, but when it comes it eating disorders, there is so much that big brands can be doing to help.
One of the major issues surrounding eating disorders is the constant comparison to models; this aspiration to be so unbelievably (and often unhealthily) thin that plagues the minds of many young people, all day, every day. This can obviously become a real problem once this idea latches onto a young person’s mind and it is clear that something needs to be done, with 1.6 million people in the UK suffering from an eating disorder. If that figure alone does not highlight just how badly these corporations need to start considering the mental wellbeing of young men and women, then nothing will. These unrealistic expectations, particularly on young girls, can leave them feeling ugly and worthless in comparison to these models. In this particular case, for a girl of size 8 who previously believed herself to be of a healthy weight, seeing her size branded as “plus-sized” can leave her feeling insecure physically and damage her relationship with her body potentially for the rest of her life.
Students in particular can be at a high risk of experiencing an eating disorder in their years of study. For many, university will be the first time that they will have complete control over when and what they eat; no mum and dad forcing us to finish off that broccoli or to put away the Pringles. This makes it very easy to skip meals, or to slowly start eating less without anyone causing too much trouble over it. Not only do these eating disorders harm the body physically and mentally, but they can also ruin the university experience for many students, leaving them feeling more anxious and worried over exams than they normally would, for example.
Therefore, it is in everybody’s interests for big clothing brands to be more considerate and accurate in their branding, as well as working to ensure that men and women of all sizes are represented in their clothing lines. The tragic impact that it can have on a young person’s life is devastating and, at the end of the day, clearly not worth it when it can be massively helped with very little effort on their behalf.