Under the Skin: Can we talk about "Summer Bodies?"
Penned by Su's Policy Lead, Allie Spiegel.
Two months ago, as I mindlessly watched through my instagram stories, I was smacked in the face by Aritzia's seasonal marketing call - crop top season is upon us, they said. First, I winced.
Don't get me wrong - I love a good crop top as much as the next person, and I certainly don't need a seasonal excuse to break one out with a pair of high-waisted pants. What struck me initially wasn't the announcement, or even the article of clothing they displayed. It was the tiny, fat-less bodies these tops were being sold on.
And then I did roll my eyes and, in my best Meryl Streep impression, thought "Thin models in crop tops? For summer? Groundbreaking."
I am thankfully surrounded by a cocktail of great friends, a brilliant feminist community and a shifting culture of body confidence that allows me to be visibly frustrated and quote The Devil Wears Prada. And the thing is - as trying as so much can be right now - there is a shifting culture in representing different kinds of bodies that is palpable. And yet, there is still this internalized feeling that summer doesn't allow for bodies to just be - they must be toned and tanned and hairless. And this, of course, leaves us in a place where so much of our time and confidence is consumed by our ability and willingness to conform.
These bodies that we are seeing in ads - be them the traditionally "runway thin" ones, or curvier ones - are beautiful and wonderful and worthy of being seen. The cultures that celebrate each of them are valid and worthy of being recognized also.
But despite the shifting culture, I still struggle to see *my* body as it is in these ads, without need for change. These days, I tend to fluctuate between a size 6 and 8 - so why should I, as someone who is privileged in body type, feel this way? Perhaps it can be attributed in part to the fact that. for most of my adolescent life, a size 14-16 felt snug, which left my body and I feeling pretty much alone on shopping trips. Not seeing my body in clothes I thought were beautiful didn't just leave me without the confidence to try them on - they left me with the heavy belief that my body wasn't just meant to be eschewed in ads, but that I was doomed, forever, to live hiding it.
I'm committed to changing the way I see my body, and have been for a number of years now. I've spent a good chunk of this summer challenging myself; to wear shorts even when I hadn't shaved my legs, to wear a dress if it made me feel good, to wear a tank top without a cardigan when it was scorching hot out. But the fact of the matter is that these acts shouldn't feel as rebellious as they did - they should just be acts. And the fashion and beauty industries as they stand - despite my able body and privileged dress size - somehow still leave me feeling like a rebel with a cause.
There are companies pushing this envelop that I can't get enough of - Aerie's campaign displaying models of bodies with varied abilities, Billie being the first company to *actually* show body hair on women, Hayley Elsaesser pushing to create a safe space where fashion isn't gendered. The point is that the fashion and beauty industries at large need to take the kinds of cues these companies are giving and begin to cultivate more spaces in the industry for people to just be people. I don't want to be sold an ideal of what I could look like - I want an item to be sold to me as I am.
As Su moves towards launching its policy and advocacy initiatives, I hope that we can be part of that encouragement. It is our goal to, by way of our presence, our work and our voices, create more spaces and think pieces and marketing initiatives that showcase just how absurd the “norm” really is for us women. And all this narrowing of bodies is... for what? For whom? It’s time that more women - not just bigger women, or smaller ones, but those who have historically and systemically seen NO representation at all, ever, can feel great wearing whatever they wish - because they look great, they truly do.