Pressures of fitting in
Students hope for inclusivity in fashion industry
May 12, 2020
Fashion. It has no one definition, no one look and absolutely no rules. Fashion can be anything. Fashion is art, freedom and expression.
But even in the midst of a revolution of change and progress, there is an underlying pressure to be thin. Despite plus-sized models and people from all walks of life on the rise to bring down the existence of evident discrimination, stores continue to keep their exclusionary policies alive.
If fashion is a means of expression for everyone, where is the inclusivity? Where is the representation for those who don’t have a flat stomach?
Fashion at a glance
When fashion is the topic of a conversation, the average person will automatically affiliate it with clothing. It is a common belief fashion is merely the clothing one wears. However, for teens like senior Micaela Galvez, the term can take on a variety of meanings.
“If we’re talking about everyday fashion, it’s just the way you express yourself through your clothes,” Galvez said. “It’s the way you represent how you feel or [what] makes you feel good. But fashion can also [be] like [an] art form. Like Alexander Wang, people like that. That is also included in fashion. I feel like fashion is an umbrella term we use to [refer] to anything relating to clothes.”
Fashion is meant to be a liberating concept, giving teens a medium through which they can be themselves. The fashion industry, however, tends to be a double-edged sword, often containing an underlying truth.
“So many clothing brands, like Brandy Melville and Lululemon, have built reputations on being exclusive to slimmer bodies,” senior Yobany Pizano said. ”[They] make the general population feel that in order to be their customer, you’d have to lose weight, harming their views of their own bodies.”
Beneath the surface
For countless people, especially teens who are at pivotal points in their lives, fashion is a way to showcase their personalities to the world with ease. However, with today’s extensive social media platforms, it is a common occurence to lose the positive essence fashion is supposed to hold. Publicity typically lacks diversity and adds an additional layer of pressure to young adults to look a certain way.
“All across social media, I see workout videos and pills that can help you lose weight,” junior Alicia Rivera said. “[It] shouldn’t be happening [because] we are just developing our bodies and seeing so much pressure [to] obtain the perfect body or perfect skin can lead to so many problems with the way we view ourselves.”
But the body the media deems perfect is so hard to obtain that some go to extreme measures to get that body.”
— junior Alicia Rivera
Magazine covers and photos uploaded by influencers tend to feature photos that have been edited to perfection. This culture of bloggers and influencers creates an artificial and unrealistic image. Despite the lack of authenticity, young people, especially girls, are eager to fit the image presented by popular brands.
Though there is a rising demand for change, name brands continue their promotion of a sole body type. Focusing on one body type only, one that is tall and thin, enables companies to create masses of clothing that is one size at a quicker pace; better known as fast fashion. The term “one size fits all” is one that has been criticized for years, but still overpowers the fashion industry.
“It’s easier to have one body type, because then they [companies] don’t have to go out [of their way] and think, ‘Oh, are we being inclusive? Are we making sure everybody’s covered?,’” Galvez said. “They have one body type and it’s like ‘We can make clothes for one shape at a faster [rate] and we can put them on models [to] represent the clothes [we] are making.’ It’s [favoring] how [a certain] figure looks. [Companies] think ‘This is what we want our brand to look like. We feel like because this is a very pretty body type, most people are going to think it’s pretty, [too]. [They will] be drawn to our clothes, which makes them more likely to buy them.’”
With the media’s constant tendency to focus attention on thinner figures, adolescents become infatuated with one look and change their daily regimes to fit the figure portrayed on screens. This often serves as a foundation for serious health problems, such as eating disorders and other mental illnesses.
“Being healthy is about feeling good about yourself, [exercising] and eating better,” Rivera said. “But the body the media deems perfect is so hard to obtain that some go to extreme measures to get that body. Around this time last year, I hated my body so much because I would always compare myself to other people I saw on social media. I took extreme measures to lose weight. I started to cut off a lot of what I would consume in a day and started to track my calorie consumption. I didn’t see the results myself but I was losing weight at a rapid rate. My family realized I needed help and took me to see a professional where I got diagnosed with body dysmorphia.”
Facing toxic masculinity
While plenty have recognized and criticized the existing flaws of the fashion industry, there is an ongoing struggle with the way men are portrayed in fashion. There is a misconception that women are the only ones who face struggles in receiving accurate and diverse representation, but the reality is men undergo the same mental and physical obstacles.
“Men are really sexualized [in fashion],” junior Cristian Lopez said. “It’s just like, ‘Oh you’re supposed to have washboard abs, [you’re] supposed to be big.’ Some guys aren’t [like that]. Like me, I’m really small. What I see [portrayed by models] just doesn’t fit [me]. Let’s say I go to the mall and [I see] a guy with washboard abs. I don’t fit that category so I feel [like] ‘Oh, it’s not for me.’”
In addition to the damaging portrayal, the fashion industry is latched onto the idea that men are supposed to be tough and dress a certain way. Male models are often dressed casually, leaving little to no room for creativity and additional expression. Boys feel that in order to truly fit in, they must follow society’s constructs and dress in a subtle manner.
“The societal norm for teenage boys was to wear something convenient rather than flashy and presentable,” Pizano said. “I think [this mindset is] changing the more we evolve as people. Males have begun to realize they can be bold and express themselves through their fashion choices too.”
One size does not fit all
Taking matters into their own hands, students look to acquire true representation and inclusiveness. They hope using tools, like social media, to voice their perpetual concerns will serve as a wakeup call for those who might be struggling to fit an unrealistic concept.
“We all have different bodies, therefore we should have more sizes provided for us, not just one size,” Rivera said. “Plus, most one-sized clothes often only fit people that are smaller which sends the wrong message across. If you don’t fit into a piece of clothing that is one size fits all, you’re going to feel like you’re not the ideal body type which can severely affect the way [you] see [yourself].”
[The only way to eliminate the stigma is] by taking people as they are and loving them for it.”
— senior Micaela Galvez
Teens are beginning to take pride in their unique body types, recognizing they are free to express themselves as they wish without following a societal norm. Students like Pizano embrace their masculinity by being bold with fashion choices and encouraging those around them to do the same.
“The best way to remove the stigma of men having to look a certain way is to be the change,” Pizano said. “If we want men to feel OK with venturing out of their comfort zone with fashion, we have to take action. One guy defying societal norms and deciding to challenge it will inspire many more [to do] the same. It’s a chain of events that will empower men in the world of fashion.”
Young adults continue to struggle finding a common ground in accepting their physical appearances. However, they are confident today’s ever-changing society will evolve into one where people can steer away from the physical aspects of fashion and focus more on their mental health and other non-materialistic concepts.
“[The only way to eliminate the stigma is] by taking people as they are and loving them for it,” Galvez said. “People tend to idolize [celebrities] and so [they] idolize everything about them. I think what’s been changing, especially now, even with different economic standpoints and different societal norms, most people are starting to accept other people for who they are, not what they look like.”