Fast fashion has become a hot topic of conversation, with numerous online discourses. These discourses surround the ethics of buying cheaper, poorly made clothes compared to buying expensive, sustainable clothing. Discourse also extends to the argument that buying any new clothing is unsustainable, with the focus being on buying second-hand.
I have been trying my own hand at consciously shopping, buying second-hand clothing. I have spent numerous hours browsing Depop, searching for clothes from students looking to sell older clothes rather than big-name brands. I have grown to love meandering around charity shops, picking up gems of clothing amidst cheap books and trinkets. It’s been eye-opening. It’s also been unexpectedly emotional.
It’s a subject that I never thought would be sensitive to me. However, as I’ve dug deeper into my own feelings on the subject, I have thought more about the distinct groups of ‘straight’ and ‘plus’ size clothing. I have thought of the options both of those groups have when it comes to clothing beyond fast-fashion, and what the options for those ‘in-between’ straight and plus size groups have to shop sustainably. It’s allowed me to carve a firmer identity—who am I, which category does my body belong to?
Straight sizes are frequently represented, regardless of the ethics of clothing sellers. They are the sizes always available in branded shops, the ones with cheaper items on second-hand sites, their bodies represented in thrift shops. People who fit into ‘straight size’, which is considered to be sUK size 10 and under, are often the ones pushing for sustainable, second-hand clothing. They remain unaware that, despite the growing acceptance of plus sizes in shops, there are few options for larger sizes to shop ethically.
Even though the average woman is a UK size 16, the size that plus size lines often start at, a size 12 is considered a ‘plus’ size to the fashion industry. The idea of what makes a person ‘plus sized’ has become distorted, leaving women who wear larger sizes feeling excluded from fashion. As a result of this, plus-sized women feel uncomfortable shopping at second-hand shops or more sustainable brands.
To add further insult, plus size women often cannot find their clothing styles in shops, forced to choose between unfamiliar clothes or shopping unsustainably, where straight size women can try new clothing trends easily regardless of where they shop. This could leave guilt within plus-sized women, who are pressured to buy sustainably or second-hand, but cannot find any clothing that assists in expressing their identity.
For me, someone who is neither straight nor plus size, the effect is similar. When I first started venturing into buying second-hand, I would feel dejected minutes after opening an app. It was hard to see clothes that I couldn’t have. It felt like a taunt. I felt too big to wear the style I wanted to wear—but too small to shop plus-sized. I would feel guilty at the idea of taking clothing meant for women in larger sizes, conscious of the options already limited for plus-sized women.
It took a long time, but over the years I have begun to accept my body for what it is, rather than how the media defines me. After years of being told I must be too big, the realisation that there are millions of women ‘in between’, just like me, has been eye-opening. My body is in-between, and that is okay.
Once I showed my own body some compassion, my world got larger. I began to see how tailored the clothing industry is towards straight-sized bodies. It allowed me to look beyond it, and begin to both wear the clothes that I want and wear clothes that don’t contribute towards fast fashion. My self-esteem improved.
But, I am lucky. There are many women who are still trapped by the standards of the clothing industry, feeling trapped by constant advertisements of how women should look. It’s an issue we must come together to address. We must focus on the women whose self-esteems are lowered by the fashion industry.
We cannot lose hope. The future of fashion is carved by consumers. It is an evolving process and, hopefully, the growing acceptance of plus-size bodies online can inspire the fashion industry to include both sustainable and accessible clothing for every body type. Disengaging with articles and media that only fuel body dysmorphia is the first step. Self-acceptance is the next. If we begin to show our own bodies some kindness, we can begin to show kindness to all types of bodies and appreciate our differences.
JAN Trust has a long history of supporting women and we work hard to ensure that women feel empowered within their communities. We offer to mentor women, assisting in their personal development through the experiences of counsellors, entrepreneurs, and activists. Through mentoring programs such as ours, women can feel empowered in their bodies rather than being discouraged by advertisements and media.