The Ultimate Trend – How The Fashion Industry Is Embracing Health Over Size


By Nupur Gupta

As early as the publication of the first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 1964, the standard of beauty has been defined as tall, slim, and Caucasian- a standard that has proven to have an incredible staying power through generations and across cultures. The challenge with such a standard, especially in today’s multi-ethnic and diverse world, is that it represents so few individuals but reaches so many of them.

As a young, curvy, Indian girl growing up in the 1990s, I had never seen an image representative of myself that was qualified as beautiful- and that lack of diverse representation, especially in regards to body type, can have incredible damaging consequences, the most recognized of which include eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

As the consequences of such skewed representation affects more and more women, the world has begun to take notice of the need to be conscious about how women are depicted, discussed, and perceived. This shift is evident by a recent event- the selection of Ashley Graham and Ronda Rousey as part of a trio of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue covers.

In its 52-year history, 2016 marks the first time that a woman with Ashley Graham’s size-16 physique was selected for the coveted title. The Swimsuit Issue is known for its sex appeal and by selecting Ashley Graham for the cover, the magazine is clearly making a statement that a size-16 woman, contrary to historic belief, is sexy.


Ronda Rousey, the former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion and an Olympian, represents another statement by Sports Illustrated that stresses inclusion and embraces diversity. Rousey is often described as masculine due to her training but has leveraged her notoriety to redefine the definition of femininity.

These two women are not alone is utilizing their respective platforms to emphasize a culture of wellness over being skinny. Many of today’s most famous supermodels have, publicly at the very least, rejected the idea of being thin at all costs and instead build their brands around healthy, well-balanced lifestyles.

Miranda Kerr, a former Victoria’s Secret model, routinely cites the 80/20 rule (80% healthy and 20% indulgent) in interviews and has built an empire around living an organic lifestyle. Karlie Kloss, another former Victoria’s Secret model, is another example of supermodel who has developed her brand around the idea of wellness- her business Karlie’s Kookies features diary and gluten free versions of the quintessential treat.


All four of these women, along with many others, have demonstrated that promoting wellness over size is extremely profitable and many other businesses are following suit. The growth of plus-size fashion, cited by IBIS World as a $10 billion industry as of November 2015, demonstrates the power of consumerism to change social perspectives.

Plus-size fashion, previously focused on covering “flaws” is now evolving to celebrate curves and diverse body types. This season’s New York Fashion Week featured several plus-size lines and commercial heavyweights such as New York & Company, Charlotte Russe, and Old Navy have expanded their offerings to include plus sizes.

While such growth is incredibly promising, much work is left to be done to prevent and correct wide-scale negative messaging about body type, particularly towards women and young girls. Four countries that have recognized the need for stricter measures on proponents of negative messaging about body type and self-image are Israel, France, Italy and Spain.


All of these countries, according to an article in the International Business Times, have passed laws banning models determined to be too thin. The involvement of governments in this level of regulation is incredibly noteworthy and has motivated many in the United States to push for similar measures.

The stigmatization of unhealthy portrayals of women in the fashion industry, coupled with the popularity and profitability of inclusive and wellness-based brands is incredibly encouraging. While the perception that you need to be skinny to be popular or successful still exists, that messaging is continuously being countered by messages stressing body-positivity, inclusion, and diversity. Diverse representation, whether in regards to body type, religion, gender identity, or race, destroys the notion that there is just one standard of beauty.

As diversity grows, the focus will shift from trying to conform to one standard of beauty to celebrating individuality. The most exciting aspect of this trend, however, is that it is driven by us- the big, bold, beautiful women who never really felt like we fit in. So speak up, shop till you drop, and never stop expressing yourself because the actions of just one person can spark a trend so catching, that even the fashion industry will have to follow.



Nupur Gupta is a Financial Analyst living in Boston and loves speaking about feminism in the context of everything from politics to fashion. She hopes to leverage her business knowledge to create structures that directly address women’s issues and promote gender equality.

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