At the latest New York Fashion Week (Spring/Summer 2014), we could witness USA’s first ‘plus-size’ runway showBut was this really a fashion runway show or just a media trend? Eline van Uden, shares with us her opinion about this topic.

 Let me be clear about the fact that I am very skeptical about plus-size. I think it has become a media trend and not a sign of real change in the fashion industry. Instead, the term plus-size confirms the existence of a normal size. So when I heard about USA’s first plus-size catwalk show ever, my skepticism even grew more. Size-zero bodies are currently -and probably will continue to be – the norm for fashion.

One size fits all
Of course, my wish is to see a variety of bodies in fashion: young, older, big, small. I would love to see a better representation of the wide variation in skin colors and body types at every continent of this world.
Let’s consider the following: Would we still enjoy fashion if it offered us a more ‘realistic’ image? Karl Lagerfeld would respond with a firm ‘NO’ and that only fat mummies want to look at bigger bodies.

The fashion industry has been using zero-size-fits-all types of body’s for decades. Likewise the modeling industry is organized to deliver fashion the right bodies. An interesting question is: How do we associate fashion with slender and straight (female) bodies? Why is it fashion is so unwilling to change its image and turn to a better variety of bodies?

Fashion Research
In order to respond to these questions I like to explain my vision on the body in fashion and give you a short lecture in my field of fashion research. In fashion research and theory, fashion is interpreted as a cultural phenomenon. There is a major difference between ‘fashion’ and clothing we use in our daily lives. We can buy clothing in shops, but ‘fashion only exists as an image’, fashion theorists say.

Fashion is an image that on its turn is a combination of ‘visual codes’. From this point of view, theorists like to crack fashion’s visual ‘codes’ and find out how fashion is created or constructed. These visual codes allow us to recognize and separate it from other images, such as paintings, or road signs for that manner. In other words, we don’t look at images, but ‘read’ them.

Today in fashion theory, theorists are slowly becoming more aware about the role of the body (and thus the fashion model) in fashion. Perhaps, they argue, fashion is not just an image; fashion is also ‘embodied’. This means that the body in fashion also gives meaning to fashion. Fashion and the body co-exist.

I hope you are still following me. If not, imagine yourself looking through Vogue without models in there: Pages after pages are filled with photos of clothing but without anybody wearing them! In other words, saying that fashion “is embodied” means saying that fashion is worn by bodies. Only through the act of wearing fashion comes into being. Therefore fashion is always intimately related to the body.

“In two centuries of time, plus-size could be totally fashion, preferably without being called plus-size at all”

In my research, I want to understand more about the body and fashion and how a certain ideal body is encrypted in the image. I think that by understanding the role of fashion models in fashion, we are able to imagine what is needed to ‘crack the codes’ of fashion. I am convinced that, in the long run, this process of ‘cracking the codes’ would help to imagine a different fashion image and even a different body. Maybe, in two centuries of time, plus-size could be totally fashion, preferably without being called plus-size at all.


About Author

Eline van Uden has been modeling for more than 10 years and holds a research master’s degree in Gender and Ethnicity. She graduated on the topic of the body in fashion. Every month she writes blogs about the female body in the fashion industry.

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