How school uniform is the latest body image blunder
Updated: Apr 26
I hate the word - I wish it was banned. Can someone neuralise the word "skinny"? It makes me baulk every time I hear it. Mainly because it is such a hoax. A false marketing manifesto of such power, it sells just about anything it attaches itself to. But It. Doesn't. Make. You. Skinny. Find another word.
The skinny jeans I have on aren't skinny. They are not human or alive so they can't assume human attributes such as: clever or funny or skinny. They do not make my large legs skinny. They are still formidable legs. I hate how it is bandied around like catnip to shoppers.
This year, I entered a high street shop and was met with my (body conscious) version of a horror story. A uniform section strewn with body shape labels, in enormous writing: "slim", "regular", "plus size", "super skinny". And to me it all seemed wrong. I unstabled my high horse and wrote said store a letter, declaring that I would be boycotting their wares and finding myself somewhere more inclusive to shop. Except I later realised... actually there isn't anywhere. That bandwagon is full to the brim and the horse has bolted.
You see where commercialism has bled dry the women's markets with that ol' familiar format of selling ideas that don't exist, the witchery in marketing offices has turned its attention first to men (male grooming is now a booming market) and apparently children.
"Ok guys, guys, we know that skinny sells, so what's next"
"I know, I know... SUPER skinny!"
"Yes!" to rapturous applause "Give that man a raise!"
Now imagine you are the mother of a nine-year-old daughter who is tall beyond her years, (and please keep in mind the FACTUAL research that early dieting practices in kids/teens creates three times the likelihood of adult obesity) and imagine she brings an age nine dress to you to try on. In times gone by, Mothers have done the sensible thing and gone up a size or two to accommodate taller, wider, fatter, preparing for puberty, children. That would be the "diversity is normal" approach. The "people grow at different rates" message.
Now, I think I'm right in this, we are to tell her she is a plus size? Or she is quietly to come to this conclusion herself by browsing the rails and absorbing the messaging. Some of these labels are indicated from the age of three. Whether it is true or not, it is not surely shopping's job to judge us. To apply body stigma.
I am literally cringing with the thought of numerous unaware body shaming conversations as a result of this misfire.
"Oooh Billy, looks like your three-year-old legs and just too fat for these trews."
"Jamie love, no rugby player's going to get their thighs in them super skinnies. Not for you." "But Muuuum, regular one's just aren't cool!" "I can't shrink your legs poppet."
After hockey, while Rose is in the shower, "Did you see? Her label? PLUS size" snarky, bitchy cackling to follow...
So here's a thing. Ingrained fattism is rife and majorly misunderstood at all levels of society, and I'd guess most misunderstood in corporate marketing offices (and dance schools, and Hollywood, and most media industries and some doctor's offices). Judgement and labeling of fat people does nothing to help fat people. We don't need to help fat people. They're just fat. We just need to accept it and shut up about it. Fat people are just fat, like people are just black or just straight. The narrative that we can all be Kate Moss if we tried hard enough... is an ever-so enticing vehicle to sell us more stuff we don't actually need. We are all aware that 90% of women and 45% of men are unhappy with their bodies? Yup, good - how are we going to improve that stat for future generations? Ideas...
Like stop using the world "Skinny" in branding, can we mark it out as judgy (it is) and uncool. Find another system. Call clothes lines actual names. The Jamie, The Olivia. Or letters A, B, C. Or for the love of Cumberbatch, we have a metric system for a reason! Put clothes (all of them) into measurements! Just stop with the oppressive, emotive, desirous / non desirous labeling which is serving the body judging masses with ever-more reinforced messaging that hurts. They're just kids. Can we please improve this in time for next year?
Postscript: Ive just remembered a conversation I had with my daughter a few years back. She said "Mummy I want to buy you a beautiful... how old are you?"
"I'm 34 darling."
"...a beautiful age 34 dress."
And it occurs to me the absurdity of using ages to size clothes. It surely is an archaic system. We don't impose it on ourselves as adults, but do so to children who grow at exponentially different rates.
Emi is available for work-based body diversity in branding consultations and employee body image wellbeing training. Contact her for more info.