In fashion, size matters, especially if you are a woman. It’s better, they say, if you are UK size 8 or less. From the catwalk, and print and online campaigns—being small is a requirement—yet a majority of women in India are midsize, that is, between UK size 10 and 16. The good or the bad news, depending on how you look at it, is the fashion industry has only just started using the term “midsize”.
For years, social media, with its filters and body-tuning apps, has made beauty standards reach a new level of unattainability. Slowly, however, it is changing, especially after covid entered our lives. More people are using social media to talk about the importance of body positivity. Fashion has had to respond but, frankly, it is still glossing over the subject. The reason why they are reluctant is that they still believe high fashion only looks good on women of a certain (and by that I mean small) size. Until women of all sizes are an accepted part of the system, things will not change. I still remember going into a high-end designer store as a newly engaged bride and being told by the shop assistant that I should consider going down a size. She even suggested a nearby medispa to me. That line from the 2010 film Bride Wars, “You do not alter a Vera to fit you, you alter yourself to fit Vera,” rings true today even today.
By including one or two curvy models on magazine covers, catwalks and offline and online campaigns, the fashion industry and its members feel like they are addressing the conversation. I don’t think so. As a proud midsize woman, fashion does not address my concerns.
Fashion is a visual medium, so it naturally does not like something ordinary or normal. One of India’s known “curvy” models (as anyone over a size 10 is called) is 26-year-old Sakshi Sindwani, who’s also a content creator with over 500,000 followers. She became an advocate for body positivity by accident while starting her Instagram account few years ago to show her personality. “People started commenting on how, you know, I’m a big sized person, and I’m a curvy girl, and I’m inspiring so many people because I’m wearing silhouettes that they’re not used to seeing on a bigger woman. So, I think that’s where the conversation of inclusivity really began for me.”
Talking about representation of midsize body in fashion, she says: “Fashion loves the extreme, not the average. Only the plus and the skinniest get the maximum traction. I think, as a society, we are very much obsessed with the extremes in all forms in every aspect of our life. This means a regular sized person, which is literally 90% of the people, feel a little out of place, and they don’t feel as represented.” So narrow is the inclusivity conversation that Sindwani is often described as a plus-size model; she wears UK size 14.
It was this same lack of representation that led Aayushi Badheka, 26, to become an advocate for mid-sized fashion. She has over 80,000 Instagram followers. “It was a problem versus solution-based decision. I was struggling to find the right creator to look up to for inspiration and there seemed to be a gap. So, when I started my creator journey I decided to start speaking more about midsize as a category.” She believes it is important for women to know that being midsize does not mean you are medium size, as women who are large fall into the midsize category too. She says, “You are neither a petite nor a plus, you are just the majority.”
With most designers using a small as their standard for creating a sample, it means they are making clothes that are not tailored to work on most women. Badheka points out that designers prefer to use mid-size women to represent plus size, which is clearly a flawed idea and deceives the consumer. “I’ve been asked to work with brands because they want to have size inclusivity, and they want me to be a part of it as a plus-size creator. I mean no, I’m not plus, I’m a mid-size woman.” That is why if you are plus size, it’s better to stick to labels that are specialists in the field such as Marina Rinaldi (Max Mara’s size inclusive label) or US based lux elevated essentials label Henning, as they are less likely to play such games, and will be making clothes that actually work for your body type.)
Sindhwani, who has walked the ramp for various designers, is making her debut at the India Couture Week, which starts on 22 July.
“Fashion designers are definitely losing a great opportunity. I’ve spoken to a bunch of these designers myself, and every single time they tell me that the majority of their clients look like me. Yet this does not reflect in their campaigns,” she says. “Why is there still such tokenism?”
Retailers agree. Chennai-based Tina Malhotra, the co-founder of the multi-designer store Evoluzione, says most of her clients fall in the midsize category. “There seems to be a lacuna in consideration of the midsize,” she says. Malhotra believes this leads to women having a hard time accepting their own body and prevents from really enjoying fashion. “Mid-size women come in with low expectations to find their sizes, which, in turn, creates a dip in their self-esteem. If we could fill that blank, it would help create a confident shopping experience.”
Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column that takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what it means to us.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.