Lingerie’s Quest for Body Positivity

After losing significant market shares in 2018 following transphobic and fat-shaming statements made by its former CEO Ed Razek, Victoria’s Secret revealed the brand’s first “body positive” campaign with plus-size model Ali Tate Cutler earlier this month.  
 
In spite of the lingerie brand’s efforts to present itself in a more inclusive light, this new campaign has been received with mixed feelings. On social media, Victoria’s Secret is still repeatedly accused of promoting an outdated and unrealistic vision of the female body. In addition, the American brand has also been accused of letting the quality of its products slip – and now, it is being singled out for trying to tug at the purse strings of the plus-size customer.
 
However, Victoria’s Secret’s desperate attempt to reboot its image – and revive its plummeting sales – is not an isolated case in the fashion industry. For the past two years, body positivity has been the subject of all talks – and battles – in the fashion and underwear sectors. In this context, plus-size-friendly underwear brands such as Savage x Fenty created by pop star and beauty mogul Rihanna, as well as US-based indie lingerie brands ThirdLove, Aerie, and Fleur du Mal were leading the change, and are still considered to be the examples to follow for a more inclusive approach to lingerie and undergarments.
 
Creating and producing products in extended sizing is a real investment and a tangible commitment brands can and should make,” Jennifer Zuccarini, Fleur du Mal’s founder and CEO, explained to NOWFASHION. “Whatever the motives are, it’s collectively moving the needle by encouraging every brand to have that conversation and figure out genuine ways that they can be more inclusive.” Zuccarini, in fact, is no stranger to “moving the needle” as she recently teamed up with American model Precious Lee to collaborate on a plus-size lingerie collection. The mini-capsule released on October 23rd features a range of four lingerie pieces from size 14 to 24, including a demi-bra, a garter belt, a high-waist thong, and a satin trench. “Our collaboration with Precious was a big step in raising more awareness around inclusivity. Most importantly, women of all sizes share the desire to feel super-chic and own their sexuality and femininity. Precious really captures that spirit; it’s powerful, sexy, and iconic – the size doesn’t really matter – it’s more like, ‘damn, she looks so good,” Zuccarini concluded, adding that we should keep our eyes peeled for a new product category that will be launched by Fleur du Mal in 2020.
 
And if one considers the results of recent studies made on the subject of body image, lingerie, and underwear brands, we have all the more reason to move away from a fantasy-driven concept of femininity and cater to a woman’s real needs and expectations. In fact, according to an online survey conducted by the UK-based Mental Health Foundation that launched the #BeBodyKind campaign on social media in March 2019, one in five adults (20%) felt shame, just over one third (34%) felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year. More importantly, 37% of teenagers (aged 13-19) felt upset, and 31% felt ashamed in relation to their body image.
 
La Perla has always paid great attention to the study of lingerie whose functionality allows us to satisfy a variety of women with a variety of body shapes and needs," La Perla’s creative director Alessandra Bertuzzi told NOWFASHION. Bertuzzi, who has been designing for the company for the past 30 years, further pointed out that established lingerie brands, like the now 65-year-old La Perla, need to make a statement by rethinking their design processes in a more inclusive way. We have ambitious projects from the Fall/Winter 2020 season onwards, such as the launch of a luxury collection for every day, as well as new, more inclusive styles and shapes that will be added to our permanent collection.
 
Even if the lingerie sector is currently celebrating self-acceptance in all shapes and sizes, the on-going profit-based appropriation of “body positivity” by fashion brands has led many influencers and activists to publicly state that the movement has become meaningless to them. Actress and activist Jameela Jamil is one of them: her Instagram account @I_Weigh has introduced “body neutrality,” and invites women and men to define themselves by their positive actions, rather than by their physical features. In a piece she wrote for British Vogue’s September 2019 issue, Jameela Jamil explained: “For me, it took therapy and a daily practice of body neutrality to gradually let go of the misguided notion that I owed anyone anything regarding my appearance. And yet I still find myself incapable of ‘body positivity.
 
The subject mentioned by Jameela Jamil (the need to please yourself and others through your appearance) is de facto precisely what new-gen underwear brands are building on – and profiting from. When it comes to shapewear, reality TV star Kim Kardashian has been the latest to jump on the bandwagon of body positivity with the recent launch of her brand Skims that offers a wide range of body sculpting undergarments from sizes XXS to 5x XL, all of which are “designed to smooth, enhance, lift, and tone” a woman’s body, as stated on the brand’s website. Jameela Jamil, however, is appalled by the constant pressure put on women to perfect their body shapes at all times. I am exhausted, utterly fed up with all of the extra homework society has assigned me to do on my body. The physical requirements demanded of women in 2019 are, frankly, ludicrous,” she stated. In other words: there is a very thin line between a brand’s authentic quest for body positivity and mere, business-driven appropriation – and, as of now, lingerie and underwear brands are still struggling to find the right balance.

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