Shapewear or Nothing to Wear: Ambiguity of Targets and Allies in the Plus-Size Fashion Market Activism

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:00
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Daiane SCARABOTO, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile
Maria Carolina ZANETTE, Universidade de Ribeirão Preto, Brazil
Women who are fat have historically been deemed an unworthy consumer segment by fashion brands and designers (Stearns 1997). Yet, plus-sized consumers have started to engage in activism searching for inclusion in the mainstream fashion market (Scaraboto and Fischer 2013). Online, plus-sized fashion bloggers and their audiences, self-labeled fatshionistas, have re-appropriated elements from the mainstream fashion field and employed these to subvert the stigma of fat (Harju and Huovinen 2015).

Yet, understandings of which brands and designers are targets and which ones are allies of this movement are not clear cut among activists. Facing societal and economic pressure to include a wider range of body sizes among their clientele, brands pay token acceptance to consumers who are fat by employing plus-sized models in advertisements or extending clothing lines by a couple of sizes, while keeping the logic of thinness that guides the business unaltered. Similarly, certain consumer goods and practices entice conflicting reactions among the fatshionistas for offering the possibility of inclusion and validation in the marketplace while acting as enablers of the stigmatization these consumers combat.

Our research examines how stigmatized consumers fighting marginalization in a market make sense of paradoxical objects. Drawing from qualitative data collected through a 5-year netnography (Kozinets 2015) of the Fat Acceptance Movement, we examine discourses of fatshionistas regarding a particular category of objects: shapewear. By wearing shapewear, consumer activists can defy the stigma associated with being fat by fitting into clothing that is not “meant for them”, yet subject themselves to the norms of the fashion industry where lumps and rolls protuding from under a garment are unsightly. Conversely, by not wearing shapewear, plus-sized consumers defy the stigma through making their bodies and their fat visible, albeit dressed with clothing offered by the limited number of brands and designers that cater to them.