We can see how fashion brands are rapidly moving towards a more inclusive future with a broad representation of different bodies and identities. It has taken quite some time for labels to move beyond a similar motif of silhouettes adorned by straight-sized bodies to inculcate a wider spectrum of female forms. The sizing now ranges from XS to XXXL and diverse expressions of womanhood existing in unique bodies are given space in campaigns.
Despite this, the case is starkly different from male plus-sized representation in the industry, which rarely depicts the diverse male bodies and identities in their campaigns. Most models still display the accepted societal norms for a conventional build and form; endorsing only a singular narrative for the male body, which exists in a plurality of identities with unique shapes, sizes, sexualities and genders in reality.
If we look closely, our pop culture and media have typecasted the large male body, with connotations of laziness or even viewing them as a mere comedic relief. When a number of narratives showcase characters that are only viewed as the laughing stock while embodying a similar body type, it further perpetuates stereotypes to the extent where an when actor gains weight in real time, he is forced to withstand hateful comments directly targeting his appearance.
The portrayal of female bodies in media has been limited but the discourse around body positivity or body neutrality has widened and bigger bodies have claimed space in fashion. The representation has a long way to go but male bodies have not yet begun to be fully accepted in the industry. The images we are fed have similar kinds of male bodies that are slender while being muscular or thin.
These portrayals and behaviours are borrowed from our accepted views of idealised masculinity. A society that correlates a man’s worth with their productivity only accepts the lean body as a physical form of those ideals. Rooted in archaic values of manhood they forget to understand the complexities and move further away from the plus-sized male body; denigrating it as being unworthy of recognition in spaces.
On a more positive note, very recently during the Lakme Fashion Week, we saw a glimpse of the growing representation. Homegrown brands showcased their clothing on a wide spectrum of Indian forms and figures while also including plus-sized men in their shows. This was a first as indie brands like Rishi & Vibhuti and aLL presented their collections on fuller-figured male models.
Where brands like Tailor & Circus are pioneering the art of representing all Indian bodies by showcasing their clothing or varied male models, Voice of Fashion noted that mainstream labels like Shivan & Narresh, Sabyasachi and Gaurav Gupta have only shot campaigns with female plus-sized models.
We can see how body positivity has become a marketing tool for the fashion industry. Similar to green-washing, it presents a facade of representation, while leaving a large section of the population underrepresented. Beyond male plus-sized models, this also includes marginalised bodies that are rarely depicted in mainstream fashion campaigns or on the ramp.
There is a long road ahead for brands to truly become inclusive beyond marketing gimmicks. All bodies yearn to feel included and represented, even as sizing broadens. If one cannot realistically see themselves in the visuals of the brand, the label is still ostensibly exclusionary. Going forward the hope is that indie brands inspire high-end labels to showcase the diverse forms of Indian bodies thereby allowing male plus size fashion to also thrive.
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