In 2010 a scandal that erupted when designer Mark Fast decided to use four plus-size models (US sizes 8-10) in his catwalk show at London Fashion Week. Protesting his decision, his stylist and creative director quit, leaving him just three days to find replacements.
The incident is a great example of how even relatively powerful figures (e.g., designers with catwalk shows) often have to pay a price for deviating from cultural rules. Designers are often criticized for only hiring waif-like models, but this shows that they don’t get to do whatever they like without consequences.
While it’s easy to condemn Fast’s stylist and creative director for walking out on him, the truth is that even being associated with deviance can bring consequences. Sociologist Erving Goffman introduced the idea of the “courtesy stigma” to refer to the stigma that attaches to those who are merely associated with a stigmatized person. A recent Grey’s Anatomy episode dealt with exactly this idea in a story about the reaction to an attractive blonde married to an obese man. Her willingness to stay with such a person was a source of curiosity and disbelief. Similarly, siblings of the mentally ill or mothers of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder might suffer courtesy stigma when people wonder if the mental illness is genetic or the parenting is bad, respectively.
So, while it’s tempting to say that Fast’s employees hold reprehensible ideological beliefs (a hatred or intolerance for “plus-size” women), it’s also possible that they thought being associated with the show could hurt their chances of success in a very competitive career. In an industry that stigmatizes fat so powerfully, I can imagine it might be terrifying indeed to be seen as endorsing it.
Cite: Goffman, E. (1963) Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Originally posted in 2010.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Phoebe — July 13, 2010
"Protesting his decision to use these models, his stylist and creative director quit, leaving him just three days to find replacements"
That just makes me sick...there's so much wrong with the fashion industry.
Heather — July 13, 2010
Sizes 8 - 10 aren't "plus-size" In fact, they correlate with a misses size "medium". "Plus" or "Women's" sizes technically start with size 16, and often start with a size 20 (though there is some fluidity there).
How totally out of touch is the fashion world when the size of woman that clothing manufacturers (themselves included!) deem "medium" is also a "plus" on the runway!
I won't even get into how sick and sad the "quitting in protest" business is.
Fangirl — July 13, 2010
Whether or not his stylist and creative director were actively malicious is unknowable right now, but we can at least argue that they're cowards. Things that are easy vs. things that are right, &c.
Personally, I'd look more harshly on just up and quitting than on having worked with, oh noes, fat people. Then again, the fashion industry is deeply effed up, which is why I have no interest in working there.
JihadPunk77 — July 13, 2010
these models are "PLUS-SIZE"???? LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
the fashion industry has such a fucked up, skewed idea what women's bodies really look like.
JihadPunk77 — July 13, 2010
but yeah, that's fucked up those 2 idiots (COWARDS) quit in protest against using "plus-sized" models. The fashion designer should out these two assholes. These two deserve to have their names be dragged through the mud.
Basiorana — July 13, 2010
Having seen the dresses on the models in question, I have to comment-- while some outfits looked more flattering on the curves, others-- in particular his loose knits-- were clearly designed for waifs and were simply unflattering on the models, because they were cut too tightly and worn over panties that were waaaaaaaaaaaaay too tight, giving a "love handles" look. So while I applaud his efforts in general, were I a designer I might protest more that he didn't actually design clothes for these women or find something that fit them, he kinda shoehorned them into what he had without consideration of their body type.
That said, these women are beautiful, and when they walk, you can't really tell-- it's only head-on shots where you get the love handle effect. So it does prove that curvy women won't screw up your clothes.
Anonymous — July 13, 2010
US size 8 or 10 is average. Oh, how I wish it was also average among models! Then the majority of women would actually have a chance of seeing what the styles would look like on us, and said styles would be designed to flatter more of us.
There should also be size 0 models... AND size 20 ones.
T — July 13, 2010
There's nothing normal about the fashion world... especially this runway stuff. Never mind the sizes of the women -- what about making them stomp down the runway like their a thoroughbred in heat or the silly 'concept' clothing itself.
But back to the models' bodies... There's just something perverse going on in this fashion world. The weight (or usually sunken chests and exposed ribs) is some sort of accomplishment, not really beauty per se. The trend for the last decade or two has been finding "interesting" models... which, again, has VERY LITTLE to do with what we would normally associate with beauty. The whole exercise is freakishly artificial... (a) no one is actually going to wear these runway clothes -- they're just 'inspirations' and (b) the models themselves selected, modified and groomed to be hangers for these non-clothes. It's the strange navel-gazing culture that imposes itself on the rest of us. But hey, maybe I'm way off base and lots of people find meth addicts with crazy make-up attractive. I'm not one of them.
Male models seem to be a little better... but there still seems to be the requirement that they are a tad creepy in some way. Lots of necks that look like they have extra vertebrae and, of course, they're generally not allowed to have hair on their bodies.
(Do you know those scientific studies where they show people variations of the same person etc. And common traits of what is "beautiful" or "attractive" emerges... like symmetry, hip/chest proportions, etc. I wonder how well the typical runway model would do in these studies?)
Asada — July 13, 2010
“Protesting his decision to use these models, his stylist and creative director quit, leaving him just three days to find replacements”
That can't be why.
I'll wait for the real reason.
RGR — July 13, 2010
One thing I find very fascinating about the Mark Fast phenomenon was the rhetoric that surrounded it. Of course, most outlets were like, "Go Mark Fast! Show "real" women!" But at the same time they were congratulating him for being inclusive, they were criticizing him aesthetically--for not choosing clothing that was "right" for plus-sized bodies. An example I remember off of the top of my head:
"We also applaud his use of larger women, rather than relying on the same stick-skinny silhouette that all of fashion reveres. We do have a slight issue, however. It's this: these are the kinds of clothes that no woman we know over a size 6 would ever consider wearing: skin-tight, see-through, with big holes cut out of them. Why can't we see a collection modeled by larger women wearing clothes that actually flatter them?"
One of the major roadblocks in size-acceptance is one that isn't talked about as much. Sure, the "average" woman is larger than your Karen Elsons. But even in the pro-plus communities, they treat the concept of unflattering clothing as degrading to larger bodies. To which I say: really? Where does that conception come from?
It's a combination of a wide internalization of distaste for larger bodies: "flattering," of course always means "creating the illusion that a larger body is a smaller body." Or, at least, "emphasizing only the sexy parts," which are sociologically permitted to be bigger. "Flattering" on a plus girl is making her waist as small as possible, her overall size as small-looking as possible, but permitting a glimpse of larger butt and boobs.
At the end of the day, what this creates is an attitude wherein we want to "include" bigger women, but we don't want to allow them to fully participate--high fashion, challenging fashion, fashion whose goal is to do more than make a person look attractive to other people--is a realm reserved almost exclusively--no, exclusively--for thin people. (And you can connect this argument to racial issues as well).
Some people argue that it's because thinner girls are, you know, "coat hangers"--a neutral space used just for a designer to experiment with aesthetics, form, motion, etc. What that highlights, though, is the attitude, again, that bigger bodies are not neutral. They are, we know, Other.
But even beyond that, as a lover of art and fashion, I always hate the attitude to that the avant garde is reserved for certain bodies and certain types of people. No one is going to cast blame away from your Tom Fords, Karl Lagerfelds, Anna Wintours, Steven Klein's. But certainly, they aren't the only players. Fashion week may reject plus sizes, but society--Women's magazines [as distinct from Fashion magazines], bloggers, even the most well-meaning and body-positive figures--constantly perpetuates the idea that "flattering" is the primary role of fashion. It isn't, and it shouldn't be, and there won't be more representations of all types of people until we start conceptualizing all types of fashion as something that's available to all types of people. Or until we stop subconsciously or consciously being grossed out by different bodies.
adrenalectomized — July 13, 2010
That makes me sick.
It's a terrible indictment of society when women of normal morphology are seen as ugly and disgusting and not to show their bodies in public.
Mayday — July 13, 2010
Can you imagine being one of the women in question? People actually QUITTING THEIR JOBS, because the idea of working with someone with a body like yours is so distasteful to them? Just awful. I feel sick thinking about it.
nataliek — July 13, 2010
The models all have strangely styled eyebrows that make them look sad and pained. It's so distracting. Is that attractive now?
Catherine - La Grande Dame — July 13, 2010
I am a huge proponent of plus size models, use them for my business and find it reprehensible that anyone would quit over the use of plus size models. That said - these dresses and undergarments do not flatter these poor women at all!! Not a good day for the models or the designer.
Perseus — July 13, 2010
The fashion industry is it's own masturbation material, only existing to please itself. This, I don't even know what to say. I guess all I can say is: really? REALLY!?
Not everyone is meant to be a size X (thin), and "fat" does not mean unhealthy. Some humans are supposed to be husky, and some are supposed to be skinny. It's how we're built, it's how we function. And really, from an evolutionary standpoint, larger humans survived *some* climates, while skinnier people survived *other* climates. There's nothing inherently better or worse in the two as long as the individual is healthy. So in conclusion: fashion industry, get over yourselves.
Grafton — July 13, 2010
Heh. 'Courtesy stigma.' I thought that this was an integral element to stigma. Stigma wouldn't work properly without it, would it? If there are no consequences to ignoring the stigma, would it continue to be a stigma?
When I was a child I was informed of this by other, more socially adroit children. They told me I could shake off some of my own stigma if I would discontinue associating with another child, one more stigmatized than myself, and essentially move up a rung on the social ladder to become accepted among the 'rejects' rather than a complete pariah. They proved to be correct. Of course.
Some twenty years later I had a repeat of the experience and found myself somewhat shunned at the factory where I worked, shortly after I began choosing to take lunch with a Lebanese man.
Being socially disabled, I didn't understand as a child and as an adult (and thus less vulnerable to violent bullying) I didn't care.
abbyr — July 14, 2010
Just wanted to say that I completely disagree with everyone who says the models' clothes are unflattering. So what if they show love handles? - they have love handles.
Robz — July 14, 2010
Considering that high fashion claims to be daring and innovative I think it's about time they shock us all by designing for a variety of shapes and sizes.
Anonymous — July 14, 2010
I just wanted to say it's refreshing to see such a long discussion about the fashion industry's disdain for the average female body WITHOUT anyone deciding it's a golden opportunity to let their inner homophobe out to play.
The fashion industry is fucked up, yes, but no, it's not the fault of "gay men who want women to look like boys" and the women who are angry about it don't need rescuing by a horny straight male knight on a white horse singing the praises of big boobs and honky-tonk badonky-donks.
Ang — July 14, 2010
I wish everyone could have a discussion about this issue without offering their own sizes and weights.
Amy — July 14, 2010
Speaking of objectification, did you really refer to a woman as "a blonde"? How often do men get reduced to just a hair color, turned into a noun meant to encompass an entire person?
Jenn — July 14, 2010
Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I kind of want that knit dress, bizarre cut-outs and too-tight style and all. I don't understand where the stigma against "love handles" came from. And I certainly don't see any "love handles" on the woman in the gray knit dress. Hips that I am really envious of, but not love handles.
That said, it does look like the designer put all the "plus size" models in much tighter dresses than the waif-like models. Maybe it's because a thinner woman's body is not sexualized, but just an object, no matter how little clothing she is wearing whereas a larger woman's body -- especially if she is curvy -- is sexualized and somehow obscene. I think that the fashion industry now capitalizes on that artificial raunch factor of larger woman for publicity. Otherwise, I doubt they would care to show them.
Reminds me of that network's decision to ban Lane Bryant underwear and bra commercials but allow Victoria's Secret commercials. In the Lane Bryant commercials, the women are larger (they actually look plus sized, around 14-16) with larger breasts. They are active, and sit in their underwear in a scene that normal people would sit in their underwear: in their rooms, presumably getting ready for a date. Whereas, the Victoria's Secret commercials feature women in even skimpier underwear, with hard high fake breasts (not much smaller than the plus-sized model's breasts), gyrating against walls and such like strippers in impractical heals while the camera pans up and down their bodies and they make sexy face at the camera.
It's the pornification of the media, and the normalization of extremely thin and tall women as neutral objects (not subjects) for advertising. Showing women being active, doing things normal women do, while looking like normal women is obscene and dirty. Whereas, gyrating like a stripper in high heels and a leopard print bra is normal.
So I don't think the fashion industry is trying all that hard to be more inclusive (and size 8 isn't exactly what I'd call inclusive). I think that they're just going for the raunch factor that people associate curvy women with. This is because women who act like porn stars, pout like porn stars, and stand around looking hot for the male gaze like porn stars aren't edgy and controversial anymore.
All that said, it's extremely odd if you take a step back that in our culture, average-sized women doing average things is bizarre and controversial while extremely unusual sized women wearing next to nothing and acting like objects is just business as usual.
Liv — July 15, 2010
It is at least puzzling that a 'plus-size' model (the ones in the pics) it's still skinnier than a normal person.
The girl in the second pic is a lot skinnier than me, and I am right in the middle of healthy range on the BMI chart.
adrenalectomized — July 16, 2010
@Liv: BMI is a very imprecise tool. You can be super delicate boned and healthy but read as underweight, or you can read as overweight because of high muscle mass.
Korean Gender Reader « The Grand Narrative — July 17, 2010
[...] Sociological Images looks at the issues raised when designer Mark Fast decided to use four plus-size models (US sizes 8-10) in his catwalk show at London Fashion Week in February, which prompted his stylist and creative director to quit, leaving him just three days to find replacements. As they explain, it is “possible that they thought being associated with the show could hurt their chances of success in a very competitive career,” but on the other hand it says a great deal about an industry “that stigmatizes fat so powerfully, ” that “it might be terrifying indeed to be seen as endorsing it.” [...]
Newsflash: Korean Idol NOT Starving Herself! « The Grand Narrative — July 25, 2011
[...] the other hand, it’s also true that there’s a price to be paid for challenging the waiflike norms for models in the fashion industry, the corollary of which would [...]
nsv — February 4, 2014
Even when discussing the way in which language and stigma and stereotypes affect each other, it is all too easy for stigmatizing language to slip in. "A recent Grey’s Anatomy episode dealt with exactly this idea in a story about the reaction to an attractive blonde married to an obese man." I suggest that even if a physician would - and probably did on this show - refer to the man as "obese," many people of this size would find that label inappropriate to use when discussing the scenario in our space here. "Obese" contains a medical judgement of pathology, but we're talking about social stigma. The size acceptance movement tends to reclaim the word "fat." If that word is too difficult to use, there are other non-judgmental words that describe people's size: super-size, larger than average, heavy, plus-size, etc. People may ascribe to these words negative meanings, but the words at least don't suggest that the people they describe are ill solely by virtue of their size.
Andrew — February 5, 2014
The story about why some of Fast's collaborators walked off the job may or may not be true, but either way, it's a fantastic promotional narrative that turned that yielded an almost unheard-of amount of positive publicity for a designer who is not a household name, to say the least.
But let's reconsider the source of the story. This blog links us to an article in an American gossip rag, which does no original reporting; rather, it merely quotes directly from the Daily Mail as its source. The Daily Mail, a right-wing British tabloid with a notoriously wobbly standard of accuracy, does not name or quote either of the staffers who left the project; rather, it waives any responsibility for accuracy by saying "two of his people were apparently so angry they quit."
That "apparently" is newspaper shorthand for "we have no idea if this is true and we can't be bothered to find out." The designer's creative director (who did not quit) was only willing to portray the walkout as "creative differences." For all we know, it could've been because they didn't like the catering.
What's left is an entertaining but quite possibly fabricated tale about courageous deviance, the kind that yellow-papers love to concoct when faced with a story that is otherwise rather bland and lacking a narrative hook. Now, back to real life: consider the odds that a stylist (who is in all likelihood working simultaneously with several designers) will at some point in his/her career be stigmatized over once being tangentially involved with a show in which a slightly fuller-figured model went on the catwalk in a sweater dress. The probability is close to zero, and I don't mean Size Zero. Yes, the politics around the female body in the fashion world are extremely warped and bizarre, but the work environment for the many tradespeople intersecting with the fashion industry is a lot more ordinary than fashion "journalists" would ever want you to believe.
The_L1985 — February 5, 2014
THAT is supposed to be "plus-sized?"
Eric Anderson — February 5, 2014
Dear Prof. Wade,
I have to take issue with the implication (though not the truth) of the last paragraph (specifically "while ... it’s also possible that they thought being associated with the show could hurt their chances of success in a very competitive career.") Being willing to cooperate in something malicious because it advances your own self-interest is only a little less reprehensible than specifically advocating it. It's good to understand where they might have been coming from, but let us not take that as a justification.
stardreamer42 — February 5, 2014
The really sad thing here is that a SIZE EIGHT is considered "plus-sized". I was size 8 at 5'4" and 115 pounds, and I was rangy. They call that "fat"? Fuck that noise.
[links] Link salad for an achey Wednesday | jlake.com — February 6, 2014
[…] Courtesy Stigma and the Consequences of Deviance — This is fascinating, and something with which I am familiar in real life. […]
My Week In Content — February 7, 2014
[…] Courtesy Stigma and the Consequences of Deviance – a sobering look at the consequences of stepping outside of societies expectations. A designer decides to hire plus size models and his support staff quit in protest. It sounds like a clear cut case of good people vs bad people, but is it really that simple? […]
tedtimtom no tim — March 3, 2015
damn, it defeats the purpose of making people in developing countries think that we're not starving ourselves!
fat guy — March 3, 2015
Ed Snowden — March 3, 2015
Google is owned by Jews, so no anti-semetic Jokes
Tabatha — March 3, 2015
Did anyone notice the list of worthless comments people left?
Nick — March 3, 2015
More for your money