The first time I ever wore lingerie, I remember an instinctive feeling that demanded I cover my arms, stomach and chest. As someone acutely aware of the parts of my body that are deemed unattractive, wearing lingerie made me want to put my clothes back on.
It’s hard for fat women to exist sometimes, especially in a world that’s constantly telling them how they should look and dress. For the girls that don’t feel good naked, wearing lingerie can be a vulnerable experience. But, it can prove to be even more daunting when you have a history dealing with body image issues or, like me, continue to struggle with how you view your body.
There’s no denying the media’s role and its influence on how women perceive themselves. Lingerie, for instance, has been marketed to skinny women and for skinny women for decades. It’s notorious for its unattainable standards and neglect of plus-size women and plus-size styles.
Mainstream lingerie brands like Victoria’s Secret have dictated the narrative of beauty for decades, with portrayals of rail-thin, tall, able-bodied and often white women as the norm. As a result, there’s a glaring gap between the women we’re seeing and what women really look like. The truth is, we don’t really see anything above a size two.
And while a size two is what our mainstream industry is still catering to, Ryerson students, both past and present, are challenging that.
Fourth-year fashion design student Avery Barsony is the creator of Bettie Fatal, a popular Toronto-based lingerie brand. Bettie Fatal, which has been up and running since 2012, strives to create pieces and styles that all women can feel good in.
Barsony says she thinks that “small solution indie brands,” like hers, are going to start pushing mainstream designers for inclusivity. There is an emerging shift demanding representation across all intersections in the lingerie industry, with small brands pioneering change. For Barsony, the fashion industry has dictated what women should look like in lingerie for far too long.
“When you’re buying lingerie it’s such a vulnerable shopping experience. It’s the closest thing to being naked,” she said. “And when a company is like, ‘this is how all our models look,’ you kind of get in your head – ‘I don’t look like that.’”
Barsony does not alter her photos and uses a diverse range of women as models because she believes representation can affect a person’s self-confidence.
“It’s very hurtful being a femme-identifying person, trying to navigate their body in a world throwing around what you should be like,” she said. “I’m finding it harder and harder trying to support certain brands, knowing that they’re making no effort to appeal to people like me.”
Barsony, who has also been a bra fitter for three years, says lingerie is the foundation of everything you’re wearing.
“The best lingerie is when you don’t notice how it feels, you just notice how you feel in it.”
This all ties in to the idea of self love. Mary Young, a Ryerson fashion alumna, is also part of the Toronto lingerie scene. In her second year of business with the self-named brand, the conversation around self love grew. As customers opened up about some of their experiences, the idea of the “Self Love Club” grew, too.
“The main focus for [the Self Love Club] was to encourage everyone, both men and women, to share what they’ve experienced, their insecurities and everything that comes along with that,” Young said.
When she began creating pieces, Young said she wanted to ensure all women were properly represented, across all walks of life and body shapes.
While her plan since Day 1 was to open her line’s sizing range, Young admitted that it has taken her more time than planned. She cited production hurdles and low numbers of customer feedback on size and fit as challenges.
This fall, however, Young’s panty and loungewear lines will be expanding to extra large.
“As the brand grows, we are continuously developing better fit and function for all pieces to work with all sizes.”
Body image and self-esteem go hand-in-hand; in this relationship, one will always include the other. It may not happen overnight. You’re not going to look in the mirror and love what you see right away, but slowly you’ll welcome the marriage of fat and sexy.
Fat and plus-size women deserve so much more than the ill-fitting lingerie styles and lack of options in stores. There are few mainstream brands that make clothes with us in mind, with the standout exceptions of Aerie and Savage x Fenty, whose recent New York Fashion Week show celebrated all women. However, even though Savage x Fenty includes plus-size options, there is still room for improvement considering the lingerie styles for these sizes are limited.
Lingerie is so much more than pretty lace bras and silky garments. Finding a bodysuit that fits my body well and makes me feel sexy can be a form of self love, especially if I’ve been having one of those days when the body that reflects back in the mirror looks wrong in so many places. I think every woman deserves that and, more importantly, all women deserve to find the styles they like.
Bodies are going to fold, wrinkle and stretch, but bodies are capable of great things.
And this body is capable of so much.