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Why Can’t We Give up the Notion of the Ideal Body?

Conversations on body image and beauty are more complex than ever. Why is it still so hard to talk about body inclusivity?

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A few years ago, it seemed like the trajectory of body diversity and inclusivity could only continue going upward. Across several major industries—particularly fashion, beauty, entertainment, and music—we witnessed an incredible surge of representation for bodies of all sizes, skin tones, gender expressions, ages, and abilities. Plus-size models walked top designers’ runways! Disabled models starred in luxury campaigns! Trans models showed up on billboards—and not just in the month of June! Finally, it seemed, the industries that long felt like the exclusionary gatekeepers of the “ideal body” now seemed to welcome all bodies, reflecting their diverse consumer bases.

Then, came the backlash—or, perhaps more accurately, a quiet retreat back into the beauty standards of the ‘90s and ‘00s. As low-rise jeans and Y2K fashion made their comebacks, so returned the ultra-thin ideal. As journalist Gianluca Russo noted in September 2022 for The Zoe Report, plus-size representation in New York Fashion Week has seen a razor-sharp decline. And, despite the Fenty effect leading to an industry-wide expectation of base makeup to have 40- and 50-shade ranges, Black models continue to experience discrimination on sets, with many still bringing their own foundations and concealers just in case the makeup artist’s case doesn’t carry the right colors for their skin tones. In 2023, another major shift arrived: The releases of Ozempic and similar treatments marked revolutionary developments and supported the long-held stance of many medical professionals and advocates that obesity is a matter of biology, not willpower—sparked frenzied responses, from debate and confusion to corporate pivoting.

None of these are easy or simple conversations. They all contribute to a larger dialogue that many activists, academics, writers, and regular folks have carried on, despite it seeing fewer headlines nowadays. We’ve brought together several stories by writers exploring the complexities of these issues, and shed light on their less-discussed elements. Now, the only question: How will you participate in the body-inclusivity conversation?

Image by Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

On Recognizing My Thin Privilege When I’ve Never Been Thin

Nicola Dall'Asen

“In her column ‘Learning Curve,’ my colleague Nicola Dall’Asen breaks down the ‘complicated experience of accepting your own body in a world that doesn’t seem to want you to.’ In this edition, she explores a subject that’s under-discussed, even within body-positive and fat-acceptance circles, and asks midsize and small-fat readers (and everyone else) to consider the intricacies and exponential impact of anti-fat discrimination on larger-bodied folks.” - Sam Escobar

The Treatment of Hyperpigmentation Sure Feels a Lot Like Fatphobia

Gloria Lucas

SE: “Fatphobia and racism aren’t merely connected, they’re tightly intertwined. In a guest column for Allure, content creator and educator Gloria Lucas examines the underlying social constructs—purity culture, for instance—that so often have a deeply detrimental impact on larger-bodied Black people with hyperpigmentation, a very common skin condition that, as Lucas notes, ‘rarely indicates a health concern.’”

Where Are All the Fat People In Beauty?

Nicola Dall'Asen

SE: “A simple yet poignant question, and one that is rarely addressed. As writer Nicola Dall'Asen notes, ‘A person's size has never dictated whether or not they can wear an eye shadow, body lotion, or hair spray. Why aren’t ads more reflective of that?’”

“Eating Disorders Are for White Girls.”

Anne Helen Petersen
Culture Study

SE: “It was summer 2021 when I first read this piece by historian Angela Tate, originally published on journalist Anne Helen Petersen’s wonderful Culture Study newsletter. After a long, terribly sad winter, we poked our collective heads out only to see people’s body image and disordered eating habits were worse than ever. But for those who do not fit the stereotypical image of an eating-disorder patient—young, white, underweight—it can be even more difficult to find relief and seek treatment. (Can you think of any movie where a non-white character has an eating disorder?)”

Why Body Diversity Took a Back Seat at NYFW This Season

Gianluca Russo
The Zoe Report

SE: “This is the piece that originally made me say ‘uh-oh’ last year. I’d already observed a worrying rise of fat-shaming and diet culture (typically disguised as clean eating or wellness routines), but seeing it all laid out like this through Russo’s reporting was illuminating, to say the least.”

My 24k Gold Prosthetic Eye Makes Me Feel So Fearless

Belle Bakst

SE: “Before reading Belle Bakst’s piece, I admit that I had zero awareness of the existence of prosthetic ‘fun eyes,’ let alone 24-karat ones. ‘After a lifetime of doing my best to blend in, I’m finally embracing how good it feels to stand out,’ writes Bakst, who describes both the painstaking fitting process and the bodily autonomy she regained through her shimmery prosthetic eye in beautiful detail.”

‘You Don’t Look Anorexic’

Kate Siber
The New York Times

SE: “ Even in seemingly body-positive circles, I’ve often encountered a reluctance from people to accept that you simply cannot assess whether or not someone has an eating disorder based on their appearance. I challenge anyone who shares that skepticism to read this piece, then get back to me.”

Your ‘Hot Girl Stomach Issues’ Might Be Caused by Damaging Diet Culture, Experts Say

Serafina Kenny

SE: “Well, #hotgirlshaveibs hashtag is one hashtag I did not have on my bingo card for 2023, but here we are—and we’re finally talking about gastrointestinal issues, which often cause sufferers emotional distress and shame in addition to their physical symptoms. You know what else causes emotional distress, intense shame, and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms, yet rarely receives acknowledgment that matches its severity? Eating disorders. It’s all connected, folks, and this piece by writer Serafina Kenny beautifully breaks it all down.”

Fine, I’ll Say It: I Hate It When Plus-Size Celebrities Lose Weight

Nicola Dall'Asen

SE: “It’s hard to explain why, exactly, the celebrity weight-loss narrative can be so…disappointing. But one thing is certain: This frustration is not about the celebrities themselves, as Nicola Dall'Asen articulates here, it is about the culture, conversations and messaging surrounding these ‘journeys.’”

Sam Escobar

Sam Escobar is Allure’s Site Director. Their writing has appeared in Esquire, MEL Magazine, The Observer, Business Insider, and Cosmopolitan, and they were named one of Brooklyn Magazine's "30 under 30." In the 10 years they’ve spent in the media world, they’ve held editorial roles at Good Housekeeping, Bustle, and The Gloss. In 2016, they co-edited Kill Your Darlings, Tweet Yr Drafts, a chapbook of casual love poetry. In their spare time, Sam can be found practicing calligraphy, petting cats, and staring into a telescope. You can follow them on Twitter, which they refuse to call “X,” as well as Instagram.

Image by Christine Hahn