How can we be more critical and conscious consumers?
In San Diego, filled with constant sun and mirth, lies a pressing problem of unhealthy body expectations, promoted by a major brand called Brandy Melville. Brandy Melville is an Italian based brand that sells inexpensive, Cali-girl style clothing with a customer demographic of twelve to seventeen year old girls. The concept of cheap, trendy clothing worn by peers and major celebrities is a great idea, but there is a major flaw: a majority of their clothing is only offered in one-size.
5.C Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levelsUN Sustainable Development Goal
I hope my post helps others understand and reach for this UN Sustainable Development Goal. This goal reads as very legislative and related to the court, but the social dynamic that Brandy develops lives in the realm of morality, where instead of searching for something illegal, it is an investigation of status and gender performativity. Some may see my critique of Brandy as a shallow attempt to hit at this goal, but I believe that to achieve empowerment, we need to start at the everyday problems that affect girls. The social problems that arise from Brandy would be hard to tackle with bills and debates, but the solution could begin with us.
From personal observations, I have recognized that over fifty percent of girls in my school at least own one article of clothing from Brandy. The major problem with continually supporting a company that only offers one-size (geared towards sizes 2 and 4), is that there is a toxic, misconceived notion of what is “healthy” and “normal”, and based on that, there is a clear message to those who cannot fit: you don’t belong.
And a lot of times we see the girls who can fit into these clothes, but we seldom see the girls who don’t fit into these size-two clothes. To help proceed in our road to inclusivity, we must empower girls who can’t fit into these standards, and prove to people that it’s not their fault that they can’t fit into clothes, but the manufacturer’s.
This leads into what believe in: I believe that my duty as an ally and friend is to shed light on the reality that majority male executives are figuratively, and literally, putting waist trainers on trends, squeezing girls into unhealthy sizes and marketing it as “healthy and normal”. And my duty as a consumer, along with other consumers, is to make ourselves much more critical and conscious of the brands we are supporting.
– Brand Overview –
Out of a 155 articles of clothing I reviewed, only 16 were marked with either a “Fits size Small/Medium” or a “Fits size Medium”. And for 9 of those “Mediums”, the words “oversized”, “comfortable”, or “relaxed” were used. For all 16, the models wore the article of clothing (usually a hoodie or t-shirt) oversized. The remaining 139 articles of clothing were marked as “Fits size X-small/Small” or “Fits size Small”. Not once did I see a “Fits size Large”.
Brandy only offers these sizes for their bottoms, and according to a size converting website, a 00 is a 23-26 inch waist and a 5 is a 28 inch waist. In the 155 articles of clothing, there was not a single bottom (skirts, shorts, pants) that was offered in a size medium. One of the employees I interviewed, my friend named Coco, noted that even though Brandy offers these sizes, the stock for larger sizes are often very limited.
– The Effects of Gender Performativity and Policing –
“The desire to be beautiful, when combined with personal values and social comparison, originates a self-perception about one’s appearance (Abdala, Ricardo, Rossi, & Alberto, 2008), which is an integral part of self-concept.”(Nilüfer Z. Aydinoğlua, Aradhna Krishnab, 571)
In our world, a world where many people are much more conscious and vocal of the brands they are supporting, why do people still support Brandy? This can be answered through the terms of self-satisfaction and socially constructed expectations. In the realm of self-satisfaction, some employees agree and note that the simple act of coming up to the register and saying that something fits, is a boost of confidence. A study done at the University of North Texas concluded that, “Smaller subjects had increases in self-esteem and body image after achieving fit in the smaller or expected size and felt their weight was lower after achieving fit in a smaller size. Younger subjects were more negatively affected by garment size than were older subjects” (Kinley, 326). Like this study, many other studies also support that buying small sizes boosts self-confidence. For some, Brandy is beneficial for them and builds esteem.
Also, in conjunction to the ideas of self-confidence, there is a theory which is commonly sited in discussion of clothing size and esteem: the social comparison theory. Tammy Kinley of the University of North Texas defines the social comparison theory as, “the ways one views the self; aesthetic standards are internalized and used in self-evaluation” (Kinely, 318), which revolves around the ideas of self contrived ideas of self esteem. To fit into Brandy’s clothes, even if it gets really tight, is a way to reinforce preexisting self confidence. The social comparison theory, tied with given knowledge about the correlation between smaller sizes and self-esteem, rationalizes why people still buy clothing from Brandy; the ability to fit into a “normal” size “flatters the ego” (Kinely, 319) and supports self-percieved versions of self.
“self-esteem may be tenuous depending on the approximation to the ideal”(Kinely 319)
Other than internal pressures, body image and standards are formed by additional external forces. Brandy sells clothing by taking advantage of the human instinct of bandwagoning and exclusivity. This is because in gender, or any “norm-based” cultural phenomenon, deviating from what is expected is met with a lot of pushback.
Body image is not simply a mirror-like reflection of external reality. Although the body concept includes objective physical attributes, its contents and associated positive or negative interpretations are highly subjective and influenced by one’s environment.(Phillips & de Man, 2010).
Body image is a large, messy cultural phenomenon, but it can be conceptualized by applying the ideas of gender performativity and policing. Gender performativity is a theory that states that gender is not preexisting in biology or society, but is defined by the repetition of actions we do: the words we say, the clothes we wear, and the way we project ourselves to the world. In this theory, we are actors and we are performing gender, and Judith Butler, the originator of this theory, elaborates by writing, “the act that one performs is, in a sense, an act that’s been going on before one arrived on the scene” (Butler, 526). Gender performativity, although emphasizing the individual choices of expression, speaks about how repetitive actions are heavily influenced by social trends. For teenage girls developing a sense of how to project themselves into the world, it is very unhealthy to be influenced by unhealthy, normalized views on the female body. Butler also writes that “gender is a basically innovative affair, although it is quite clear that there are strict punishments for contesting the script by performing out of turn or through unwarranted improvisations” (Butler, 531); which is an obvious indication that even though the theory of gender performativity is much more liberal, it still acknowledges the affects of social pressuring and identity shaped by society.
Gender is not passively scripted on the body, and neither is it determined by nature, language, the symbolic, or the overwhelming history of patriarchy. Gender is what is put on, invariably, under constraint, daily and incessantly, with anxiety and pleasure, but if this continuous act is mistaken for a natural or linguistic given, power is relinquished to expand the cultural field bodily through subversive per-formances of various kinds.Butler, 531
And to address the more direct affects of society on body standards, the term “gender policing” is used. Gender policing is integrated with the ideas of gender performativity, and is critical on how people adhere to the norm. Gender policing is usually enforced by peers, who devalue, in our case, teenage girls deviating from the norm. It may seem that the root of the problem is at our human inclination to police gender, but in reality, it is not the phenomenon itself, but what is being told to us to police. The norms that are being enforced by large brands, such as Brandy Melville, are the cause of skewed body standards and exclusivity; the way we view and treat others is a relative concept that goes beyond ourselves, but is at the authorship of major influencers in fashion and media.
– What Can WE Do? –
In a commentary of a series of interviews of plus-sized women, it is said that, “Every culture has its own particular nightmares. In American society, being larger than the normative expectation is a nightmare, one particularly pronounced for women… A body, or body type, that is severely stigmatized in modern society is the body of size” (Sissem and Heckert, 155). I believe that these “normative expectations” are made too small, too unforgiving, that the concept of what is “large” is false. We can pave our way to inclusivity and empowerment by initiating ethical imperatives onto major brands.
However, my goal is not to bash Brandy Melville, nor am I trying to attack their customers, but it is to raise awareness for the underlying problems that arise from it. Brandy is only a case study of how select brands promote social exclusivity through their sizing. Given the scale and how deeply rooted in society it is, the only way we can reach some form of change starts with you and me.
Our first steps to influencing those who influence us is that we must start by being more critical of the brands that exploit insecurity and promote unhealthy norms. So often you can get caught up in trends and fashion that you forget the moral affects of what you are supporting. I hope that this post has sparked some inspiration to take a step back and take note of the trends and brands you may be supporting.
Some steps you can take to become more conscious is by asking: where does our money go? Nowadays, with the aid of the internet, it is so much easier to know more about a brand through a simple Google search. Maybe you feel like something is wrong with a brand, or you’ve heard controversy– don’t just ignore it– just type it into Google to see if others feel the same way as you do. And in the case where you find something problematic, simply look around and you’ll find a wide variety of brands and clothing that are much more socially conscious.
All in all, every person has a role in changing the tide of society. If you don’t fit into norms, it is important for you to truly embrace who you are and speak out. And even if you do benefit from certain norms and body standards, it is important for you to be considerate of others and actively make sure that everyone is included. If they’re not going to change, it’s time for us to change.
– Call To Action –
If you feel inclined to make some change, please leave a little note in the attached Google Docs. I will anonymously compile all your comments into an email to Brandy Melville. It can be a question or a constructive comment, but please be courteous! The purpose of this is to make our voices be heard – not to attack.
And if you guys have any comments, questions, or suggestions directed to me, fire away!
Wow thank you so so much, Leroy!
Congratulations on such a bold project, Fikemi! Happy to see you achieve even more in spaces unimagined.
REBECCA! hey this is your friend Cecile! I think your project is super moving and informative.
Wow thank you so much Auty Tolu. Your support means so so much to me.
Ms Perryyyy!!! I miss you so much! Thank you for that 🙂 I’m glad you like it. Receiving big hugs…
– Reflection –
This experience of debunking the effects of Brandy Melville’s one-size-fits-all policy has let me see a large scale phenomenon through a gendered lens. I would have never thought of examining Brandy through the theories of gender performativity and policing, if it wasn’t for this class and this project. By having a more in-depth knowledge of underlying dynamics, I have understood more about being an ally. I found out that the exculsitivity Brandy supports is not just a product of bad marketing decisions, but it is also a product of our own decisions as a society and as consumers. A lot of these social problems we identify in our everyday lives are deepy tied to how we impact society, and as allies, we must be aware of how our decisions impact others in different situations. It never, ever hurts to empower others.