Fashion and Body Positivity


Where I live there are loads of student houses. Earlier in the year a paper dubbed it ‘the Magaluf strip’ of Liverpool. A bit reductive, really. Save a few vomit splatters up the walls, bountiful takeaways and you know, a road, I’d be surprised if they were anything alike.

If I was off to the Balearics to booze it up and all I found were a few tipsy students knocking over wheelie bins, and a couple of roadmen creeping around in Ford Mondeos I’d be asking for my money back.

Confidence Through Clothes

Student areas are good for the local economy. They fill the pubs and bars and fill the air with their accents and laughter. It’s great. And it’s perfect for people-watching. Specifically, student-watching

It seems a majority of female students here embody the paradigm of creating mood and confidence through clothes. They wear spaghetti-strapped mini dresses while queuing for the 86 bus to take them into town. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, there won’t be a pair of 80 denier opaques between them. They stay warm by swigging the remnants of pre-drinks decanted into a 7-up bottle.

A Great Night

I see them so excited for what the night can bring. They chatter with an optimism I can barely remember. They have no doubt that the bar they’re going onto won’t have what I call ‘nice wine’ (basically, any bottle that doesn’t say ‘fresh n fruity’ on the label).

There they are the next day in their pyjama bottoms and university hoody, noisily throwing up at the top of the road. They have one hand against the wall of Bargain Booze. The other holds back their hair while they regurgitate last night’s nuggets after downing that too-fizzy too-cold hangover drink.

Last night’s Rimmel instant tan freshly scrubbed from their gorgeous young faces revealing no pallor like the one I get aged 33, a combination of green and grey, and the puffy eyes that literally no amount of industrial strength concealer can hide.

Student Uniform

I work in a university so I see them in another of their natural habitats, identifiable by their uniform: Fila Disruptors, gym leggings, Urban Outfitters puffer jackets and gold hoop earrings (something like a “90s look” – when did I get so old that my former fashion phases are back in?).

They still uphold an institutionalised ‘us vs them’ mentality through their costume, isolating themselves from older generations, and maintaining the natural hierarchy within the education system. Of course, the outcome is they look pretty bloody good stomping around campus while my office wear pinches and rides up and I’m always either too hot or too cold.

Making Choices

This triad of situations indicates a state of mind and reinforces a status quo, but it certainly feels to me that these women are making choices and using clothes autonomously as both confidence booster and comfort blanket.

It is embodied in society and in popular culture that putting on different costumes can give you different mentalities. We used to have Trinny and Susannah telling us What Not To Wear while these days the (new and improved) Queer Eye guys – though not disregarding wardrobe – know that it’s what’s inside that really counts. (And dip, dip’s important too).

We’ve come a long way from Susannah screaming at Trinny “WHERE ARE YOUR TITS” while Trinny roars back “YOUR ARSE IS MASSIVE”, and thankfully discourse no longer revolves around this central theme of disguising our ‘flaws’.

Pretty Isn’t Critical

There are thousands of body positivity campaigners finally telling us they are not actually flaws, but it’s hard to shed this idea that parts of our bodies must be hidden or enhanced through what we wear.

One of the pillars of the #bopo philosophy is that you don’t exist to look pretty and when you accept that being pretty isn’t critical to your existence your attitude to your body image will change.

It asks, ‘who taught me to hate myself and how do I unlearn it?’. When we’re told that you can (and do) look imperfect, how do we reprogramme, especially when it’s embedded in our language? It’s not just the fashion industry we need to break down, although their language is particularly hateful.

Negative Thoughts

All speakers – the media, your parents, your best friends, yourself – are using language which underpin negative thoughts.

It is naturalised in the words and phrases we use to talk about clothes: ‘high-end’ and ‘low-end’ fashion strengthening a wealth divide, ‘dressing to impress’ and ‘making an effort’ embedded with misogyny, and ‘squeezing into skinny jeans‘ reinforcing unfair beauty standards that exclude vast numbers of people.

We even apologise for our clothes (‘I’m just in my scruffs’, ‘it’s only from Zara’) and only models can get away with casual – except it’s an ‘off duty look’ for them. We are urged to ‘dress for our body shapes’ and let us never forget Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign which thankfully received the backlash it deserved.

Only when we reject these phrases can we dispel the negativity encoded within them and really accept ourselves. How we think and feel about our bodies doesn’t just come from what we see, but what we say and hear and read, and real confidence comes from wearing whatever you want, and not what somebody else’s set of rules says you should.

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