Fat bodies are conspicuously absent within fashion studies. With the exception of one notable historical analysis of early plus-size advertisements emerging from dress history, recent research has mostly emerged from the fields of gender studies, sociology and fat studies and has largely been based on contemporary issues as fatness is most often associated with the emergent “obesity epidemic” of the late twentieth century. When fashion has been discussed in this work, plus-size fashion—a euphemism for and perhaps the most visible manifestation of fat fashion—is typically invoked and is most often employed illustratively. While such work has opened up vital discussions about the relationships between politics, cultural power apparatuses and the gendered expectations placed on the fat, female body, it seems to have largely taken plus-size as a given, overlooking its history and as encompassing concerns of interest to fashion studies, such as dress as a situated bodily practice, definitions of fashionability and modes of representation in the media.
A careful analysis of extant fashion media reveals a different historical trajectory and brings new issues to the fore. While the mainstream fashion media (e.g. Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar) has, for the most part, omitted fat bodies from editorials and fashion spreads, they are nevertheless consistently present in advertising inserts and classifieds, which have heretofore been mostly overlooked. Due to this perceived lack, plus-size fashion is oftentimes obliquely framed as a “problem” in the sense that scholars, cultural critics and consumers alike have tended to politicize and speak about plus-size fashion within the discourses of “obesity” and fat stigma. While this is not without merit as there is ample evidence to suggest that the industry has willfully and problematically marginalized fat, female consumers, it has served to create a discourse of plus-size fashion that has generally failed to acknowledge positive interventions.