Panelist at Refinery29 Event.
Panelists at a Refinery29 event.

The average American woman wears size 14 and up. Yet, less than 2 percent of women represented in mainstream media and advertisements are plus-sized. Now, Refinery29, a popular U.S.-based women’s style website, aims to change that through “The 67% Project,” an initiative to bring a broader range of women to all of its editorial content — and to all of mainstream media too.

The 67% Project, launched in September and named for the percentage of women who wear plus-sized clothes, aims to change society’s idea of these women. Negative views of the plus-sized body are pervasive, and often linked to stereotypes and preconceived ideas. As such, unconscious bias runs deep too. Often, mainstream media depicts plus-sized women as sidekicks or doesn’t show them at all. Plus-sized women in workplace make an average of $9,000 to $19,000 less a year than their skinnier counterparts.

To break down this bias, the campaign is not only targeting how plus-sized women are represented in the media, it hopes to change how they are perceived in society.

Refinery29 polled over a 1,000 women in August, to find out what kinds of bodies they found acceptable. The data show that larger women are associated with negatively charged words: lazy, ugly, sloppy and embarrassing. And the larger the woman, the worse she is judged. They also reveal that, plus-sized bodies are more accepted when less skin is revealed — meaning, people are more willing to accept them, if they see less of them.

The environment is even worse for plus-sized women of color, who are are rarely seen in the media and commonly associated with negative words and almost no positive scenarios. “Being a black woman in America is like growing up in a house and not seeing any pictures of yourself. So imagine being a fat black women in America,” said Ashlee Haze, a poet and 67% Project backer, speaking on the sidelines of a Refinery29 event called Every Beautiful Body.

Why Don’t We See Her?

The problem stems from the fact, that few plus-sized women are represented in mainstream media, which discourages retailers from marketing plus-sized clothing and leads to a lack of clothing options for these women.

It’s no secret that the fashion industry has a plus-sized problem. Sample sizes typically don’t cater to a model larger than a size 2, and when they do it’s considered news. Few designers create for the average American woman.

There are only a handful of institutes in the U.S that encourage students to design for the plus-sized body and actually provide the tools to do so. Most fashion students are taught that the average American women is a size 8, which is actually 6 sizes too small.

“What comes first? What creates change?” Dominique Norman, an alumna of the Washington State University’s fashion design program, asked Fusion in a recent article. “Is it a change in the industry and seeing greater plus-size representation, or is it a change in the curriculum?”

There is no clear answer right now, but some experts say that raising awareness within the fashion industry about the problem will eventually help bring plus-sized clothing to the mainstream media.

“It’s an evolution in the industry, and inner work is going on to change the minds of those who are not marketing towards plus-sized women,” actress and activist Danielle Brooks said at the event.

Danielle Brooks speaking at Every Beautiful Body Event.
Danielle Brooks speaking at Every Beautiful Body

Representing Her

Refinery29 is looking to launch a cross-platform dialogue and feature images of the 67 percent of women who wear size 14 and up, in the hopes that large media companies will gain awareness and cater to women of all sizes.

They also hosted the Every Beautiful Body symposium to spark conversation about how to eliminate the stark contrast between the reality of the size of women in the U.S. and the size of the women seen in the media and retail marketing.

“I came today to see and hear people that look like me and love themselves. It makes you learn to love yourself the way you are,” said Errielle Thompson, an event guest.

Comments like Thompson’s at the symposium suggest that apparel companies are losing customers by not designing or marketing for plus-sized women and need to change their approach.

“Editors, we want to be seen. Designers, we want to be dressed. Retailers, we want options. Women, we must do this together,” Brooks said to the Every Beautiful Body crowd. “The culture is demanding that we have curvy models.”

Brands like Aerie for American Eagle and Lane Bryant have already responded, using images of plus-sized models in their clothing and in their advertisements regularly.

As part of its ongoing 67% Project, Refinery29 is making significant changes to its own website to fully represent this group of women. In recent months, the company has shot new stock photography and redesigned its illustrations to accurately show the women who make up the majority of the country. It has also been reaching out to companies across the U.S. to do the same.

“For all our work in representing women, we have failed to reflect the majority,” says Kelsey Miller, senior feature writer. “Once we recognized this gap, we could not unsee it.”