Photo by POC Photo, Hair & Makeup by The Shanghai Pearl, Model: Me, Lingerie by Kiss Me Deadly
Todays post was really hard to write. Ive been thinking about the things Im about to say now for months, but its only become clear in the last few weeks they urgently need to be said.
I never know which articles people see first when they visit The Lingerie Addict, and we get a lot of new visitors everyday. So Im going to say a few things which are probably obvious to my longtime readers, but may be less obvious to visitors who are new or who dont come around as much.
Im saying all that to give you a bit of context about who I am and the perspective Im writing from because, for some time now, I feel like the conversation on diversity within the lingerie industry has been dominated by those who behave like diversity only matters along one axis, and thats size.
Its reached the point where the common refrain Im hearing from bra bloggers, lingerie retailers, and even some of my own readers when talking about me or this blog is, Well, youre a C cup. You dont know what its like to be ignored by the lingerie industry. And as much as I love everybody out there, it it really takes a lot of self-control to not get upset when I hear comments about like that.
As I mentioned earlier, Im a woman of color, but this isnt a blog about women of color. Its a lingerie blog. And so Im shocked when people, who either didnt notice or didnt think about the implications of my being black, complain about how underrepresented they are. Because theyre not seeing that almost everyone is underrepresented including me, the woman who started the blog.
Though Ive talked some about equal representation within the lingerie industry, I havent written about this exact issue before because talking about race in America is hard. And I think its even harder when youre a racial minority. As a person of color, you often feel like youre caught in a perpetual Catch-22. You can either avoid talking about your ethnicity (which effectively means pretending like it doesnt matter) or you can talk about it openly and deal with the blowback, which often includes stinging accusations like crying racism.
The reason Im bringing this up now is because, over the last year or so, Ive watched the conversation on diversity shrink from one that was more inclusive of all women to one that only seems relevant to fuller-busted or fuller-figured women. Ive seen so many articles and comments and blogs focusing on dress size and bra size and cup size, but next to none talking about other, equally important, issues like age, ability or, yes, ethnicity.
In a way, I understand why. People tend to talk more about issues which personally affect them, and, since the lingerie blogosphere is primarily made up of full bust and plus size bloggers, that viewpoint has become the dominant one. Unfortunately, a consequence of that is issues which arent related to size keep getting pushed further and further down the priority list in the general lingerie conversation.
The responses to the Victorias Secret article a couple of weeks ago really crystallized for me how much the debate on diversity has shrunk recently (no pun intended). One of the things Ive always appreciated about Victorias Secrets catalogs is that they include at least one black model. Now theres still a lot of work to do when it comes to the whole representation thing (call me when theyre regularly featuring an Asian model or a model over 40), but that still puts Victorias Secret decades ahead of the typical lingerie US lingerie brand, some of whom have existed for over half a century without using a single model of color in any context.
Dont get me wrong, Im incredibly happy that plus size women, fuller busted women, and fuller figured women are getting as much attention from the mainstream industry as they are now. Its a wonderful thing, and Im glad our notion of what is beautiful is expanding (again, no pun intended).
But the sad truth is I can go weeks at a time without coming across a nice photo of a woman of color in lingerie. And if were talking older women or disabled women, it can be months. The same simply isnt true for fuller-figured or fuller-busted women.
And I wonder if the comparative absence of plus sized bodies and full busted bodies in the lingerie industry has such a profoundly negative effect on women who are part of those groups, how much more so must the near-invisibility of women of color, disabled women, and older women have on those groups?
The fact that one kind of representation (in this case, size) is being treated as more important than other kinds is frustrating. And, if Im perfectly honest, its infuriating too. And heres why. And telling you this makes me tear up.
We live in a world where children as young as five have already internalized the message that black is ugly and white is pretty. We live in a world where fashion magazines regularly lighten the skin of women of color. We live in a world where, when asked why they didnt use more models of color, brands respond with, Well, we couldnt find any good ones.
Even worse, we live in a world where women of color are afraid of bringing up these issues lest we be dismissed by the very industry we seek to be a part of.
In my own life, Ive been told that Im pretty for a dark skinned girl. Ive been told that Im too dark to date. Ive been told that Id be prettier if only I were less black. And though I think we can all agree there is something seriously wrong with those kinds of statements, that messaging is constantly being reinforced by the industry at large.
Its reinforced every time a lingerie company refuses to cast, or even consider, a model of color. Its reinforced every time a lingerie brand is praised and awarded for their diversity in using fuller-figured women, but gets no comments at all on the fact their models that look the same in every other respect. Its reinforced every time I get a snippy remark from someone who insists I dont know what its like to be ignored by the lingerie industry because I happen to wear a C cup.
The reason Victorias Secrets models dont upset me anymore is because the entire lingerie industry is pretty much using the same model. Shes always a young, white, able-bodied woman, whether her dress size is a 6 or a 16.
And I think what bothers me most of all is that I get so many messages from the plus sized and fuller figured blogging community insisting I need to do more for women who look like them (which I try to do), yet theres no such passion about doing more for women like me (or like some of you). We all crave seeing people resemble us. And it makes me sad that the us in this discussion has somehow become so one-sided.
The conversation needs to expand beyond just bra sizes again. Companies are getting praised for pushing the boundaries of whats beautiful when in so many ways, theyve just repackaged the exact same standards in a slightly larger package.
We all need to be more invested in broadening our notions of whats beautiful. Diversity is more than a bra size.
What do you think? Is there something youre wanting to see more of in the lingerie industry that you havent seen before? Have you run across an image that truly challenges our norms of whats beautiful? Id love to get your thoughts in the comments.
Author: Cora Harrington