How online retailers are finally, hopefully, starting to represent everybody’s bodies

We always knew we liked ModCloth. The US fashion site has swished into many shoppers’ hearts with its vintage-inspired frocks and eternally flattering silhouettes (we’re still waiting for a UK launch guys, but until then we’ll be sat patiently by the letterbox for 10 business days) – but now they’re on a mission to make us feel good about our bodies, as well as dressing them.

In August, ModCloth was the first fashion retailer to sign the Heroes Pledge For Advertisers, a declaration promising not to ‘change the shape, size, proportion, colour and/or remove/enhance the physical features’ of models in its adverts in post-production. They’ve also vowed to label any model image on the site that has been Photoshopped or altered at all, so we never need stroke our chin and say ‘hey, don’t women normally have waists wider than their arms?’ in puzzlement again.

The petition was started by the Brave Girls Alliance, a think tank and pressure group formed to champion diversity and equality for girls in the media – but it resonates a whole lot for grown-ups too. ‘As a company, we certainly feel frustrated by overly Photoshopped advertisements,’ ModCloth explained in their accompanying blog post. ‘Scads of companies and magazines have been guilty of taking this photo editing tool a bit too far.’

They’ve not stopped there, either. Two weeks later the company launched its #FashionTruth campaign at New York Fashion Week, with an open casting call for women of all body types, ages and ethnicities to be photographed as a model for the site. They’re also gathering opinions and photos from fans sharing their own fashion truths, and using the campaign to reaffirm their commitment to diverse images, wide ranges of sizes and an e-retail experience that puts their fan community at its heart.

A recent report by the company (we told you, they’ve been busy) found that 62 per cent of women think that the unrealistic beauty standards in fashion advertising are harmful to women’s body image, while 78 per cent of plus-size women, feel they ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ see themselves reflected in adverts. There are scores of other studies from across the past 15 years that demonstrate just how damaging those impossibly flawless images can be to our self-esteem – plus, of course, the voice in the back of everyone’s heads yelling ‘YES OBVIOUSLY.’

‘You look across the industry, it’s not very diverse. I really believe in showing a wide range of bodies, creating advertising and marketing campaigns that are truly reflective of your customer base,’ says ModCloth’s founder Susan Koger.

Rather than the well-intentioned but ultimately problematic calls for ‘real’ women we’ve seen from brands in recent years (are size 6 models not real people too, Dove?), the buzzwords here are diversity and representation – a move towards showing the widest possible spectrum of women, so everyone can look at ads and see something that reminds them of… them.

So, all that being good and lovely, who else will be following in ModCloth’s velvet Mary Jane-clad footsteps?

Back on UK shores Debenhams made waves last year when they vowed to ditch digital retouching in their product shots and embraced a wider range of sizes, abilities and ethnicities in their catalogue, while Caryn Franklin’s All Walks Beyond the Catwalk initiative has been attempting to change accepted standards of beauty in the fashion industry from the inside out.

There have been calls for ASOS to join up and sign the Heroes Pledge but so far the e-retail giants are resisting, while a stack of high-profile Photoshop disasters (including Beyonce) haven’t managed to tempt H&M away from the airbrush.

‘There’s a rising outcry online, in blogs and in social media, of people questioning the status-quo and begging for a change,’ says ModCloth’s Susan Koger in her open letter to the fashion industry. ‘Is anyone listening?’

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Lauren Bravo