Op-ed: Size inclusion benefits everyone, but the fashion industry has a long way to go

Plus-size model Misha Holmes shares her thoughts on size inclusion in the fashion industry

Editor’s note: Earlier this month as part of a broader focus on topical wellness trends and local wellness news, FashioNZ ran an editorial (as in, unpaid) interview with Dr Ellen Selkon from Clinic 42 about the weight-management treatment Ozempic, available in New Zealand under the brand name Saxenda.

I sought out the Saxenda interview because Ozempic has absolutely dominated wellness and appearance medicine discourse in 2023, and as an editor covering wellness and app med, it would’ve felt remiss not to address this. Many do – and did – have strong opinions about this treatment, and raise salient points about how it is covered by the media, especially through a fashion and beauty lens.

I am very interested in these opinions. And, before opening the floodgates to opinion, I wanted the straight facts from a qualified medical doctor to form the bedrock of the conversations I hoped would follow.

As Misha Holmes writes in the following piece, society’s obsession with thinness is a hugely complex issue, and the fashion industry (including fashion titles such as FashioNZ), as a pervasive influence, must make inclusivity and representation a priority. I thank everyone who gave meaningful feedback to our Saxenda interview, and especially Misha who took us up on the offer of writing this thoughtful essay.

Phoebe Watt, editor at FashioNZ


It feels like I am expected to be grateful that there are more options in my size, but how can I feel grateful when I am only on the brink of acceptance? Teetering on the edge of just good enough. And how can I not think about all the people who wear a bigger size than me, knowing that their struggle to find clothes is even harder than mine?

In a world where fashion is often considered a reflection of society’s values, the recent movement of more brands catering to plus size seems like a step in the right direction, but is it enough?

Our society’s obsession with thinness is deeply rooted in colonialism, misogyny, and religious indoctrination. While I am not an expert on these hugely complex issues, I can speak to my personal perspective and my opinion that true inclusion in the fashion industry benefits everybody.

Recently, I was looking for some wide-legged long jeans that I could try on before buying. I could only find one store option in my area that went up to my size. As an NZ size 18-20, shopping for clothes has gotten easier in recent years, but options in-store are still dismal.

Unfortunately, my story is one of many. Worse yet, of the few shops that do stock plus size, the majority only cater to the smallest segment of the plus-size population. When you think about the fact that the average national size is a size 16, it’s easy to see the imbalance.

Brands blame manufacturing costs and lack of demand as some of the reasons for only carrying up to a certain size. This leaves plus-size people on a budget who want to keep up with the latest trends with far few options. Online fast fashion giants such as Shein, have answered the demand for micro-trend items available in basically all sizes, with persistent advertising and plus-size campaigns. Bridging a gap, built on unsustainable and exploitative working practices, but answering the demand nonetheless. And we can’t judge anyone for clothing themselves if that’s all they can afford and have access to.

There is obviously a market and a demand, but if your marketing only targets smaller sizes, then you can’t expect it to appeal to plus-size people.

So why do I believe further size inclusivity is beneficial not just to fat people?

There is no denying that the fashion industry serves as a catalyst for media representation, forming societal norms and influencing individual self-image. As observed by TEDxYouth speaker Cindy Suryadi, “Lack of representation shapes negative perceptions and stereotypes, which then drives discrimination.”

I believe our society’s fear of being fat is perpetuated by the absence of diverse body sizes in fashion and media. When people are not represented, then the unspoken message is they are not accepted.

My own journey with fatphobia started at a young age. Early in my primary years, I remember wanting to be thin, and by high school, the cycle-dieting and self-loathing began. I know too many people who have battled or are still battling eating disorders. And cases of eating disorders are only becoming more prevalent. In New Zealand from 2014-2022, hospital admissions for eating disorders jumped 260% for adults over 25 years, 164% from ages 15-24, and 220% in children under 14 years.

It’s time for the fashion industry to move beyond token gestures and embrace true size inclusion. Brands that only offer limited plus-size options just two sizes above the national average do not qualify as size inclusive. Instead, brands need to extend their size ranges to include the diverse range of bodies that really exist.

For example, Hine Collection, an indigenous-owned activewear brand, caters to a diverse range of sizes with on-trend styles and a high level of quality. They provide and campaign to sizes XXS to 8XL, promoting exercise for everybody, and inspiring the wider industry as a whole to follow suit.

If we aspire to live in a world where everyone is equal, the fashion industry must move towards true representation and inclusion. Fashion, as a pervasive influence, should prioritise its journey towards representing true diversity, ensuring that all individuals feel seen and accepted.