Ever since the UK’s Women’s Equality Party formed and made their foray into UK politics in the London Mayoral elections back in Spring, they have been on our radar as a party to watch. We have seen an uprising of parties focused on equality and feminism (most notably Sweden’s Feminist Initiative) which are determined to bring previously ignored issues or those normally classed simply as “women’s issues”, into mainstream political conversations.
These are the parties that want discussions about childcare and paid family leave to be part of bigger healthcare and economic decisions, because they affect far more than just one group of people. Competing against the bigger parties, especially in the UK where Labour and the Tories are very dominant, can seem like an overwhelming task, but from what we can see, WEP are making their mark in the best way possible – by addressing the issues they care about the most.
They have launched a new campaign to help tackle something that we need to see more major political leaders taking seriously – eating disorders and body image. The #NoSizeFitsAll campaign coincides with the latest London Fashion Week (Sept 16 – 20) and WEP are leading the charge in making a change.
Ultimately, they want designers to stop unhealthy and underweight models, and are asking the major fashion event to take responsibility for the images and ideals they portray, which affect young women and men across Britain. In a statement to the media, party leader Sophie Walker laid out exactly why this cause is important to them.
“The time for the softly-softly approach with the fashion industry is over. There has been much talk around this topic for a number of years but we are looking to force changes,” she said.
They are urging designers to show at minimum 2 different sample sizes, one of which must be a UK size 12 or above. They want the runway shows to have healthy-sized models participating, in order to project healthy images and ideals onto those who watch fashion industry trends closely.
The WEP is also seeking to impact fashion magazines, by asking them to include at least one plus size editorial spread in every issue as well as a request to cease using size 0 as their sample size.
Like other countries who have started to pay attention to the way the fashion industry plays a role in shaping body image ideals and in many cases contributes to eating disorders and body dysmorphia, this campaign is focusing on the BMI index and wants to see a a minimum standard in place as common practice.
France introduced a law that includes these standards, and it made headlines around the world, where a state legislator in California here in the US proposed a bill inspired by the French law. Other countries such as Italy (another world fashion leader) and Israel have introduced measures of their own with an understanding of the impact has on body image in young men and women, especially in the digital age where social media which is known to foster negative and unhealthy perspectives on bodies.
But it’s not just the fashion industry that WEP’s #NoSizeFitsAll campaign is targeting. They want body image awareness to be made a mandatory and core component of the curriculum in schools. If they are able to foster discussions about this important topic in kids from a young age, it could have a remarkable effect.
The party states 1.6 million people across the UK suffer with eating disorders. And a recent study undertaken by Dove, their largest study to date (over 10,500 female participants from 13 different countries) found that women in the UK have one of the lowest self-esteem scores, with only 20% claiming they were happy with the way they looked.
If the specific standards WEP are asking for are ignored, they will ask London Mayor Sadiq Khan to withdraw funding for fashion week events next year. They will also enlist the help of Equalities Commission Maria Miller to hold hearings with designers to question them about why they continue to perpetuate an “unattainable level of thinness in women”.
“Girls and women across the country see images of ‘role models’ who are excessively thin, and many believe the only way for them to have a positive body image is to imitate their unhealthy appearance. This is a public health concern and, as such, we are calling for cross-party support to ensure the fashion industry no longer gets away with using unhealthy and unsuitable models,” Sophie Walker said.
They are hoping the British Fashion Council, the organization in charge of London Fashion Week complies. The Guardian reports that Sophie and the WEP believe unhealthy body image standards are contributing to a public health crisis costing £1.3bn a year.
One of the most notable British fashion industry experts Caryn Franklin, a fashion commentator for 35 years and the former editor of i-D Magazine, who has previously spoken about the importance of representation on the runway and diversity in fashion in an interview with Alexa Chung’s Vogue UK video series.
While the Women’s Equality Party campaign comes at an opportune time when fashionistas across the country are gearing up for London Fashion Week, a Conservative Party member has also been trying to introduce a measure to help curb the epidemic of body image problems and eating disorders exacerbated by the industry.
MP Caroline Nokes who is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image launched an official inquiry in 2015 to find out whether specific legislation is needed to help the problem, or whether industry experts and members are willing to work to tackle the problem in different ways. It seems there is increased pressure on the fashion industry to address the problems or face legislative measures that may possibly upset some, as the aforementioned French law did.
But instead of seeing the #NoSizeFitsAll campaign and other similar initiatives as a way to crack down on creativity, Sophie Walker wants the fashion industry to look at it as an opportunity for them to take the lead on much-needed change.
She said it is a chance to “raise awareness of the body image issues experienced by women and girls, and to have a discussion about the significant and far-reaching impact of the fashion industry’s idolization of a unique and very small size”.
To follow the campaign or to take action, visit the website by clicking here.