If you happen to be a fat woman in India, the instruction manual on how to look amazing ‘despite’ being overweight is pretty long. From ‘drink lemon water’ to ‘just join the gym’, ‘wear black’ to ‘don’t wear xyz cuts or colours ’, everyone has got something to say — be it your relatives or clothing brands.
And no one is spared, not even celebrities.
I didn't wear this dress to 'hide my curves'. Not only does the brand NOT have my permission to use my picture as a sponsored post, they definitely don't have my permission to fat shame ANYONE! I stand against everything this distasteful tagline points to. pic.twitter.com/GwY1TkOjCQ
— Maanvi Gagroo (@maanvigagroo) May 28, 2020
But another, more invisible, way in which plus-size people are shamed by clothing companies is through a ‘fat tax’. Even though clothing brands may be getting plus-size models and spreading body positivity, they are charging you way more for it. Yes, it’s an actual thing and it was recently called out by the Instagram handle and ‘fashion watchdog’, Diet Sabya.
What is fat tax?
But that’s not the kind of taxation I am talking about here.
The anonymous Instagram account Diet Sabya, the ‘desi’ version of Diet Prada, has called out many brands in the Indian fashion industry for following the practice in which ‘plus sized’ individuals are charged more for garments that are available at a standard price in ‘regular’ sizes.
Diet Sabya regularly puts an uncomfortable spotlight on big names from the fashion and entertainment industry, over anything from plagiarism to not paying artists or collaborators on time. And the account has quite an audience — it racked up 18,000 followers within a month of its first post on 15 March 2018, and it now has more than 230,000 followers.
Their latest crusade against the discriminatory tax clearly seems to have made a certain impact, seeing how two big design houses — the label Gauri and Nainika and Mumbai-based e-commerce platform Fuel, came forward to acknowledge their role in perpetuating the practice and took a stand to discontinue their differential pricing system.
View this post on Instagram
Inclusivity, with a price tag
Even in 2020, MTV’s reality show Supermodel of the Year had no space for plus-sized models. Created as a platform that could help aspiring women to break into India’s fashion industry, it sorely lacked diversity in terms of body shapes and sizes. In fact, one contestant even came back ‘fitter’ after she quit her job as a plus-sized model. So, it is no surprise that most labels in India behave the way they do, regardless of how much inclusivity they preach.
A lot of plus-sized collections of non-Indian brands are either not retailed in India, such as Forever 21, or found only in metropolitan cities, such as H&M and Zara. One look at popular shopping websites like Myntra, where one can find at least 100-plus brands, many of which are home-grown, and you will find that the largest size available for most labels is an XL and XXL. An inclusive ‘plus size’ collection, however, usually has options that could go up to XXXL or XXXXL.
To add to this is the problem of limited choices available, along with higher pricing. Even affordable brands like the Chinese e-commerce company Shein had similar clothes with higher pricing in the ‘plus-sized’ section, as my flatmate and I found out last year much to our chagrin.
While body positivity and inclusivity are the latest buzzwords for the fashion industry, the ground reality remains far from ideal. From lingerie to gym wear to lehengas, women who identify themselves as plus-size face a lot of overt and covert shaming when they demand the fit of their dreams.
India and plus-size fashion
Lakme India Fashion Week held its first-ever audition for plus-size models in August 2016. The rest has not exactly been history. The show did include models chosen across a range of body shapes, but the ensembles themselves failed to make a mark, with the silhouettes adhering to age-old concepts of ‘what flatters the big woman’.
In the imagination of most, including designers, ‘big’ always implies a space issue. Hence, people who are big cannot love or flaunt themselves the way ‘regular-sized’ models can. Modesty seems to be the general principle in plus-sized clothing even now, especially in India.
Often, sizes on offer in advertisements are not actually available, and if you do enquire, the brands/labels will either charge you extra for ‘customisation’, or claim they don’t keep such sizes stock because they won’t sell, says Poulomi Bose, who has over years endured the humiliation meted out to people who try to find plus-sized clothing of perfect fit and ask for a range of designs. Or if they do claim to have ‘plus sizes’ they usually end at measurements which are not exactly ‘plus size’., and thereby not really being ‘inclusive’. In fact, a few brands, especially when it comes to gymwear, would have ‘XL’ with measurements amounting to an M or L.
One look at another popular brand Zivame reveals the lack of stock in plus sizes.
And even if designers, labels or brands do happen to display their ‘wokeness’ by including plus sizes, like Gauri and Nainika or certain stores that retail Masaba Gupta, they effectively shame women by asking exactly how ‘plus’ they are’ (Masaba’s own store sells at uniform pricing). Every inch matters when you’re made to pay extra for the attire of your choice.
But it’s time to stop patting brands and stores on their backs for doing the bare minimum. At the end of the day, it takes a fairly influential social media entity calling out the issue for some real change to take place. And as one of Diet Sabya’s posts clearly display, this discrimination has existed and was known to many in the retail and fashion industry, but was conveniently swept under the carpet for the sake of ‘profit margin’.
Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.