Fashion is how we choose to present ourselves to the world. As such, few decisions are as intimate as what we put on our bodies. That’s especially true when it comes to, well, intimates. For plus-size women, in particular, this subset of the industry is a pain point, as I came to discover while writing my debut nonfiction book, The Power of Plus.
In a chapter dedicated to undergarments, titled “Rewriting the Fantasy,” I analysed the impact that Victoria’s Secret’s infamous legacy — which has previously ranged from the lack of inclusive sizing to not featuring plus-size women in its runway spectaculars — has had on plus-size folk: “An ill-fitting and even painful bra can make one’s entire day feel like the tightest of hells. It doesn’t matter whether your dress or jeans are made to flatter. Give a big girl a bra three sizes too small and nothing will feel right. It’s a fact that everyone — across the spectrums of size, race, and background — can agree on.”
In the mainstream, lingerie has often been presented as a heteronormative means to satisfy one’s partner, pleasuring them rather than empowering one’s self. While that’s an archaic viewpoint when it comes to all consumers, it’s been especially harmful to plus-size shoppers who have historically been made to believe that their weight makes them unlovable, undesirable, and — quite frankly — unf*ckable in the lens of the male gaze and society at large thanks to everything from fatphobic bedroom and dating app interactions to brand catalogs featuring all-straight — if not -sample — size models.
The last few years have brought change to the undergarment market, however. Whereas a decade ago Victoria’s Secret held on a monopoly on intimates, now new brands are dominating the scene with size inclusivity, diversity, and representation at the forefront, including Parade, Curvy Couture Intimates, ThirdLove, and Savage x Fenty.
Since it launched in 2018, Savage x Fenty made it a priority to reflect the diversity of bodies. Rihanna's brand has not only featured models of all shapes and sizes on its runway shows and campaigns, but it solidified the idea that inclusive intimates are about far more than sexuality through its variety of styles, from bedazzled mesh briefs for men to boxer-style shorts for women.
“The varied options of intimates for marginalized bodies is incredibly important and affirming,” says writer Caitlin Magnall-Kearns. “Everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin, and that starts off with your underwear.” Since childhood, Magnall-Kearns has felt like she needed to look a certain way. “I have a really large bust and have had to wear a bra since I was 11. I think as a bigger person I always felt the need to conform to a [certain ideal of a] silhouette, sometimes this meant wearing two bras in order to make my bust pert.” Since the rise of inclusive lingerie, Magnall-Kearns says that “the right underwear [has] allowed me to feel comfortable physically and mentally in my body.”
For the plus-size community, size-inclusive intimates have the power to promote self-love and help reclaim the very things we’ve been told we’ll never be — sexy — by emboldening our inner confidence. That’s not to say intimates shouldn’t serve as a means to amplify one’s sexuality. The beauty in having an option of undergarments is in choosing how you want them to make you feel.
“For me, it’s been a big tool in discovering my sexuality,” says Marley Blonsky, co-founder of All Bodies on Bikes, a movement that aims to foster a size-inclusive bike community. “I've always been fairly confident about my sexuality, but to put on lingerie that fits and then take photos and send it to people I'm interested in… it just feels like a great equalizer. I'm like, ‘Oh, damn, people have been doing this for a long time.' Now it's my turn.”
Having the opportunity to try pieces from Savage x Fenty myself once the brand launched menswear a few years ago was a personally affirming moment. I’d never seen men with stretch marks, rolls, and “imperfections” celebrated so beautifully in a campaign. As someone who often finds it difficult to look in the bathroom mirror post-shower, it was an eye-opening experience, simply because of how normal wearing pieces from the line made me feel.
As I wrote in my book, “Lingerie can, if one chooses, be a source of eye candy for another. But it should, regardless of that, make anyone feel confident and beautiful in their own skin. When done right, inclusive and masterful lingerie has the power to change how you view yourself.”
I know firsthand. I looked in the mirror.
Gianluca Russo is a writer who has covered plus-size fashion for publications like Teen Vogue, NYLON, InStyle and more. Gianluca Russo’s The Power of Plus: Inside Fashion's Size-Inclusivity Revolution is available for purchase now.