Happily, body positive campaigns and imagery are becoming increasingly common among high-street fashion brands. Retailers including Missguided and Asos have won praise for showcasing women of all body shapes and skin tones, for refusing to airbrush models' stretch marks and for giving their in-store mannequins natural body features.
We appluad companies for taking these steps towards greater diversity and inclusion. However, it's rarer to come across a body positive campaign that doesn't indulge the male gaze, namely, one that doesn't present women from a masculine and heterosexual point of view and as objects of male pleasure.
Which is why Monki, one of the multinational Swedish brands owned by H&M, deserves praise for its unretouched imagery of women that consistently celebrates and showcases women's bodies from a female perspective.
Take the images to promote its latest line of swimwear (above). The beautiful, natural photos feature two non-airbrushed women side by side.
In previous campaigns, women are depicted looking joyful, comfortable in both their bodies and their clothes (rare is the sight of a crippling stiletto heel). See the gorgeous shots of its swimwear campaign from last season, too.
The brand was forced to remove a campaign from social media in 2016 for promoting masturbation, namely, women taking charge of – and revelling in – their own sexuality. “It’s no secret that penetrative sex on its own doesn’t feel that good (a.k.a good at all) for most girls, so masturbation with a partner can be the key to an orgasm during sex,” read the text on one of the images. This may be common sense for many women, but a large portion of the internet objected.
Kara Kia, 24, Refinery29 UK's editorial intern, agrees that the brand deserves a pat on the back. "It's so important to see editorial advertising engaging with the female gaze, it suggests that there are more women making key decisions in a male-dominated field," she says. "I'm proud of Monki for depicting women's bodies truthfully, as a norm, instead of a marketing novelty."
Meanwhile, Louise Marguerite, 25, a blogger and actress, described the most recent swimwear photos as " the perfect definition of body confidence". "The swimwear seems to have been created to enhance what nature gave you and to make you feel fabulous," she continues.
"I don’t see why we photoshop our bodies in the first place. Every body is born with moles and birthmarks and develops wrinkles and stretch marks. What’s unnatural is concealing them with editing programs and creating ultra perfect models. Good on Monki for celebrating our natural bodies and not shouting about it – a model's scars, stretch marks or moles aren’t going to stop you buying a garment."
Rach Earnshaw, 23, a postgraduate student, told Refinery29 it was reassuring to "see bodies that look like [hers] in swimwear campaigns". "It makes me feel like I can wear something other than a black one piece." While she believes Monki could do more to show models of different sizes, their unshowy approach to depicting the female body deserves praise. "It should be the norm, so I appreciate that they haven’t really shouted about it as much [as other brands might]."
Communications consultant, Becky Barnes, 38, meanwhile, said that while any brand that boundaries in terms of representation and diversity gets "a major thumbs up" from her, she appreciated Monki doing it without making a song and dance.
"It’s great that Monki are just cracking on with using more diverse models, but if a brand wants to openly promote that fact, that’s okay too. Anything that furthers diversity is fantastic."
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