Happily, body positive campaigns and imagery are becoming more increasingly common among fast-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 applaud 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 as objects of sexual pleasure and desire. 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 the female body from a female perspective.
In 2016, the brand was forced to remove a campaign from social media in 2016 for promoting masturbation, namely, women taking charge of — and reveling 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.
"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," Kara Kia, at 24-year-old editorial intern at Refinery29 UK, says. "I'm proud of Monki for depicting women's bodies truthfully, as a norm, instead of a marketing novelty."
She says: "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."
Twenty-three-year-old Rach Earnshaw, a postgraduate student, explains that it was reassuring to "see bodies that look like [hers] in swimwear campaigns," because "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 under-the-radar celebration of 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, agrees that while any brand that prioritizes representation and diversity gets "a major thumbs up" from her, she appreciated how Monki does it without making a song and dance.
"It’s great that Monki is just cracking on with using more diverse models," she says, "but if a brand wants to openly promote that fact, that’s okay too. Anything that furthers diversity is fantastic."