I must admit there’s something refreshing about going to RunwayRiot’s homepage and seeing images of Chloë Grace Moretz, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, and Lena Dunham all centimeters from each other without any special distinctions made about how one is “curvy” or “breaking rules” by simply being the size she is.
The recently launched fashion website is a reincarnation of Mediaite’s Styleite with a new focus on promoting body diversity and creating content—and selling items—that appeal to women of all sizes, not just what is called “straight-sized” aka traditional or standard runway-sized women.
British model Iskra Lawrence, 25, has been named the managing editor of RunwayRiot and is charged with delivering Mediaite founder Dan Abrams’ conception of a fashion-focused site that speaks directly to this demographic so often shunned and/or ignored by the fashion industry.
“Under the surface of RunwayRiot lies the assumption that the fashion industry either hasn’t noticed a growing demand for plus-size clothing, or doesn’t care,” wrote Alexandra Steigrad in a Women’s Wear Daily article. I would venture that “assumption” has a lot of truth.
Plenty of ink has already been spilled over the frustrating lack of body diversity in the high-end fashion industry and multiple campaigns have targeted companies that fail to accommodate or explicitly ignore—or, worse, actively turn away—non-skinny women.
Hell, many countries have even banned the use of models that are too underweight.
The fact that the fashion industry hasn’t significantly changed its voice or offerings aside from a few token examples is both curious and vexing—and RunwayRiot is ready to adroitly tap into that.
“When you have 60-plus percent of American women who are considered plus size—that’s an enormous opportunity,” Abrams told WWD.
“I feel like this is the beginning. It’s something simple, but I’ve never been able to find a trend that includes more than four or five size models,” Lawrence said.
In contrast, she wants RunwayRiot to feature women “from a double zero to a 28. Any girl looking at this should feel we can all be involved in the fashion trend.”
But RunwayRiot is not the only one trying to tackle the lack of body diversity—or cash in on this frustration. (On that latter point, just to be clear, RunwayRiot is not purely editorial content; it is also an e-commerce site, meaning it wants readers to both feel empowered and buy stuff.)
Aside from the commercial campaigns launched by corporations like Dove and Lane Bryant, there are countless “fatshion” (fashion for non-straight-sized women with an activist kick) and body positivity sites: And I Get Dressed, Garner Style, and Chubster for men.
Jes Baker, the body image advocate behind The Militant Baker and the recently published Things No One Tells Fat Girls, even offers a separate, long list of sites that specifically promote fashion with an empowering, pro-body diversity, pro-self love, good vibes message.
And yet, despite the plethora of sites, the modus operandi for many of us—men and women—is to feel inferior and ashamed of our bodies when compared to what we see on newsstands, Instagram, and department store mannequins.
RunwayRiot’s birth raises the question: Is there a way to create a one-size-fits-all site that caters to women of all shapes, weights, and—most importantly—insecurities?
To an extent, RunwayRiot is already different from the rest of the pack. Although the website has been branded by some as “curvy”-focused, according to Lawrence, RunwayRiot is aiming to appeal to women of all sizes and is actively hoping to not make those specific differentiations.
“We are focused on and try to create more content and shopping options for the bigger sizes because we feel they have been underappreciated. But, we cater to sizes from zero to 28,” Lawrence insists.
Of the “plus-size” label, Lawrence admits it “is attention-grabbing,” but she “worries about the whole industry using that term because then we only get a token curvy girl.”
The idea that a fashion site wouldn’t need to be specifically tailored to a “plus-size” shopper is actually a significant improvement. As Lawrence rightly notes, that label has often promoted the token use of the occasional not traditionally skinny model as providing sufficient body diversity or, worse, to ostracize women who are not straight-sized.
Lawrence knows this frustration firsthand from her modeling career.
After starting modeling at the age of 13, she found herself being cut from London’s Storm Models agency at 15 when she was deemed “too curvy” for straight-sized modeling.
She proceeded to seek a contract as a plus-sized model, “but they [agencies] didn’t take me because they said I was too small. The top ones said, ‘You have to be a minimum of a size 14 (UK), and I was probably a 12—like an eight or 10 U.S,” she recalls.
“I was trying to change my body. First I was trying to lose weight, then I thought, ‘Am I going to have to put on weight?’ I felt very lost and was wondering ‘Why can’t I figure this out?’”
Exhausted by trying to figure out how to conform to either straight-sized or plus-sized categories, Lawrence says she decided on “branding myself as healthy.”
That branding strategy can certainly be considered a success. With more than 300,000 Instagram followers and a landmark campaign for American Eagle’s Aerie lingerie line, Lawrence’s healthy image is working well for her.
And “Healthy” is the body metric Lawrence wants to bring to RunwayRiot. She has already been working with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to develop a seal of approval for companies that “represent social responsibility in advertising, image and editorial content—specifically, content that challenges the thin ‘ideal’ and promotes diverse representations of beauty,” according to NEDA.
“You see a lot of models saying ‘I’m a body activist,’ but I’m always wondering, ‘What are you actually doing?,’” says Lawrence. “I’d rather this work speak louder than my photos or campaigns. That’s why I created RunwayRiot.”
But this guideline is also problematic. How does one define “healthy,” especially from only an image? It goes without saying that health is more than skin deep—and Lawrence recognizes that’s the case. “Healthy body image goes beyond the numbers on the scale. It goes to mental health. It goes to self care,” she says.
Perhaps, but Lawrence must also perform a careful balancing act, considering that seeming either too underweight or too overweight can be unhealthy.
Lawrence recognizes the trickiness. “I would never want to promote obesity, and I would never want to promote anorexia. I really want to promote a healthy range,” she says.
She points to the fact that a size 26 model appears on RunwayRiot. “To me, she looks healthy and happy. Healthy body image to me is loving your body, exercising a bit, not eating a terrible diet,” Lawrence says, adding, “I personally know this model I posted on the page. She’s healthy. She’s happy in her body.”
At the same time, Lawrence says a model recently wrote to her asking to be on the site, noting her hip measurements were a scant 24 inches but assured her she lived a healthy life. “It’s a tough one,” says Lawrence. “We’re trying to focus on knowing the models and knowing they’re healthy. We’re possibly going to go into agencies and facilitate classes on body images.”
While commendable, it may not always be realistic to interview each model to investigate her health regimen.
Moreover, even under well-intentioned circumstances, health as the ideal is still potentially exclusionary—what about those with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or, for that matter, eating disorders? Does barring their pictures from fashion sites help improve our own body images?
Because health brings its own discriminatory concerns, Baker argues against using health as a body ideal in Things No One Tells Fat Girls.
She also argues that the glorification as healthy has replaced the glorification of skinny with the same message that we should alter our bodies, perhaps to be toned rather than merely thin.
“We, societally, have created some space to unpack the issues around body image,” she writes, but “never before have we judged people’s value, morality, and meaningfulness by their medical charts and their ability to run marathons…. We have replaced Fen-Phen, SlimFast, and melba toast with the Paleo Diet, CrossFit, and juicing.”
The strong desire online to drive change in the mainstream fashion industry comes from the common frustration of seeing almost exclusively women who are dramatically thinner than most people could ever (and, perhaps, should ever) be in their day-to-day lives.
“We’re going to try to make the best decisions we can,” says Lawrence. “We know we can’t keep everyone happy.”