Our UK Research & Insight Director, Aneka Hindocha, examines conversations around this year’s Met Gala.

To honour the late German designer, Karl Lagerfeld, this year’s Met Gala theme encompassed the full work and life of him with ‘A Line of Beauty’. The event garnered over seven million social media mentions across the globe – mainly surrounding the best/worst dressed celebrities plus comments and memories around Lagerfeld’s rein. The best dressed of the bunch were those who found distinct ways to honour a signature Lagerfeld look; whether that be his collections’ recurring use of pearls, bows, and tweeds, or Lagerfeld’s own personal style itself through sleek ties, shirts and blazers.

However, not everyone was supportive of the theme chosen and for Lagerfeld’s legacy to be celebrated – as many pointed to the designer’s history of controversial comments that stem back over his five decades in the fashion industry.

Jameela Jamil was one of the celebrities who condemned the decision to honour Lagerfeld shortly after the theme was announced last year, with the actress recalling the, “distinctly hateful way” the designer used his platform. Jamil included a reference to Lagerfeld’s 2009 interview with German magazine Focus, where he claimed that “no one wants to see curvy women.”

She also included examples of the comments Lagerfeld made about women who came forward with their experiences during the Me Too Movement. In 2018, Lagerfeld reportedly said: “If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent”.

Sara Ziff, the Founder of the Model Alliance also commented on the event saying: “The choice to honour Lagerfeld embodies the dissonance of an industry that claims to be progressive, that celebrates body positivity and survivors on the one hand; and then reveres figures like [Lagerfeld] without even acknowledging their regressive views.”

The move towards body neutrality from brands 

Body neutrality is more than a buzzword. It has a range of origins and cultural roots dating back to the fat acceptance movement of the 1960s. Over the past decade, it’s great to see that it has picked up momentum with brands championing similar themes in their own campaigns.

While some brands have been criticised for turning body neutrality into a performative marketing strategy, there is a major victory in people of all sizes being able to see themselves represented in the media, through their favourite brands. Still, some companies have worked earnestly to bring the true message of body neutrality to their customers.

Brands that have received a lot of positive attention over the past few years include: Dove and their campaign for Real Beauty, Simply Be, ASOS (who use numerous plus size models) and Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ line of clothing. Over the years, many celebrities have been campaigning for body neutrality too, figures such as Lizzo, Chrissy Teigen and Lena Durham just to name a few.

The implications for brands 

Brands have started to broaden the notion of ‘what beauty means’ in recent years. We are starting to see more diversity on our runways than ever before, our ads are becoming more representative of real women, and social media influencers are encouraging young girls to love their bodies.

Having said this, there is a fine line, and it is a balancing act for brands getting it right, even though focusing on body neutrality could help address one of the biggest criticisms of the modern-day body neutrality movement. “Telling people to ‘love yourself’ can be as toxic as telling someone how to look,” says Sinead Donohoe, head of marketing at fashion brand Simply Be. “Ultimately, many factors impact women feeling ‘happy’ in their bodies – it’s a big ask for brands alone to create that feeling. But normalising different bodies is a good place for brands like mine to start.”

With the end game being a culture of body neutrality, where society can forget the ideals and let go of so-called flaws. It is up to brands to carry on with this notion and refine what ‘aspirational’ means for society. We probably first have to move through a period of adjustment where we challenge society’s definition of beauty.

Body neutrality in the Fashion industry 

Body neutrality has always been linked with fashion, and the industry has more power to influence positive change than many people realise. It’s alarming that this topic has only recently been brought to the forefront of the media. Looking at social media mentions around body positivity and neutrality over the past five years, we can see that on average YoY conversations have increased around this topic by an incredible 870%

After the Met Gala this year several models broke one of Lagerfeld’s rules and wore tracksuits to the after party, including Irina Shayk and Billie Eilish. This was due to a statement that Lagefeld made back in 2013, in which he said that “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants.”

Although we are seeing glimmers of hope that society is finally fighting back on some of these barriers, such as breaking Lagerfeld’s rules, we still have a way to go. It is going to take a lot to shift the culture into acceptance and showing positivity towards bodies of all shapes and sizes, but it seems as though everyone is up for the challenge, right?

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