Simply Be are being praised all over the media at the moment, for their self-dubbed ‘most diverse catwalk show’ which opened up LFW on Thursday 14th September. The show was put together after Simply Be discovered that 89% of women felt that they were not represented on the catwalk, and it featured a whole host of absolutely gorgeous girls such as Callie Thorpe – who started out as a plus size blogger just like me, just like most of us here at She Might Be, and just like you. That is awesome. And in all honesty, a LFW catwalk which features women like Tess Holliday, who is plus size and very proud of it, or Kelly Knox, who is a disabled blogger who fights for diversity, is a really big deal and something to be incredibly proud of. Every plus size blogger should feel collectively proud of themselves, because without badass babes getting out their VBO and making it okay for fat girls to wear whatever they want, this would not have happened. You go, glen coco. But here’s where things get a little bit problematic.
Had Simply Be not promised the ‘most diverse catwalk show’, I would probably be standing up and applauding them right now, in much the same way that Look magazine are doing. In fact, there are a variety of tabloids, magazine and even plus size e-zines right now who are telling them how fantastic they are doing, and that confuses me greatly. Because if you look at that picture above, you see seven girls who are all of a very similar skintone. There is nobody who falls into the ‘superfat’ category standing in that line-up (size 28+). There are no black women, Muslim women, trans women, or women who use mobility aids or have other signs of disability. In fact, the disabled women they did employ was a size 10 blonde with legs up to my eyeballs. The only size 10 you will find on Simply Be’s website is in the shoe section. Essentially, Simply Be selected one palatable disabled person, a couple of fat white girls, one fair skinned girl with a gorgeous mane of brown curls, and threw in a couple of blonde girls with hips. This isn’t diversity, this is tokenism.
Yet bloggers were singing their praises. The same bloggers who were quick to school BooHoo during their recent dalliance with poor advertising, were standing up alongside Simply Be and saying ‘but at least they did something‘. It was as if radical fat activism disappeared for this one brand alone, and suddenly I realised why: Simply Be pay a lot of bloggers to be on their team. A couple of blogging friends confided in me that they were desperately unhappy with the catwalk, but were unable to speak up because Simply Be was essentially paying their rent. The words ‘contractual obligations’ and ‘blacklisted’ were mentioned more than once, and I even spoke with a fellow blogger babe who I personally feel would have been ideal for their campaign – she’s a black woman who is a fat activist and a stunning model – and she revealed that she has worked with Simply Be in the past, would even have worked with them on this campaign, but they had informed her that she was not welcome at this event and would not be working with her in the future because of her outspoken nature and passion for the fight for diversity. This is not acceptable.
It’s all very well for me to sit behind a laptop and encourage people to come forward and speak up for the shortcomings of a brand, but Simply Be do not pay me. I believe I may have worked with them on some sponsored content in the past, but Simply Be actually have regular contracts with a number of bloggers. There is no shade at all in what I’m saying, by the way – we are all grown ups, we operate in a world of influencers and branding, there’s nothing wrong with a brand paying you to big them up. When I worked in retail, it didn’t matter how trash I thought the product was – the brand was paying me, so I spoke up in defence and was silent when I thought they were wrong. There is nothing wrong with this, it is called being a smart business woman. I also respect the models who were involved for deciding to get involved with a brand who promised diversity, and I understand that when it comes down to staying quiet or risking not getting paid, you are going to just do your job – and the models absolutely killed it. They couldn’t have done better. But I wanted to give people the opportunity to speak up on their true feelings, and so I spoke to a handful of bloggers with the promise of absolutely anonymity, in order to spill the real tea about Simply Be and their attempt at a diverse catwalk. Here’s what happened.
Simply Be put on ‘most diverse catwalk’ as 89% of women felt unrepresented on the runway.
Did their diverse catwalk represent YOU?
— SheMightBe Magazine (@SheMightBeMag) September 17, 2017
I messaged women privately, as well as tweeting out to give people the opportunity to message ME privately, and asked them four questions.
Did you feel represented? What could Simply Be have done better?
Had you been asked, would you have modelled? Do you wish to remain anonymous?
The majority of answers to the question ‘did you feel represented’ were generally negative. The only people who felt they were represented were white women who were a size 24 and under – which makes perfect sense, of course. No women of colour or disabled women who answered my questions felt that they had been represented. I then took to Twitter to conduct a poll, and the results of that poll can be seen above. 63% of our readers do not feel that Simply Be represented them with their ‘most diverse catwalk’, and that is shocking. How are plus size fashion fanatics and bloggers supposed to support your brand when your attempt at diversity alienates over half of the readers of a plus size magazine?
There were some really great suggestions for how Simply Be could have improved – and what’s sad is that some of these came from people who Simply Be are already paying. If a survey was conducted on how many women felt represented on the mainstream catwalk, surely it wouldn’t have been a great leap further to then question WHY these people were not represented. What were they looking for? Who was excluded? One person messaged me simply saying that if they had made the effort to hire women of colour, she would have been happy. Another showed disgust at their use of tokenism over diversity, while a third listed women who would have been perfect for the catwalk. Several pointed out the sad fact that the women sitting in the front row of the catwalk show were a far better reflection of diversity. It’s almost like the right answer was RIGHT THERE and Simply Be couldn’t see it. One person rightly suggested that brands need to spend time researching intersectionality and learning how they can improve. The consensus was that brands should be asking their customers, and particularly asking the bloggers they were already paying to do PR for them. Looking at the people who really are unrepresented and use your opportunity to represent them. That is diversity.
Question 3 was met with an almost resounding ‘no’ – most of the people I spoke to would not have taken part in the catwalk show if they had been asked. This was because they felt there were people who needed the visibility more than them. One disabled woman who answered worries that there probably wouldn’t have even been wheelchair access that made it possible for a disabled person to use the catwalk. One WoC said that she would have walked if circumstances had been different, as she does not currently have a good relationship with the brand.
Finally, about half of the people I asked chose to remain anonymous, and I have decided to keep the other half anonymous because I don’t want it to become any easier for the brand to work out who I have spoken to and potentially let them go for breach of contract. It was incredibly brave for women who, as one woman said was ‘contractually obligated to keep my mouth shut on this matter’, to step forward and give me real honest responses, and I don’t want to do anything that could lead to them being punished for their bravery.
This article almost wrote itself, really – and if Simply Be had done any proper work beforehand, they could have avoided all of this. I will end this with a message to Simply Be: talk to your customers, talk to your staff, talk amongst yourselves. Constantly check that you are doing the best you can do, and delivering on all of your promises.
I, along with many others, look forward to your next attempt at the ‘most diverse catwalk show’ and hope that we actually get to see some diversity next time.