I was watching morning TV on the weekend and there was a segment discussing the controversy surrounding the clothing line Brandy Melville. The controversy revolves around the fact that Brandy Melville only cater to very small women. Their sizing is generally ‘small‘ or OSFM (one size fits most), and it’s argued that this is giving young girls a distorted view of what‘s a normal body shape.
I’d never heard of the brand, but my ears pricked up when they mentioned that they don’t pay for advertising but instead have gained their market since their introduction into the U.S. through social media, most particularly Instagram. Given that I’ve been advocating for an increased use of social media in education, I thought I should investigate. I looked at their Instagram site:
A screenshot of Brandy Melville’s Instagram
There are countless images of relaxed laid back fashion with a beach vibe. Although it’s a bit too casual for my tastes, I can certainly see the appeal to their teen market.
My next port of call was Pinterest. I typed the word ‘brandy’ into the search box and straightaway came the suggestion of ‘brandy melville’, followed by ’brandy’ (and my eye is immediately attracted to the image of Nigella’s Dense Chocolate Loaf with Brandy and Coffee recipe, a sure sign I’m not Brandy Melville’s target market!), ‘brandy melville outfits’, ‘brandy melville diy’ ,’ brandy melville usa’. Now given that Pinterest is quite popular as a source of recipes and cocktail inspiration I thought that was fairly telling. There are lot of people searching for this brand.
When you search on YouTube for Brandy Melville the first suggestions is ‘Brandy Melville haul’, part of the You Tube phenomenon of young women showing off their purchases online. Apparently that’s a thing.
Here’s an example of a Brandy Melville haul on You Tube:
It would be difficult to find a complaint video amongst the many positive haul videos, but apparently much of the discussion surrounding the brand stemmed from a vlogger complaining about her treatment by staff due to her size. There has certainly since been a lot of media discussion of the brand, its marketing and its sizing. There was an open letter published in The Huffington Post from a teenage shopper, a lot of online chatter, and this column by a business professor.
For a growing number of Brandy critics and fashion activists, Brandy Melville is an oppressive ideological force that supports social evils such as poor self-esteem, distorted perceptions of weight, social exclusion and eating disorders.
This sounds serious, and many might see it as yet another argument against the increasing use of social media by young people, along with the thinspo phenomenon, online bullying and the like.
However, you could argue that social media has given a voice to many who don’t fit the usual image of fashion followers. Plus size blogging (examples include The Plus Side of Me and The Curvy Fashionista) has been one of the successes of blogging in the last few years. The New Yorker’s Lizzie Widdicombe covered this year’s Full Figured Fashion Week in New York and spoke to many in the plus size fashion industry:
The blogger Nicolette Mason pointed to an “information gap”—the lack of media coverage devoted to plus-size fashion and the fact that, for the most part, fashionable plus-size women aren’t represented in the engines of mainstream consumerism: celebrity magazines and television.
So it seems social media can provide a range of views, images and ideas that mainstream media doesn’t, and it’s up to young people to choose which ones they focus on.
My daughter are 9 and 11, and not yet on social media. When I do let them join Facebook, Instagram, read blogs, etc. My hope, reflecting that of the commentator on Weekend Sunrise, is that fashion and beauty don’t make up a large part of their self worth or their online experiences. I hope that they will find inspiring role models who try to make the world a better place.
I think that’s why I’m a fan of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party. While I’m not a regular watcher of the YouTube channel, I like seeing the links to great news and ideas in my Faceboook feed. Recent links have included Istagram ‘shelfies’, a TED talk by Isabelle Allende, Malala Yousafzai’s recent Nobel Peace Prize win, and Kid President and Grover’s Socktober Telethon urging people to donate socks to the homeless. But I wonder if some teenagers might see this as a bit too ‘worthy’or ‘preachy’.
So my questions are: How do we give young people the tools to search for the good stuff? How do we guide them to explore the range of views on social media and not simply those that are popular and fashionable?
I’ve added a resource page of inspiring social media to maybe provide some different areas for young people to explore.
Giesler, Markus. “Why Brandy Melville Should Listen to Its Plus-Size Fans.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/markus-giesler/brandy-melville-and-the-p_b_5994102.html>.
Khrais, Reema. “Showing Off Shopping Sprees, Fashion ‘Haulers’ Cash In Online.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014. <http://www.npr.org/2013/03/14/174305909/showing-off-shopping-sprees-fashion-haulers-cash-in-online>.
“Masters of spin – Sunrise.” Masters of spin – Sunrise. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014. <https://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunrise/video/watch/25290983/masters-of-spin/>.
Renaldo, Lani. “An Open Letter to Brandy Melville.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 24 Mar. 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lani-renaldo/brandy-melville-clothes_b_4994923.html>.
“TRY-ON HAUL: Brandy Melville, Victoria’s Secret, Windsor.. | Aspyn Ovard.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C-tMCIOjUg>.
Widdicombe, Lizzie. “Reinventing Plus-Size Style.” The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2014. <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/22/bigger-better>.