Street style is often criticised for generally failing to represent a variety of bodies. A scroll through the selection of models and influencers shot walking the streets during most fashion weeks does little to showcase the myriad of shapes and sizes well-dressed men and women come in. Historically, street-style photographers have attempted to explain the reasoning behind the lack of imagery available, but little has actually changed in terms of what we see being posted.
In an age when representation serves as a battle cry, many have begun to notice the discrepancy. Instead of waiting around for fashion to get its act together, plus-size fashion influencers have been forging their own path, creating the kind of imagery they didn’t see growing up, promoting body positivity through Instagram and YouTube. Armed with digital cameras, ingenuity, and an unwillingness to accept the status quo, they’ve brought a new verve to the concept of street style.
Leading the pack in South Africa is Zolisa Marawa, a 28 year old self-proclaimed fat advocate who recently launched a clothing line, Igwinya, to relay a message of body positivity in a language that speaks to township residents.
Marawa told New Frame — a social justice online publication — that he experienced different forms of body shaming growing up. From being policed in restaurants when enjoying meals, made to eat smaller portions and not been able to fully enjoy his food because of people staring at him, the Port Elizabeth resident said he has “struggled to find simple items in my size”.
“Most of the clothes I own and love have been items made for me … [including] jeans, underwear, corporate wear and formal wear,” said Marawa as quoted by the New Frame.
As outgoing as he had love to be, he said he recalled having to cancel hosting gigs due to not finding suitable outfits. The social exclusivity lit up the fire in his belly! As necessity is the mother of invention, he developed and launched T-shirt brand Igwinya, which translates loosely from Xhosa as vetkoek or “fat cake”, balls of deep-fried bread.
“I was drawn to language and to how our worlds, whether rich or poor, are basically delineated by language. We have this snack culture, where everyone has a snack or wants to be regarded as ‘snackable’. I tried to think about what could represent fatness … and there came Igwinya,” he said.
With many young people dealing with depression and bullying and fatphobia, Marawa’s brand is about creating a positive mindset. It aims to influence society to allow plus-size people to love themselves as they are and eliminate the policing and body shaming Marawa experienced while growing up.
“The response to Igwinya has been amazing. People are ordering from all corners of the country. They are adopting the language as a symbol of desirability. People enjoy the humour and boldness of the brand,” Marawa said.
Igwinya caters for small to extra-large wearers.
These days, virtually everyone is aware of the concept of body positivity and the movement, which preaches acceptance and health at any/every size, has done a lot of good. It was created to help people with marginalised bodies (fat, queer, trans, bodies of colour, and more) feel entitled to self-love, something that had previously been reserved for people in privileged (thin, white, fit) bodies.
Nevertheless, as the concept of body positivity becomes more widespread and more commercialised, its intention has been watered down at the same time as it has adapted meaning in other ways.
Take a tour on Zolisa’s Instagram page.