By Lesedi Mnisi
Body positivity has been a topic in the media for quite some time. This is evident in celebrities, such as Lizzo, speaking out about body types that don’t fit conventional beauty standards and the pride they have in them. It is also evident in the increasing popularity of body-positive influencers such as @thickleeyonce, plus-size models like Ashley Graham, and the introduction of fashion brands that are more inclusive of bodies of different sizes and shapes; however, Stellenbosch University (SU) students feel that the Stellies premium retail brand does not fall into this category of fashion.
According to verywell-mind.com, there are two movements that encapsulate the aims of inclusive and diverse representation of all body types in media and society: body positivity and body neutrality. Body positivity is a movement focused on the acceptance and equality of all body sizes and types. It promotes that a person’s body is beautiful no matter what; however, it has been criticised for focusing too heavily on appearance, as well as for creating a culture that allows people to disregard the health risks that come with skinny culture and dangerous eating habits which may lead to obesity. Body neutrality, on the other hand, focuses more on acknowledging the non-physical characteristics of the body, rather than appearance, and promotes that a person’s worth is not based on their body.
Beauty standards, which for most of history were “unattainably high”, were largely shaped by advertisers, according to an article about advertising and post-feminism on The Middlebury Blog Network. These beauty standards were based on certain body types that are, according to some SU students, the body types that the Stellies store markets their clothing to.
Stellies stores sell athleisure wear such as shorts, T-shirts and accessories and can be found in the Neelsie, Mill Street (in Stellenbosch) and Somerset Mall. The store also has an online shopping option for their customers. Some SU students, however, have opted not to purchase clothing from Stellies.
Mbasakazi Songololo, a third-year BCom (International Business) student, bought a hoodie from Stellies in 2020; however, she has not bought from the store again due to the high price of the clothing. This sentiment is shared by Zoe February, a second-year LLB student, who has never bought clothing from the store, as she feels that they are “way too overpriced, especially con-sidering that they are marketing to students.”
Some students choose not to shop at the Stellies store not just because their prices are high, but because their marketing seems to be aimed predominantly towards people with specific body types.
“While their clothes are good quality, I believe that they have the wrong marketing strategy. The few ads that I have seen, as well as the video that is displayed in the store window in the Neelsie, is targeting a very specific group of people,” said Chané Calitz, a first-year Bsc (Chemistry) student.
Calitz went on to say that “in the window display, their clothes are only worn by women of a particular body size, and all of them are wearing shirts (for example) over bikinis.”
Calitz is not against the wearing of bikinis; however, she does feel that Stellies marketing “unnecessarily sexualize[s] the clothing items” that they have on display.
In Unnati Shukla’s 2017 thesis titled “Selling Skinny: Marketing, Social Media and Female Body Image”, she pointed out that marketing campaigns from the late 20th century “were geared toward pointing out to women what is wrong or what needs to be corrected in their bodies, rather than encouraging and celebrating the diversity of shape.”
According to February, the ads and videos she has seen from the Stellies store feature “women [who] are obviously a size small and have ‘desirable’ body types. The same goes for the men—they only use male models who are muscular and well built.”
Shay Slauck, a second-year LLB student, says that she has seen this type of marketing in a few other stores but that “the [Stellies] store definitely stands out” for that kind of marketing.
February seems to agree with this, as she said that she does not think Stellenbosch “is as progressive as it should be”, and that there is “definitely more of a culture of body exclusivity amongst men”.
The Stellies store manager chose not to comment on their marketing tactics or students’ thoughts on their marketing.