Local lingerie brand Lonely is well-known for celebrating a diverse range of bodies and preaching messages of inclusion and body positivity. So why are they deleting comments and blocking users offering critical feedback on their size range?
New Zealand lingerie brand Lonely has received criticism online for preaching messages of body positivity and acceptance, despite having a range that does not go above size 16. The response from Lonely, known worldwide for representing a broad range of models and marketing its lingerie as a ‘love letter from women to themselves’, has left several would-be customers unsatisfied, with one being blocked and the other having her comments deleted.
Beginning in 2009, Lonely has long championed messages of body positivity, diversity and inclusion. In their imagery they use women with grey hair, women who are breastfeeding, women who have acne scars, curves, puckered tummies and pubic hair. Their Lonely Girls project sets out their mission further, profiling Lonely wearers around the world who often speak frankly about body image issues, marginalisation, sexism, racism and power.
But critics say the message of body positivity and empowerment doesn’t mesh with the sizing options that they currently have available. The range of luxury lingerie currently only goes up to a size 16 and a G cup, which excludes a large number of women in New Zealand – a country where the average woman is size 14. “Wish you would do sizes above a 16,” Alana Rogers commented on their Instagram last week, “that’s pretty pitiful for a brand in 2019.”
“I saw a lot of people sharing the beautiful, un-retouched photos of Robyn Malcolm, imparting words of wisdom about beauty and how it’s consumed,” Rogers told The Spinoff. “I found myself frustrated that the diversity of beauty featured by Lonely, which while diverse in age, skin tone, gender and ability, is a brand that does not support me.” Lonely responded to her comment, “thanks so much, we will do the best we can, appreciate this feedback.”
Then, they blocked her account.
“I have received that response every time over the last five or so years I have been giving them the same criticism,” says Rogers. “Blocking me tells me they don’t actually appreciate my feedback, or intend to act on it. It tells me that my fat body is not worthy of wearing their lingerie.” Whether they have explicitly labelled themselves as body positive or not, Rogers says they should be putting in the legwork if they want to co-opt a movement.
Another Lonely follower, Georgia Feekes, left a similar comment in a thread questioning their ideas of ‘inclusion’ on their Instagram page, one which was later deleted. “I love that Lonely feature people of different races, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, older people who would usually not be included in lingerie photo shoots,” she told The Spinoff, “but it’s starkly obvious that there are no fat bodies included.”
Before closing the thread she commented in, Lonely wrote this statement.
“When we think of the word inclusion we are not thinking in dualistic terms because we believe that we are all unified beings,” Lonely wrote. “While we recognise and agree with many views and perspectives on the ‘size inclusion’ discussion we only believe this to be partially true. We feel that true inclusivity must be able to transcend all these categorised partial truth states that have created this dualistic world that many individuals (and companies) exist in today.”
The statement continued. “We are only able at this time to create for the demand we receive from our customers who align themselves with our values. We collect data from customers who want certain sizes we do not offer and when we reach our sustainable threshold we will create a new offering in the particular size.” They added that they have added at least one new band size a year, and boast one of the largest size offerings for a company of their size.
Feekes was left confused. “If there was an award for the greatest number of buzz words used without actually communicating a fixed idea, they would definitely be in the running… It feels very contradictory to me – they don’t want to create a duality, yet by only making items in straight sizes they are literally communicating that people who wear plus sizes don’t align with their values and therefore don’t get to wear their lingerie.”
Lonely declined a Spinoff invitation to comment further on their sizing range, the criticisms, or their online responses.
Meagan Kerr has been observing attitudes to plus size fashion for over 10 years. Describing herself online as “a 35 year old Māori woman living in Auckland, New Zealand, blogging about style, self love and life as a fat chick,” Kerr has seen the rise of body positivity as a trend. “I think inclusion and body positivity are two things that brands all too willingly jump on without actually thinking about the fact that they are often actively excluding a lot of people,” she says.
The fashion industry have improved, says Kerr, but there is still work to do. “When I was growing up my mum was plus-size, and all her options were quite nana-y. They weren’t stylish, or fashion-forward – it was really hard to dress in a way to express your personality.” These days, stores like the Warehouse and Kmart offer a much more extensive range of fashionable plus size clothing, but Kerr says it still really helps if fat customers like wearing black.
At the more high end, Kerr cites local designers like Carpenters Daughter, Lost and Led Astray and Ruby & Rain, who showed at NZ Fashion Week and frequently sell out of their plus-size clothing range. “They are a small New Zealand business. If they can make shit work, I don’t understand why other brands with more resources can’t make the effort.”
House of Boom is another local brand that describes itself as “a very small business for very big people,” and is committed to plus-size fashion. The label was started by Wellingtonian Joanna McLeod, who was fed up with the same clothing options – black, matronly, and tucked away at the back of Farmers. “For me, clothing is incredibly political. I don’t want to hide away. I am this size and I wanted to find an ethical, local brand that catered for me, but I couldn’t find one.”
“I got sick of no-one wanting to take my money, basically, so I decided to do something about it.”
Her first pop-up, which she held in her house, had lines out the door before it had even started and proceeded to sell out of stock over the weekend. She says that brands like Lonely often fail to see that this group of keen, fat, shoppers is an untapped customer base. “I understand that capitalism is a hard game, but there is literally a large market out there currently not being catered for who want to spend money with you if you extend your range.
But it shouldn’t just be about the sales, says McLeod. “We need to keep reminding people that their experience is not the universal experience. All bodies are valid, but people who have thin privilege who don’t have to consider these issues. I just want them to be more aware – you can’t angle for the treats without doing the mahi.”
Because when it comes to lingerie in particular, options remain very limited for plus-size people. Meaghan Kerr is size 24 and has a J-cup bust, which makes bra shopping a struggle. “I am left out everywhere. I have found only two brands in New Zealand that I can buy from. Maybe brands think that fat people just aren’t interested in looking awesome and sexy in underwear, but I know that’s not true because people ask me about it all the time.”
With that said, Kerr doesn’t think that every brand should be expected to cater to a plus-size market. “But I do think that if you are using body positivity and inclusion and movements built on the back of fat activists, then you really need to think about how you use that for marketing and whether or not it is appropriate. Take that feedback on board and actually look into it, meet with people from the plus size community and see what happens.”
Alana Rogers, who remains blocked from the page, would still love to be a Lonely customer one day. “I would love to be able to support a local lingerie company but, to put it plainly, I am fat … I genuinely just want them to be better, for so many people they are providing a revolutionary insight into how beauty comes in all forms. It feels very disappointing to be on the side of the revolution that they aren’t seemingly interested in supporting.”
Like Rogers, Kerr also still admires the Lonely brand. “Their imagery is cool, their stuff is cool, their photography is beautiful and I love their use of non-traditional models.”
“But Lonely – where the fat chicks at?”