One size fits thin

Megan Dhillon and Helen Kang

Nearly a century ago during the Roaring Twenties, the “Gibson Girl,” created by Charles Dana Gibson, was the ideal woman for physical attraction with a symmetric face, a slim waist and tall hair. Now, almost a century later, there is a new feminine ideal. The “Brandy girl.” Strewn all over Brandy Melville’s Instagram, thin blonde girls have become the epitome of “California chic” and are now almost considered the ideal “girl-next-door” as they are pictured in seemingly normal, everyday places: shops, beaches, or cafes while appearing casual but fashionable. 

Brandy Melville was founded around 20 years ago in Italy by Silvio and Stephan Marson, who originally named it Brandy & Melville based on names in a children’s book. In 2009, they made their U.S. debut where they opened a small shop in Westwood, Los Angeles. Their rise to popularity was largely through social media, where they relied heavily on promoting through Instagram. According to Business Insider, in 2014, Brandy has become one of the most popular teen brands, with sales reaching $125 million and an annual growth rate of 20-25%. They have harnessed their popularity to contribute to the trend of crop tops, high-waisted bottoms, and short skirts and shorts. 

Brandy’s Instagram approach centers on a method they call “product research,” a type of marketing research that provides information on the desired characteristic of a product or service. This can be implemented in many ways. For one, when a customer enters a Brandy store and their outfit catches the eyes of an employee, she may be asked about her choice of clothing, and her style will be noted. If that customer fits the image of the “Brandy girl” that Brandy is trying to advertise, then she may even be asked to become a model. 

By promoting this ‘Brandy girl’ with a below average waist size and above average height, Brandy Melville is also indirectly promoting an unhealthy lifestyle for teenage girls who aspire to fit in their clothing or to look like these girls.

However, the judgement that the employees are told to utilize comes has had negative consequences. Many customers have reported that employees have made them feel uncomfortable. Customers have reported being told by an employee that she may not fit in their clothing, accused of stealing, and shunned for their appearances. Even just by shopping in-store, young girls are being scrutinized according to their looks. Rather than having a welcoming environment, Brandy keeps their customers uncomfortable on purpose, in order to further the exclusive feel that Brandy gives off. 

Sophomore Kalen Kang, who regularly shops at Brandy, has noticed how judgemental these employees are. 

“A lot of the workers give you looks, but it depends on how you look. Because I noticed that sometimes when I go in with sweatpants without dressing up, they tend to give me looks, and especially if I bring my mom in for some reason. But then if I dress up, specifically in their clothes or in that style of fashion, they tend to be more polite to me- as if I have more worth,” Kang said.  

A typical Brandy model also participates in this “product research.” On a typical workday, they go into a store, pick out items of clothing that they like, then set out onto the streets to model, as described by popular Brandy model Lily Chee. The modeling process is far from professional, as the girls walk the streets while pictures are taken simply on an iPhone. After their workday, the girls take home pieces of clothing that they want, which are also noted by Brandy for further research. 

The work of Brandy model doesn’t match the skill level of traditional modeling, but they have to meet specific visual requirements to fit the “Brandy girl.” First, they have to be 5’7”, a whole 4 inches taller than the average female height of 5′ 3”. This is along with a 25 inch waist with a chest no larger than size 34C. There is no specific weight, but generally, they should be under 125 pounds. Brandy makes sure that their models are in their teenage years, especially before they have hit puberty where girls start to develop more curves and body fat. The models’ facial features must be Eurocentric: high cheekbones, a slim, tall nose, large eyes, and long hair. 

While the beauty standard of a “Brandy girl” isn’t far off from traditional beauty standards in the modeling industry, a major issue is Brandy’s lack of diversity with their models. Both their website and social media feature mostly caucasian models. Posting of a non-white girl is extremely rare, and considering that they post on Instagram everyday, the diversity of Brandy is exceedingly low. The difference of caucasian to non-caucasian posts have an monumental difference.

Sophomore Daniella Radtke brought up her concerns about Brandy’s mainly caucasian models.

“As a latina, and part of a extremely diverse town, seeing only caucasian models makes me pretty uncomfortable. It’s 2019, why are we not seeing different races and cultures from such a popular store?” Radtke said. 

In a society where change has just started moving towards acceptance of the diversity of body sizes that puberty and adulthood brings and the diversity of cultures in America, Brandy has remained largely ignorant, and if not completely, to this diversity. 

Junior Risha Chakraborty, having just heard about Brandy Melville being a one size fits all clothing brand, was shocked. “We were just getting a little bit better in terms of becoming more aware of the fact that Photoshop makes people skinny. And then we were pointing out instances in social media where Photoshop that has gone too far. We’re reverting to something were just getting away with,” she said. 

It may be wrong to accuse Brandy of being a “one size fits all” brand, as Brandy claims that their mode of advertising is “one size fits most.” While Brandy admits that their clothing may not cater to the extreme of “all” teenage girls, they are still ignorant to the wide range of body types that puberty brings to teenage girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average waist size of teenage girls ages 13-19 is 32.6 inches, an equivalent of a size 12 pant size, or a medium to large size. However, the only size bottoms that Brandy sells is a size 0-2, and depending on the style of the pants, it may stretch to a size 4. To fit the extra small and small sizes that they sell, you would need to have a 24-25 inch waist. 

Let’s do the math. By calculating your waist-to-height ratio (measure your waist in inches then divide by your height in inches), you can see your weight classification. The height to be a
Brandy model is 5’7”with a 24-25 inch waist. Their waist-to-height ratio would be around 37.3%, which makes them underweight. By promoting this “Brandy girl” with a below average waist size and above average height, Brandy Melville is also indirectly promoting an unhealthy lifestyle for teenage girls who aspire to fit in their clothing or to look like these girls. 

“Anorexia rates were just going down, and I’m fearful that it will go up again because that’s exactly what [Brandy] propagates: skinny equals good,” Chakraborty said. 

While a person’s waist size is not the only indicator of health risks, it does show how Brandy has become ignorant towards teenage girls of all shapes and sizes. Especially since they are catering to a teenage audience who are at an age where they are more susceptible to societal pressures and intense emotions, Brandy should promote healthy bodies. And with their growing presence in the public eye, they have more of a responsibility to make sure that they are setting a reasonable example for teenage girls. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes, no matter what waist size or height, and Brandy needs to recognize and accept that. 

Radtke expresses her discomfort about Brandy’s exclusive sizing. “All my friends are skinny. Whenever we go into Brandy, they say they want to try something on, but I know that I can’t fit in it, so it makes me feel awkward and left out,” Radtke said. 

With the damaging outlook that Brandy causes for their customers, they are indirectly teaching people that if they are too “fat”, or too “skinny” they should be cut out of specific brands or looks. Brandy is pushing a teenage girl towards body dysmorphia, which can have detrimental impacts on a young, moldable mind. The insecurity that Brandy gives is damaging self confidence, which is critical for a teenage girl growing up in a society very focused on looks. 

In the end, you should love yourself based on who you are, and not what someone else tells you to be. Being comfortable in your own skin is more important than any trend or brand. “One size does not fit all. You should be proud about what fits you,” Chakraborty said.