Bravissimo has come under fire for claiming the reason it doesn’t feature diverse women in its marketing campaigns is because model bookers have difficulties finding women with “bigger boobs” who are confident in front of the camera.
The lingerie and swimwear brand, which currently has 26 UK stores, made the claim when responding to a customer who had complained about the “appalling lack of colour” and dearth of plus size models in the brand’s campaign images.
The brand, founded in 1995 when CEO Sarah Tremellen was unable to buy bras that fitted her during pregnancy, targets women with a D-L cup, and its tagline reads: “Inspiring big boobed women to feel amazing!”
Tansy Blue posted on the brand’s Facebook page on Tuesday after visiting a Bravissimo outlet store in Covent Garden, London. She said she, as a “chubby” size 16 woman, was made to feel “like an alien” in the shop.
“There were large photographs of models all over the walls: all thin, pale skinned models,” she wrote. “It is utterly bizarre that a brand built around ‘uplifting’ large busted women uses so few plus size models. Many (most?) women with large breasts are large all over.”
In a response to her post, Bravissimo said: “We are really sorry to hear of your disappointment in the choice of models we use.
“We would love to use a wider range of models but this can be a real challenge due to the difficulties in finding models with bigger boobs that are comfortable and confident in front of the camera especially when wearing underwear.”
Tansy told HuffPost UK she wasn’t expecting her criticism to get any attention, but when the brand responded, other women took notice.
Blue and other women described the response as “very poor” and said they did not plan on using the brand again after the incident.
In a phone conversation, the marketing director for Bravissimo said that the company are “really sad” about the situation. “We have at least two or three mixed race models, and people with backgrounds from Brazil and stuff. And we’re getting more. We are trying.”
She said the first response the company had issued had been incorrect. “I’m afraid these things happen, one of our employees came out with an incorrect statement late in the evening.”
“We do embrace diversity as an organisation: we have a wide range of customers, different ages, body shapes, races, sizes. The only common thing we have across all those types of women is that they have big boobs.”
I’m afraid these things happen, one of our employees came out with an incorrect statement late in the evening....'
Natasha Devon, writer and body image campaigner, told HuffPost UK: “There’s an irony in this story in that ‘if’ Bravissimo are correct and larger chested women aren’t as confident, it’s probably because we don’t see ourselves represented in media and advertising.”
Devon says that brands adhering to a “narrow beauty paradigm” is dangerous. “It can have a catastrophic impact on our self-esteem and mental health,” adding, “because of how society is, women in particular have an inbuilt body image ‘shame trigger’ which is why diversity is so important.”
She explained that as a 34H cup size herself, she no longer shops at Bravissimo: “I got so fed up of having to send them back because they use ultra slim models. Now, I buy from brands like Curvy Kate who, incidentally, seem to have no trouble sourcing models with naturally large chests.”
Blue also highlighted that other brands seem able to source a diverse range of models. “None of this makes any sense,” she told Bravissimo. “This is a very poor excuse when other lingerie brands (e.g. Playful Promises, Kiss Me Deadly) routinely feature models of a variety of sizes in their marketing, and agencies specifically for plus models exist. This has clearly not been a priority for your band. I sincerely hope to see you doing better in the future.”
Twenty-four hours after the original response, when more than 200 comments had been posted under Blue’s complaint, the brand responded again, apologising and retracting its former statement.
Despite the public follow up, customers are frustrated by the remarks. Linzi Reardon said: “Honestly this whole thing makes me never want to shop with you or recommend you.”
Claire Mongey added: “I used to love Bravissimo underwear. I would go out of my way and travel to the UK to go to the shops. But their really shitty attitude and going out of their way to not be a ‘plus size’ shop made me stop buying from them completely, I can’t support a company that has the attitude they do.”
While Stevie Bryl said: “Utterly disgusted by the crappy responses from Bravissimo, especially the lack of acknowledging POC!”
Cora Harrington, author and founder of The Lingerie Addict, said that this wasn’t the first time that she had come up against problematic behaviour at the brand.
Liam Preston, head of the YMCA’s ‘Be Real’ campaign, aiming to change attitudes to body image, said: “Diversity and inclusivity in the fashion industry has been an issue for a long time, but many brands and retailers have realised that diversifying their adverts and models is having a positive impact.
“Using a ‘lack’ of available diverse models as a justification for poor diversity in advertising is shameful and embarrassing, especially for a brand that claims to cater for curvy women.
“Not only are there many bespoke modelling agencies who have a large roster of models of all ages, abilities, body shapes and ethnicities available, but many brands have proven that making their adverts inclusive is indeed very possible.”
The firm, known for selling bras and swimwear, has reportedly improved online sales in the last year, with new store openings contributing to total revenues increasing 3.4% to £51.9 million.
However the brand’s pre-tax profits fell to £69,187 from £2.2 million, according to Evening Standard. This is reportedly down to investing heavily in staff, products and marketing.
The brand plans to open its first ever store in the USA this year, although it has not confirmed a date or location.