An Open Letter to Suboo, and All White-Washed, Size-0 Instagram Brands
Before I get into the letter, allow me to very quickly set the stage. A couple weeks ago, I posted a photo on Instagram wearing an awesome swimsuit from Aussie label Suboo. I tagged the brand in the photo, they "liked" it, and I was happy knowing that not only did I feel great in the suit, but that I had connected with its makers all the way in Australia, letting them know I was feeling gorgeous in it and getting a virtual high-five from them.
A week or so later, after getting various messages from friends wanting to know more about the suit and where to buy it, I went to Suboo's page to try to find tagged photos of myself and other people wearing the same suit, just to get a feel for how it looked on different body types. I quickly noticed that not only had they chosen to "hide" my photo from their tagged images, they also did the same for lots and lots of other Instagram users, only leaving up images identical to the ones in their feed, and only images featuring a really narrow selection of skin colors and body types. Yes, I'm bothered that they hid me, a white woman who is relatively trim (not model-skinny, but I think I look good), but what's worse, they have absolutely ZERO women of color, and NO one who appears to be bigger than a size 2 featured in their own images or in tagged images that they haven't hidden.
Look - it's a free market, and it's totally their prerogative to curate their brand however they want, but I to the brands I say: Leave the heavy curation for your own images, and allow tagged images to stay organic! Hiding tagged images that showcase a more diverse range of paying customers and fans of the line really feels a lot like censorship; it's preventing potential customers from seeing IRL examples of a brand's clothing and swimwear, only providing a heavily curated, censored, and brand-approved view, and making it really difficult for anyone to see images of people wearing Suboo, to use them as an example, that the brand doesn't want you to see.
I think that while fashion brands should have a right to create and maintain their own image, it's extremely dangerous to enable just one perspective; it creates a false dystopia, a whitewashed, one-dimensional, one-size (0) world where anyone who does not fit that is not only not included in brand imagery and the industry at large, but is also "untagged" and essentially erased from the record.
(Cue eating disorders, body image issues, and prejudice against non-white/non-thin bodies that seeps into all facets of culture outside of the fashion industry.)
The prevalence of User Generated Content in the past couple years is proof positive that people are craving UGC to help inform their shopping decisions - we no longer have to rely only on heavily photoshopped, retouched, or professionally lit, made-up and photographed model imagery, because that simply isn't how the clothes will be used in our everyday lives, and it's just not realistic.
This is an epidemic across the fashion world at large, so while I'm singling out Suboo, I really would just like the entire community to do better.
So, without further ado, here are my photos (untagged) and below is the letter I emailed to Suboo:
I am writing to express my disappointment in Suboo. I have a beautiful swimsuit that I love, and that makes me feel beautiful, and I was so happy to share it on Instagram on vacation last week. However, I discovered that Suboo chooses to hide all tagged photos that don't feature professional photography, editing, and models, or model-look-alikes. Moreover, your models, and the women in the tagged photos that you do not censor, are all white (mostly blond), very thin, and virtual look alikes. There is absolutely no diversity in the people you hire to represent the brand, NOR in the people who you allow to show up in your tagged photos.
I completely understand that as a brand, you curate your feed - the images that appear on your profile - to fit the Suboo "look". But the point of tagged photos, for consumers and for the brands alike, is to a.) give your customers and fans a platform to share their happy experiences with your line, and b.) to give potential customers and fans a look at what "real" (i.e. "not staged") Suboo moments look like. When my image was hidden from your tagged images, I felt really hurt. I guess my sheer joy in feeling great in your product was less valuable to you than a model or influencer doing the same.
Since I posted my photos, my friends have been commenting and messaging me about the suit, and I've been singing your praises, sending them links, etc. I feel really stupid now that I learned that the brand loyalty and excitement only goes one way.
I really wish you took as much pride in celebrating the everyday customers and fans of your line who maybe don't have professional photography or look exactly like the beautiful and fit models you use in your campaigns, but who are still feeling beautiful in your swimwear and clothing. I also hope that this comes across not as a "how dare you not like my photo" but instead as a genuine desire for you to share in the experience of your customers, and that you perhaps even diversify the look of the people in the images you do share, not ignore them as you curate a falsely perfect veneer. Please, please do better.
Suboo actually did write back, the very same day.
Promoting real women and diversity are definitely something we do strive for in our social media and we are so sorry that we appear to be achieving this goal [sic].
In no way is hiding some tagged images a judgment on the person or photo, it has merely been conducted to ensure aesthetic continuity.
However I will ensure out [sic] social media department takes your complaint seriously and in future [sic] reconsider hiding beautiful photos like yours.
While I really appreciated their response and I certainly hope they will take the complaint seriously, I find it really hard to swallow that aesthetic continuity can only mean thin white women, and no beautifully shot, beautifully styled image of a WOC or a full-figured woman or person exists out there in Instagram. Frankly, though, why should it? Why would a POC or a non "straight-sized" person even want to buy from a brand that doesn't represent them within their own imagery?
For your reference, these are images that Suboo has posted in the past few weeks.
These are images that are tagged and that Suboo hasn't hidden. Here's a fun game - what is actually the difference?
Since discovering that Suboo hides imagery it deems unfit for aesthetic continuity, I researched more of my favorite brands and discovered that some of them do this, as well, but the majority of them do not. (Mackage, Neiman Marcus, Jacques Marie Mage are a few of the ones I recently tagged that appear to keep almost all tagged images. Krewe, the Nola-based eyewear maker, does untag photos that aren't up to photographic par, but they do a better job of making sure models of color appear regularly in their branded imagery and that POC appear in tagged images.)
My requests to Suboo and all white-washed, one-sized brands:
1.) Let people who are feeling themselves and feeling great in/enjoying your brand share in your platform. Let them have a chance to connect with other fans of the line, and let potential future customers see the clothing/swimwear not only on models, but also on real people, so they can see how the suit will look on them, IRL, not in a photoshoot.
2.) Include more diversity in the photos your post, and the photos you don't "hide," if you must still hide tagged photos. Diversity in skin colors, ethnicity, body-type, aesthetic, style -- all of it!
3.) Keep making awesome swimwear/clothing/accessories that everyone is encouraged to enjoy.