- Beth Johnstone
Selling Mid and Plus-Size on Depop
© Depop Body Image Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Chatting to three Depop sellers about the app’s effect on body image.
Unlock phone > open Depop > hit ‘Explore’ > scroll down to ‘Fresh From Today’. Depop is a platform that, like many, has been criticised for being two things: far too thin and far too white. Looking at the listings being promoted this morning, it’s clear that the app is at least tackling one of these issues – models (most of whom are also sellers) are racially diverse. The diversity in terms of the size and shape of models, however, is still unfortunately lacking.
The app, founded in 2011, currently has over 21 million users worldwide. It’s commonly thought of as an app for Gen Z and Millennials, but this doesn’t make the figures any less astounding. An enormous 90% of its users are under the age of 26, and in the US, more than half are teenagers. The problematic spotlighting of thin bodies on the app is undoubtedly linked to the age of its users – clothing is modelled on bodies that are not only thin, but in some slightly disturbing cases, even preadolescent. Teenagers modelling garments aren’t afraid to show their midriffs. In fact, crop tops and low rise trousers, two pillars of the much-loved Y2K aesthetic, require that they do. The slight figures seen across the platform, along with the pressure to show clothes on the body, can make Depop an intimidating place for sellers.
We spoke to three people that sell mid and plus-size clothing on Depop, meaning UK size 12 and above. Though it wasn’t our intention, body image is something they’re all keenly aware of. Teni, a 17-year-old from Fife in Scotland says she “definitely struggled with body image”. “It was mainly between the ages of 13 and 15,” she remembers, “as that was around the time social media was properly in my life and sadly influencing me.” 23-year-old Stephanie, a copywriter and content strategist based in Chicago, has a healthier relationship with her body now, but struggled with body image and identity growing up. Her body image issues were rooted in structural racism: “[I was] a fat Black girl/woman in a predominantly white area that violently enforced thinness and Eurocentric beauty standards.” Cara, a 32-year-old living in Leeds, runs her vintage clothing business on Depop alongside her work for the NHS. She struggled “badly” with body image in her youth: “I had an eating disorder when I was younger and was bullied about my size when I was at school as I'm quite short but was larger in size.”
© Stephanie Depop Seller, Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
All three have modelled garments on their own bodies, and all believe there is an awareness among sellers of what angles and lighting would be considered “flattering”. Stephanie feels that there’s a lack of “popular, true plus-size sellers” on Depop, and says that those who are usually have an “hourglass shape” or “make their bodies fit the ‘standard’ plus-size shape” by angling themselves and their cameras in particular ways. Cara now models garments on herself but didn’t when she first joined Depop seven years ago: “I thought people wouldn’t buy it if it was on me!” Teni is “cautious” about the photographs she uses: “If my stomach looks bigger in the clothes, I’ll find a different angle. I tend to take multiple photos before listing an item. Maybe it’s because I see what sells: either slim or a curvy, hourglass body, which I guess is ‘more appealing’ to buyers. But I think that’s also the influence of other media platforms.”
And Teni’s right. Experts on body image have cited that like other social media platforms, ‘likes’ on Depop are easily translated by users into a positive or negative reflection of the body seen in the photograph, even though the item of clothing is the central focus. On Depop these rewards don’t just come in the form of likes, but money, and this can give the app even more power.
© Teni Depop Seller, Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Teni, Stephanie and Cara agree that the search feature on Depop means finding clothes they would want to wear isn’t difficult. Despite this, Teni and Stephanie both feel that their body types could be better represented within the app. Teni regards the diversity of seller body types as one of her favourite things about the platform, but she still feels more could be done: “When it comes to Depop’s advertising and the photos they use to show categories of clothes, that is unrepresentative of my body type. They use very particular kinds of bodies – in that department Depop lacks.” Stephanie feels less inspired by Depop since changes have been made to the app: “It seems that the app and the email newsletters cater more to thinner sellers and models and that can make people feel bad about how they look. I think the algorithm changed with the DNA feature, and more expensive items, items that aren't my size, or items that don't fit my ‘look’ are shown more than what I want to see.”
© Cara Depop Seller, Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Despite its faults, Teni believes the impact Depop has on the body image of its users is “mainly positive”, and finds the variety of body types on the platform “uplifting”. Regardless of the app itself, the openness and honesty with which its users are willing to talk about body image are more than encouraging. As our interviewees have pointed out, Depop could do more to detach itself from outdated ideals that promote whiteness and thinness. But behind the slim bodies of the ‘Fresh From Today’ page are communities of mid and plus-sized users using the app to find clothes they love and feel beautiful in.