In the world of fashion and modeling it always been a struggle to get past the barriers if you are larger than the average size or if you are not a blonde hair or brown hair fair skin women. In the beginning days of modelling you would always see the same skinny Caucasian woman walking down runways, gracing magazines and catalogues, billboards things of that sort.
Being a person who is not white it was hard to find someone to relate to when I do look at the models that take part in New York , Milan , Paris fashion week around the time I was growing up and the most vulnerable. Approximately 6 years ago 87 % of the models were white, 4.9 % were black, 5.4% were Asian and 2.7% Latina. Comparing that to now there is not much of a difference looking at 2015 numbers out of the 93 shows at New York Fashion Week Fall 2015 77.4 % of the models were white , black models were only accounted for 8.7 % , Asian models 8.5% and following in last was Latina models that only made up 3.5 %. It makes the fashion industry but specifically the modeling agencies and the people casting models for runway shows look very racist, prejudices toward these races.
Which is not a new thing it anyone who is a minority and knows the way they treat girls who are not white. Naomi Campbell said it best in an interview with Nick Knight where she criticizes the industry and the people involved saying “There is still an issue of ignorance in our fashion world… I don’t even like to use the word racism — [they’re] ignorant. They just don’t want to budge. They just don’t want to change their idea or be more open-minded, to just [book] a beautiful girl regardless of creed or color.” Naomi being a model and becoming a supermodel for the last 28 years has experienced it firsthand.
Even if they do hire black, Asian, Latina models most of the time they would have to alter their facial features in the end suppressing themselves into western beauty standards. Black women/ girls would have to relax their hair to make it less look natural, lighten their skin so they do not look as dark. Not being able to be themselves and become a carbon copy of everyone else. It makes those certain models not feel good and loses their identity, most do not complain or speak out about the issues they face with constantly but one model did not have to use her words to explain the anger she had towards the fashion industry and the way they push their beauty standards. Alek Wek who has worked with Galliano , Chanel , Givenchy and was scouted because of her dark skin , long limbs and shaved head that made her stand out from the rest , decided to rip off the blonde wig she had to wear at the Betsey Johnson show in 1998 while walking down the runway. Alek felt that there is that there is a lot of judgement and standards in the fashion / modeling world that she is not happy about in her words saying “You don’t have to go with the crowd”.
As time goes by the percentages have gone up for more nonwhite models that are making their mark on the fashion world like Imaan Hamman , Binx Walton, Neelam Gill , Fei Fei Sun and the many more that are up in coming. It is still a problem within the fashion community that needs to be talked about more and given more awareness but also the issue of Plus size models are an intertwining with the similar prejudice minority women feel. It goes the same with plus size or girls that are larger than the average model. They are seen as not good enough to become successful models. Turned by many modeling agencies because they are too big to represent companies even now in the wave of plus size models making their way into the fashion industry some are still objectified and rejected.
Models that are featured in this mini-series include Barbara Ferreira and Sabina Karlsson who are up in coming models who have been in American Apparel ads (Barbara) and have modeled for Armani and Jean Paul Gautltier (Sabina). Sabina who has been in the fashion industry longer discussed how she had to go on grueling diets and workouts that were not even healthy for her; being Uk size 6 (which is a size 2 in the US) she was told that she was too big to model. “That’s the only thing that people would always talk about, like I was ‘bottom heavy’, and blah, blah, blah. I never wore shorts as a straight size model. I would always wear a longer dress, and I would hide my legs. Now, I’ve started wearing shorts. I’ve actually started to embrace them. I love my thighs, and I would not want to have a thigh gap.” Sabina explaining that they would focus on her thighs not allowing her to wear shorts or skirts for shoots and runway shows. Sabina now embracing her size and is taking part in being in a body positive campaign called Lane Bryant’s Plus Size is Equal campaign. Barbara on the other hand is still making her way through the fashion world at only 19 years old with first posting pictures of herself on Instagram getting the attention of the general public to now being in American Apparel, American Eagle ads and being interviewed by Time magazine. Barbara is very comfortable with talking about her experience of being a plus size model, even as a child she could never imagine the thought of her being featured for anything because of her weight, the kids that would tease her and the models she saw growing up didn’t look like her. Now she ignores the people that discourage her for her weight and continues gracing us with her beauty across the internet and magazines.
Within the age of body positivity movement and Blackout (social movement to embrace young black girls beauty). We are hoping that the fashion world will realize that it a great thing to have more nonwhite models and models that are a little bit bigger than the average. Companies include that do exclude girls because of their race or sizes are Balenciaga, David Koma, Comme De Garcons, Vetements, Undercover, Abercrombie and Fitch, Lululemon. Some fashion designers feel that these certain women do not fit their aesthetic which is pretty absurd since a certain race/ body type should not validate whether you are not an aesthetic.
If you want to be able to sell your clothes most young women should be able to purchase it without feeling excluded because of their body type or who they see in the billboards, runways wearing and not seeing themselves in it. It also puts out an example to young girls out there who are constantly looking up to woman who they can aspire to be and when they don’t see anyone that doesn’t look like them it makes it 10 times harder for them to have a role model or someone to relate to. As time goes on I really hope the fashion industry makes changes because not everyone is skinny, white and the same we are all diverse, beautiful and deserve to have a chance to be models for any company out there.