Over the years, diversity on the catwalk has become a growing theme to challenge beauty standards in the fashion industry. Models have always been a reflection of the ideal shape, size, height, and colour that societal norms have reinforced. Since a young age I have always been inspired by fashion and catwalks, I admired the looks of many models and dreamed that only one day I could be as beautiful. Needless to say, the models I desired to look like were thin, tall and mostly white. I am not tall nor as thin, surely this was harmful to the way I see myself at the age of 14?
If I do not fit the criteria to be adorned for my looks whilst strutting in designer wear down the catwalks, then where do I stand on the beauty spectrum? I have now learned to understand I am just as beautiful as the models I aspired to look like, in my own way. However, I am sure that there are plenty of young girls who are influenced by these toxic stereotypical beauty standards leading them to believe that their beauty is not good enough.
How ‘Heroin Chic’ Influenced Unrealistic Body Types & Romanticized Mental Illness
In order to understand the power that models have on desired body image and self-esteem, let’s take a look back to the ’90s and the generation of ‘heroin chic’. A style that was popular throughout the 1990s, characterized by dark circles, pale skin, and being extremely thin. This was dangerous to young girls like myself who admired models like Kate Moss, as this style romanticized drug use and mental illness. In turn, this has the potential young girls to be influenced by such an unhealthy beauty ideal.
The fashion industry has been the main perpetrator for setting unrealistic beauty standards for women and men. As such, it pushed the narrative that anyone that does not tick the boxes of ‘model material’ is ought to feel unsatisfied with their own looks. It is important to note that many of these ideals of beauty have stemmed from heteronormative ideologies; females having to embrace ‘femininity’ and males having to look and act ‘masculine’. This shows that the fashion industry reinforces divisions of gender and sexuality and a reflection of patriarchal beliefs towards race and gender. As a result, black men and women were less likely to be considered to model as their skin colour did not fit with the stereotypical ideals of beauty set in the industry.
How is the Fashion Industry Challenging Past Beauty Standards?
In more recent years, diversity has become a growing topic of discussion in the fashion industry. Catwalks have been graced by a range of sizes and colours, championing alternative ideals of beauty. Arguably, the iconic Jean Paul Gaultier was ahead of his time and has been creating inclusive runways for decades. His SS91 show featured men, women, young, old, black, white trouping down the runway. Since then his shows have seen a cast of heavily tattooed models, trans models, models of colour and plus-size models. Inclusion and diversity are central to his design values, creating clothes for anyone and everyone. Personally, I think that he is the figure of fashion that many designers should take a note from! He really set an example for years to come.
Gaultier is an early example of diversity on the runway, yet twenty years later it is hard to believe that designers are struggling to create inclusive runways in 2020. Nonetheless, the SS19 runways were more diverse than ever. New York coming out on top with 44.8% of models were women of colour, followed by London (36.2%) and Paris (32.4%). New York Fashion Week began with a bang as the plus-size brand, 11 Honore, opened the show with curve models such as Tara Lynn, Maraquita Pring and Candice Huffine.
There are also many campaigns aiming to shake up, wake up, and make the industry a place for everyone. An example is ‘AllWalks’, a campaign that challenges the industry’s dependence on one body ideal through inspirational press campaigns that feature a broader range of sizes, skin tones, and ages. ‘AllWalks’ also has educational projects; working from the inside out of the industry to educate diversity to young people who aspire to be part of the industry.
With many designers becoming more conscious of the importance of diversity, and the beauty standards they conform to, it is evident that many are taking action. With social media being an extension of ourselves, many are using this as a platform to voice problems in the industry. Bloggers and activists are using social media to express discrimination in the industry. Trans models and non-binary models are now seen on runways more than ever before. This creates new role models for younger people to look up to and creating a new image of beauty and diverse representations on catwalks.
Although there is still such a long way to go in confronting past issues and past standards, there is a healthy rise in designers and brands being more diverse. The past representations of beauty are being challenged are slowly evolving. The fashion industry has a social responsibility to challenge rigid body and beauty standards, as it is also the industry that formed the existing ones. The more inclusive the industry becomes, the more we can compress the previous ideals set for men and women, love ourselves and each other no matter what size, shape, gender, colour we may be.