Since the start of advertising for industries like fashion, there have been specific standards and stereotypes used to present products to the consumer. In the fashion world, these standards and stereotypes are imagined through tall, thin, and predominantly white models. These models are beautiful people in the eyes of society but only represent the minority. It’s time for this industry to open its eyes and represent every person, every body type, every gender and every culture.
The dawn of diverse representation
In a world where there are so many different types of people, the fashion industry was slow to represent them. It was only in the 2010s when we began to see a change in the models who were representing the famous brands. People of colour began to model for brands such as Maria Cornejo, Narciso Rodriguez, and Jason Wu. This was after Michelle Obama became the First Lady, introducing those brands, and many more, to the beauty of diversity.
The LGBTQ+ community began to see idols such as Andreja Pejić and Riccardo Tisci‘s muse Lea T modelling brands and appearing on magazines in 2013. This was a huge step in accepting and embracing diversity in gender and sexuality. This paved the way for many transgender and LGBTQ+ models in the future.
Another breakthrough was the acknowledgment of differing body types to the stereotypical model’s body. This was a much-needed development in the fashion industry. The majority of the world do not look like those people we see on television or in magazines. The toxic culture of negative body image was born from the lack of representation and the consumers feeling unhappy. Just because they don’t look like the people who society coined as beautiful.
That brings us to representation of disabilities in the world of fashion.
Representation of disability in the fashion industry
Disability is generally very underrepresented and a lot of people may even find the subject taboo. Whether it is physical disabilities that are visible, physical disabilities that are not visible, or mental disabilities, the world struggles to give them a voice, let alone represent them on a global scale.
I remember watching a video a while ago which said: ‘Imagine if everyone could fly and you couldn’t, you were otherwise physically able, and then restaurants and shops and houses began being built in the sky, all of which had stairs so you could walk to them from the ground. But one day, they started building floating buildings with no way of accessing them but flying. Now you are disabled because you can’t fly. The only reason you are disabled is because of the world around you, not because of your body. If the world ensured everywhere was accessible, nobody would be disabled. It is a problem with our world and not a problem with individuals’. There is no reason why disability should be an underrepresented topic because it is simply a result of life.
The first well-known disabled woman to become a model was Aimee Mullins, who opened the Alexander McQueen’s runway show in London in 1999. She had both her legs amputated below the knee after suffering from fibular hemimelia. She was a very important part of history, but was a rare case of representation. Although she gave the world an opportunity, the world didn’t take it.
How, in the age of diversity and loving yourself for who you are, are we still hesitant about giving disabled models the stage. Sure, we have started to improve and it is more common to see a disabled model modelling clothes, but it still isn’t normal.
Why Does This Matter?
We’ve begun to see models like Jillian Mercado, Alexandra Kutas, Jamie Brewer and Elesha Turner emerging and taking the spotlight and it’s inspiring. After watching multiple videos on YouTube showing disabled models and reading the comments, it is clear they are changing minds. They are supporting and even inspiring those who face similar challenges. One commenter said; ‘Wow. So beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like this before’, another wrote ‘Very inspiring. I love it!’ and a third said ‘Hey…I’m a wheelchair user…can I become a model?’. A question that may have been unheard of only a decade earlier.
If even a few disabled models can have this effect, then why not stop until it is normal to see these people on our magazines. Why not stop until they have articles written about them that aren’t written because of their disability, but because we consider them beautiful or successful. It’s great that we feel amazed when we see these models representing a diverse group, but to be amazed means that it is something unexpected and that’s not good enough.