In the Elizabethan age, women had tiny waists and white faces. Yet the human race is not designed to fit one look – reality is somewhat different; people are of different ethnicity, shape, size, and some have disabilities.
Yet, a resounding question in the fashion world is how much are these ‘normal’ people fairly represented in fashion.
The area that has seen the most progress in this way is plus-size modelling. Designers John Galliano and Mark Fast have both used plus-size models in their runway shows.
Mark Fast caused a stir at this year’s London Fashion Week in fact, by having both skinny and curvy models walking the catwalk, showing that tighter fitted clothes can flatter all shapes and sizes.
Only recently was French Elle’s latest edition both commended and criticised. Having already conquered actresses without make up and naked models, Elle has taken it one step further, featuring plus-size models like Tara Lynn on the cover.
Similarly, darker skinned models have become increasingly popular, helped significantly by the emergence of Naomi Campbell in the 1980s. It’s surprising therefore, to find only two darker skinned models in the entire edition of this month’s Marie Claire magazine.
Sola Oyebade, CEO of Mahogany Models, who also campaigned for Italian Vogue’s all black issue in 2008 to become the largest selling Vogue ever, says: “From various world-wide campaigns, we have drawn an enormous amount of attention to the lack of black models within the fashion industry and we have definitely seen some progress.”
On the one hand, Sola believes the progress has been slow and steady, however.
“Over the last couple of years, if you look at some of the major ad campaigns you will see that more black models are being used. At London Fashion Week this year, we saw the highest amount of black models ever seen on the catwalk,” he says.
Indian Vogue has also dedicated its April issue to darker skin, as they try to quash the belief that light skin is beautiful.
Two areas less spoken in the fashion world are short models and models with disabilities. The most recent series of America’s Next Top Model saw no one over 5ft 7, giving shorter women hope that they would finally be considered in the fashion world. However, Nicole Fox has subsequently had no work since winning the final.
“The fashion industry is very superficial and that means, generally, it is only the stereotypical 5ft 9, size 6-8 models that are represented. They are what the public see and identify as a model,” Oyebade says.
“If you don’t fit the criteria then it means they won’t make money from you. It is about making money and maximising income. However that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people who are models, including plus-size, commercial, petite, glamour, dark-skinned, swimwear, and others, even a few disabled models.”
As far as models with disabilities are concerned, the BBC series ‘Britain’s Missing Top Model’ was the first to cover disabled modelling.
Becky Day, an 18-year-old model, says: “I think the industry is getting better. In terms of the agency I’m with, Tyne Tees Models, they represent all types of people. There are so many different areas of business that need models, there is definitely room for everyone,” she says.
The greatest development in this area is undoubtedly Shannon Murray becoming the first disabled woman to appear in a department store’s window display. She currently features in the Principles window of Debenhams on Oxford Street.
However, the competitiveness between models that we see on programs such as America’s Next Top Model, presents the question whether ‘normal’ people will ever become a common feature in modelling and whether it’s the duty of fashion to fairly represent all walks of life, anyway.Tweet