how consumers are forcing diversity in the modeling industry

illustration is by abby coe

Like canvases displayed in a craft store, models come in an array of shapes and sizes but not all are considered ideal. Models are an essential part of the fashion industry as they are instrumental in the representation of the art produced by designers. They have the job of bringing garments to life and making people want to buy a designer’s merchandise. Their appearance, walk or pose can cost them a booking if they distract from whatever they are supposed to be modeling. 

The modeling industry has been trying to convince us for years what is beautiful and what is not. Overtime, as people have begun to catch on to the dark reality of what this industry portrays, society has started a protest against the industry by nitpicking every new campaign. The people want more diversity and inclusivity, is that too much to ask? The modeling industry had it so easy when they were able to cast and use the same photocopied model in every campaign and advertisement. Now they are tasked with putting more thought and work into every step of their casting and creative processes, which is something they never intended on doing.

Arguably one of the biggest debates in the modeling industry is centered around whether or not the modeling industry should diversify their models, or if the industry’s choice of models should remain unchanged. To some it is clear that we should diversify models, while for others, concepts like tradition and image are what keeps them from straying away from change. The changing of the image of the modeling industry can be seen as a power move for some groups of people, but can also be seen as a power struggle for others.

Advocates of not diversifying models would argue that broadening the amount of people who are accepted into the world of couture fashion diminishes the notoriety and privilege accounted for when wearing designer. Although luxury brands make their profits off of being considered hard to obtain and opulent, they would receive a social image benefit through broadening their audience. Some may attribute the diversifying of models with the advancement of the modeling industry. In today’s society, the acceptance of all body types, races and genders is very important to most. They would argue that every person is equal and deserving of all opportunities.

It has been established that models have the job of selling merchandise to consumers and convincing those consumers to want a certain product. Advocates of diversifying models argue that when people see themselves represented in the same models who are trying to sell them an item of clothing, they will be more likely to make a purchase. A curvy, young woman will be more likely to be confident in her purchase of a couture dress when that dress is being modeled by someone who looks like her.

The job of a model is solely focused on how others perceive them. They cannot be boring to look at or visually unappealing, which is one of the harmful arguments against plus size or transgender models. Although they visibly do their job well, someone who is not physically “perfect,” according to societal standards, should not be considered a model to some. 

The long-legged, thin model has been the definition of what a model looks like for decades. When modeling first came to be in the late 1800s, only the most well-known people in the fashion community modeled. Designers wanted their looks to be worn by attractive people, but models did not have to be extremely thin — the ideal weight has become smaller over time. For example, iconic models from the ‘50s and ‘60s, like Marilyn Monroe, could be considered plus sized in today’s beauty standards. 

Those that prefer models all come in one shape and size, may simply have a bias or obsession towards those types of models. Society has grown to become accustomed to visualizing a model as looking a specific way, so why change that? Some may argue that these models promote healthy, active lifestyles. For example, Victoria’s Secret angels are known for having intense workout routines in order to maintain their bombshell appearance. In most cases, they are thin and tall, but still have a womanly figure with perky breasts and an hourglass shape. However, over time the industry has established a diversity of different types of thin models.

As designer Calvin Klein used women like Kate Moss, the almost anorexic looking body type was popularized. He described these models as looking more natural, rather than how most would describe them as overly thin. The main concern with the way these models were portrayed was that they were being sold as simply skinny women who skipped out on the curvy gene. This body type is one some people naturally have therefore it’s popularization has been justified, but for some the needed increase in plus-size or gender-fluid body representations has not been justified yet. 

The modeling industry has no reason to argue against diverse body shapes, when they have shown they are capable of diversity, but in the form of different “skinny” bodies. With this idea of skinny diversity, comes an increasing amount of appreciation and acceptance of different types of skinny bodies. Young girls who are self-conscious about their “boyish” figure, can look up to models like Kate Moss who sport their flat figure with confidence. Of course, it would be wrong to advertise unhealthy, anorexic models, but no one really knows whether or not a model is unhealthy or if that is just how their body is. 

Luckily, today it is becoming less common for models who are known for having a diet of cigarettes and diet coke to have long-lasting careers, as the industry’s sophistication has advanced over time. So those in support of not diversifying or changing the cliché model ideal can argue that there is nothing wrong with the current image of them. In some cases, the bashing of skinny models can make young women feel as though skinny is not beautiful, or not having a curvy figure makes them less attractive. Calling for body diversity can imply there is something wrong with being skinny.

Contrary to the extremely thin look of a model, most social media influencers strive to obtain an hourglass figure with large breasts, a small waist and wider hips. It is still unhealthy for people to compare themselves to others, but the narrative of what body types are beautiful is changing. Social media platforms allow people of varying weights, sizes and ethnicities to have followings. The modeling industry is not as open-minded and accepting as the world of social media. Social media is run by people who we can relate to, but don’t necessarily wish to look like. The modeling industry is run by people who they think we wish to look like, but cannot relate to. There’s a big difference, yet fashion brands cannot understand that their relatability stems from those that represent the “face” of their brand.

As much as I would love to say that I think the modeling industry will be fully body-positive sometime soon, I think we are years away from that. Plus-sized model, Tess Holliday, started modeling in 2011, 10 years ago. Even though it has been 10 years since plus-sized models began entering the industry, it still has not been normalized. There are brands that still have yet to include more body types in their campaigns. At this point, it should be expected that brands do this. Instead, brands receive praise when they add one or two plus-size models into their campaigns, as if this is something that was so hard for the brand to accomplish. The nature of these campaigns seem like they are coming from a place of trying to quiet angry rioters, not from a place of striving for genuine brand advancement.

The issue at hand stems from the simple truth that the modeling industry has been comfortable with tradition for too long. It has become a lazy industry that needs to be pressured into any change or evolution. Yes, the industry is taking steps in the right direction, but is it happening quickly enough and with the right intentions? 

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Hi, I’m Grace Avery, a senior fashion merchandising student from Columbia, Maryland! I’m also the editor-in-chief of A Magazine. My staff and I are full of passion and aspiration as we commit our work to bring you the most meaningful and entertaining news from the realms of fashion, beauty, and culture. Our team is full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow our community into working professionals. Please go here to donate to A Magazine.

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