Before the 1960’s models, fashion icons, and celebrities were curvy and closer to the size of average women of their time (Rehabs.com). After supermodel, Twiggy’s influence on the fashion industry in the 60s, thin was in. Models aimed for more of an androgynous, lanky, and tall appearance. During the 70s, a fashion show may contain one black model compared to the sea of white models (Rehabs.com). Today, for some lines, the lack of diversity hasn’t progressed much. Many never imagined they’d see the day where a person with down syndrome could be signed to a modeling agency and walk the runways of New York Fashion Week, but in 2015 that happened. The fashion industry is slowly but surely making strides in the acceptance of not-so-typical models on the runways, covers of magazines, and advertisements, but to what degree, with what reasoning, and how is this inclusion making people feel?
Plus size models are making more appearances in magazines, runways, clothing sites, catalogs, and social media platforms than ever before. They are embracing their sizes and curves and standing up and speaking out against body shaming. Ashley Graham, who wears a size 16 was the first plus size model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She has been promoting the acceptance of plus size models since she first started modeling at age 12 (Daily Mail).
“Plus size models relate to and reach a large target market,” Louisiana State University Textiles and Merchandising Professor, Deborah Welker said. “The average woman’s garment is a size 14, which is a large population in America. It is all about the bottom line: companies will make more money reaching this segment.”
Clothing brands such as Forever 21, American Eagle, and Lane Bryant have added plus size collections to their stores. New Orleans plus size model, Emily Sharpe says these brands and others are trying to appeal to everyday women. Today, curvy girls are glorified. Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and Amber Rose have millions of followers on their Instagram accounts admiring and praising them for their hourglass figures.
While the majority of runways consist of models below the average women’s size, plus size models are making themselves both a topic of discussion and a commodity for fashion brands everywhere to consider.
Natural hair models after their increased on the runways of New York Fashion Week 2016. Within the last few years, African-American women have been letting go of hair straightening chemicals. While the fashion industry for the most part had embraced the “Natural Hair Movement” as well, certain brands were slow to catch on, such as Victoria’s Secret. Maria Borges was the first model with natural hair to walk the runway in the Victoria Secret Fashion Show in 2015.
The appearance of a natural model in the Victoria Secret Fashion Show was “inspirational,” said LSU student Joselyn Knowling.
“Now that I’m embracing the natural look (because I didn’t at first) I think it gives people that are natural [the idea that] ‘okay, my hair is amazing, it’s good enough to be shown on fashion runways, Vogue magazines and what not.’”
Seeing more natural hair models in the fashion industry because it gives her the feeling that society is becoming more accepting of women with natural hair, Knowling said. Professor Welker said that in using Borges in their show, she predicts that it was partly in response to giving their African-American consumers models that can relate more to them.
With fashion being a representation of the times, it should come as no surprise that models with natural hair are making more appearances. More African-American celebrities such as Solange, Zendaya, and Janelle Monae are also wearing their hair naturally on red carpet appearances, magazine covers, and live performances.
“Mentally challenged people need more figures to look up to in the fashion industry,” LSU student Nicole Torres said. “It’ll give them more confidence and remind them that they can do anything they set their mind to.”
While natural hair models are becoming more mainstream, mentally and physically disabled models are barely making their way into the industry. For the second time, New York Fashion Week welcomed model Madeline Stuart to walk their runways. Stuart who has Down Syndrome walked for the first time in 2015 and again in 2016. Also this year, Beyoncé made model Jillian Mercado, born with muscular dystrophy the face of her “Formation” lyric themed online clothing collection. Torres, older sister to her autistic brother Sean, is elated that disabled models are starting to be included in the fashion industry. She said she has learned so much from having Sean as a brother. Not only has he taught her patience, but he has taught her to see the good in everything and be more like him by filtering out the negative.
Founder and CEO of Fashion Week Lake Charles, Julie Branden said it took too long for NYFW to include models with disabilities.
“We talk about diversity, but there is still lack of diversity in the fashion industry,” Branden said.
Diversity throughout the fashion industry is appreciated by many and some feel that the progression of the inclusion of diverse models is happening too slow. By including models of different ethnicities, abilities, shades, and sizes the designers and fashion organizations get the chance to appeal to a broader audience and encourage different types of people to get involved in the industry. With the small amount of diversity shown in the fashion industry and the modeling industry, young girls and aspiring models won’t have many figures to idolize. When more designers decide to take the step and choose the bigger models, the girls with kinky hair, or the woman with muscular dystrophy over the traditional stick-thin Twiggys—it will be then that significant progress will be made.