It’s funny that in 2016, in a year when we have social media at our disposal and have used it to form a new wave of celebrities and influencers, essentially where anyone can create themselves into a personality, that we still desperately look to mainstream media to represent us and identify with us. But why?
Historically fashion and film have been amongst the worst offenders for representing women across a spectrum of body types, ages and ethnicities and while we have seen some headway, say over the last decade, it hasn’t exactly snowballed.
Interestingly while social platforms has given us a more diverse selection of ‘role models’ or influencers on our pop culture sphere, it has also in many ways issued a get out clause to established forums that still don’t feel the need to diversify their image portfolio.
What do we mean by this?
Well take modelling as an example. We wanted more diverse models, body types that more closely reflected our own rather than the established beauty ideals, but, have agencies changed that hugely? Are we really seeing more diverse models in campaigns? Or are we just being duped into thinking we are.
Are brands hiring diverse models… or is it simply what we term a model now has combined with the idea of social influencers? Models are asked for their social stats as part of the course now and are equally being interchanged by brands for social influencers for campaign shoots.
So are we really seeing change or just new marketing tactics?
In which case are we really any better represented by mainstream orthodox means than we were before? Or is it a case of being represented by different means – and if that is so – why do we still expect so much of those traditional forums? Should we just accept that these outlets are never going to really change their spots? Maybe we just need to accept that these are almost two parallel paths and we have to just keep the trains running alongside one another? Neither more important, just different and a means to end of trying to represent more people more of the time?
What has made us ponder this you wonder?
Last week the campaign #Iamallwoman launched. The aim of the campaign was, according to co-founder Charli Howard was to explore “why straight and plus-size models aren’t featured together more in shoots and campaigns.”
In order to do that, Charli Howard, a British, straight size model (who last year called out her agency when they dropped her for being ‘too big’ even though she was a size 6/8!) and Clémentine “Clem” Desseaux, a French, plus size model pulled together a group of their model friends, who were different heights, skin tones and sizes to shoot with two top fashion photographers – Lily Cummings & Heather Hazzan.
The well known faces consisted of: Iskra Lawrence, Denise Bidot, Barbie Ferreira, Kamie Crawford, Leaf, Shivaji Persad, Victoria Brito and Elliott Sailors (I think that is everyone!)
And it made for a pretty smoking campaign. The shots – un-retouched, are absolutely beautiful and obviously fulfilled the original aim of the campaign which was to show how there was no real reason campaigns don’t feature a mix of models – which is really shown here as everyone looks a-ma-zing! And part of the prerequisite for involvement was that all the models had to have previously shown a vested interest in body diversity and this was also part of the campaigns thread. In whatever guise that took for the individual model.
Charli & Clem invited others, ‘non models’, to take their own images and use the hashtag #iamallwoman in a means of encouraging others to join them. There iss no suggestion that this campaign represented all women, just that they as individuals and as a group were no less than one another just different.
The images so far have been wildly successful, with coverage on Vogue and the Daily Mail and everything in between. But questions are being raised if the campaign is diverse enough. After all if the largest model used is a UK 18, has the campaign some how failed?
The answer is no. The campaign in its current state has achieved its original goal and that is good. It also leaves room for development, something Charli, has been vocal about on social media, suggesting this is merely the start and that is exciting.
And while plus size women have been let down by the fashion industry before, it is also important to not tarnish everyone with the same brush and keep giving chances to new outlets who are trying to navigate and push new boundaries in their own way.
The campaign does show body hair, scars, stretch marks and cellulite in all their glory and this should be praised – it is important to applaud when due as much as it is important to enter in discussions on how we can improve and move things forward. It may seem like a baby step to body normalisation and yes, that is frustrating, because many are tired of waiting, but much of the progress has always been made outside traditional media constructs and that is likely to continue. However that doesn’t mean we should ignore or not champion & talk to, the smaller campaigns within it, in order to help them build and develop.
In terms of signed model diverse campaigns, we would say this is up there with the most diversity the fashion industry has seen and accepted from ‘within its own kind’ and that should get a cheer. We know that the industry has historically over retouched and obliterated stretch marks and cellulite, so any glimmer where this is accepted and praised is positive.
No campaign will ever truly represent everyone – it is just impossible. But we also know that the main source of diversity doesn’t come from within the nucleus of the industry itself. The diversity we seek in representation will not come from Hollywood and it wont be coming from the fashion industry.
It will be coming from social platforms and from brands tapping into the voice of their consumer. And that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be nudging the establishment in the right direction but maybe we just need, to a certain level, accept that and continue to work on our own voices, champion one another and push each others paths forward. Together we will get there, one day.
Images: Lily Cummings & Heather Hazzan, Video: Olimpia Valli Fassi