Did We Really See Body Diversity?
Talk of diversity, especially body diversity, surrounded New York Fashion Week this year, both in the approach and the process. Models banded together with the National Eating Disorders Association and the Model Alliance to call for better working conditions and diverse casting, saying they would use the power of their numbers to highlight and honor designers who paid attention. Diversity advocate and model Madeline Stuart, who has Down Syndrome, appeared on the catwalk and also debuted her own fashion line. Christian Siriano’s runway show featured several models whose sizing doesn’t fall under the standard fashion week shape, and another of other designers brought curvier models to their shows, amid compliments of diversity.
But overall, very little deviation from the standard fashion figure happened. The overwhelming majority of bodies on the runway conformed to one look.
Now whether the women (and men) on the runway felt pressured to maintain a certain weight or achieve a certain body, only they can say. And the body type of the models themselves is not their fault. Nor is it their fault that they were hired for the various shows during fashion week. No one is blaming the workers, who are simply doing their jobs. If they followed recommendations of “You should be a model” that were based on their bodies to the runway, they are only responding to the culture around them, and it’s a free country.
This doesn’t call down judgment on any one designer, either. Designers and casters have to pick from the pool of people willing to work at the time of their shows. That narrows their options.
But I posit that overall diversity is still a long ways off, or at least a dramatic industry change away. How am I certain of this? Well, I know better than apply as a model.
Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible that I could model, but I’m fully aware that I don’t meet the body type I saw on the runway—that I saw reliably, repeatedly. I can’t see myself going to the runway among the average group of models. And I’m fine with that fact; I don’t want to model. But the awareness that most of the people I know would never voluntarily think “I could be a model,” indicates that despite the talk of inclusivity, there’s still a divide.
And that divide is a given. It’s cultural to the industry. I highly doubt designers are maliciously choosing to hire one body type. It’s just part of an unspoken rule of the runway. Unspoken, but loud and clear. When the people who line up along the catwalk largely still conform to one shape, a shape still plastered clearly across most billboards and TV’s and store ads and teen magazines, and any deviation is a headline to celebrate because it’s a breakthrough, there’s still not body diversity.
I’m not saying don’t celebrate the appearances of people like Iskra Lawrence or Madeline Stuart on the runway. But Lawrence is often considered a plus-size model amongst her peers. Plus size. The eye of fashion is skewed to an extreme, and although the industry is waking up to the effects of creating an implied ideal, clearly there are still a ways to go.