Although the fashion industry influences what we wear, controls seasonal trends, and revolutionizes the way we see clothing and design, it's anything but progressive. The world of modeling is especially narrow and restrictive — putting skinny cis-gendered white women always at the forefront of what's "cool" and "trendy" (even when these companies' clothing lines derive designs from non-white cultures). In fact, a recent runway report from The Fashion Spot shows that only 25% of models this past Fashion Week were models of color — and this is an improvement from last year, and these numbers don't include QPOC (although its safe to assume that those stats are much smaller).
Plus-size modeling is also a serious point of contention within runways and magazines. Models are expected to be stick-thin, then shamed or even rejected from agencies for gaining weight, fuelling unhealthy exercise habits and eating disorders. Although plus-size modeling is supposed to be a better alternative, plus-size models are repeatedly kept off runways — even though these larger women accurately represent American female body sizing today — and, more often than not, their fat, stretch marks and cellulite (we all have 'em, folks!) are retouched until unrecognizable. Models are repeatedly fat-shamed (sometimes their too fat, other times not fat enough)
There is no such thing as "the perfect woman" but the fashion industry will do everything in their power to keep these false ideas going, fueling a machine of profit and insecurity. We've compiled a list of some of our favorite models who are saying "fuck you" to bullshit industry norms and revolutionizing the way we think of fashion.
Charli has worked as a model since she was sixteen but, as she explains in an interview for StyleLikeU, she was pressured to lose weight by her modeling agency, judged for her curves, and ended up developing body dysmorphia as a result from all of the pressure to be stick-thin. “If I wasn’t a 35 hip it was the end of the world,” she explains, revealing that she would measure herself 5 times a day to make sure she never gained any weight. After being dropped by her agency for being ‘too fat,’ she made a Facebook post, that went viral within hours, calling out the agency for defining her beauty by a number and refusing to book jobs for her until she lost weight. Charli and fellow model Clementine co-founded the All Woman Project, which seeks to end body-shaming in the media and increase diversity in the fashion world. This project is absolutely amazing and features women across all different races and body types, celebrating womanhood in the most honest way. We’re so proud of Charli for fighting back against unrealistic modeling standards.
This body-positive activist has taken the fashion world by storm. Barbie has appeared in numerous magazines, modeled for fashion brands like ASOS and Aerie’s Real Campaign (un-retouched!!). She’s even got the honorary title of "Petra Collins’s Muse." As a curvy model, Barbie has had to deal with a lot of shit from the fashion industry and internet trolls alike, but she continues to speak out against unrealistic beauty standards and body-shaming within the media. Barbie has talked openly about being surrounded by images of women who never looked like her, growing up in a society where skinny is always the norm, and the insecurity this created when she was younger. “Seeing someone who you can relate to in the media is everything as a child, and a lot of people are not granted that luxury,” She explained to Teen Vogue. We applaud her for her relentless advocacy and her cool girl attitude. She’s an inspiration and a trailblazer, engaging us in the important conversations about fashion representation and plus-sized modeling. She’s proof that you can fight to change the fashion industry and we can’t wait to see where her career takes her next.
3. Torraine Futurum
Torraine has appeared on the NYFW runway for Gypsy Sport, Barragan, Vaquera, and Gogo Graham — just to name a few. Last year, she also appeared in Carly Rae Jepson’s music video for Boy Problems. When she’s not modeling, Torraine creates incredible art about her experience as a black trans woman. Her multi-media project Transgression captures the emotion and turbulence surrounding her transition and addresses the violence trans women face on a daily basis. In an industry that rarely features trans models of color, Futurum is fighting for more visibility on the runways. As she recently told Mic, “I’ve learned that you have to take yourself very seriously and have respect for yourself and know what you’re worth and everyone else will fall in line." A self-declared "Black Panther Barbie," she’s not afraid to speak out against the industry’s silence about police brutality — a serious issue given how often the fashion world appropriates from black culture. She’s a force of nature, and we can’t wait to watch her conquer.
4. Hari Nef
Hari has a modeling portfolio a mile long, was on the cover of Elle UK, and is a NYFW veteran. She’s the first transgender woman to ever receive a worldwide modeling contract, a very big step forward for trans representation in the fashion industry. For Nef, however, that kind of tokenism isn’t enough and more needs to be done, as she explained to The New Yorker. Fashion achievements aside, you may recognize Hari from the second season of Jill Soloway's show Transparent, in which she played openly trans Gittel, Grandma Rose’s sister, who’s gay subculture in 1930s Berlin is brutally snuffed out by the Nazis. Hari continues to be a relentless trans advocate, going to Twitter to call out critics and educate us on what it means to be trans in today’s world. Forever our alt-glam Internet queen, Hari’s taking over our runways and our television screens.
5. Adwoa Aboah
After years of silently dealing with depression and addiction, Adwoa founded GURLS TALK, a safe space platform where girls can share their experiences with mental illness, eating disorders, and generate conversations about issues women are still dealing with today. She has brought feminism into her fashion career, even though she did not always feel so comfortable in her own skin. Modeling impacted her body image when she was younger, Adwoa told Vogue, "Being judged based on how you look can be difficult, and it definitely affected me and the way I look at myself. It’s changing now and that is wonderful — girls are able to show their personalities and their true selves.” Adwoa continues to model — most recently she appeared on the runway for Kenzo — but her experiences have shaped how she views the fashion industry and her activism even landed her on the cover of i-D’s Female Gaze issue. As GURLS TALK continues to grow, Adwoa has created a network of support amongst young girls everywhere, and she's leading the charge against female body-shaming with her inspiring strength.
6. Ebonee Davis
As a woman of color in the modeling industry, Ebonee has had to fight to be booked for jobs. Before she started wearing her natural hair, Ebonee spent most of her career conforming to white Euro-centric standards by straightening her hair or wearing weaves. In a powerful essay she penned for Harper’s Bazaar, the Calvin Klein model talked about inequality in the fashion world and what it was like to appear in a Calvin Klein campaign on the same day Alton Sterling died at the hands of police. As she speaks out against police brutality, Ebonee also wants the fashion companies to do better, to increase diversity on the runways, because "fashion, the gatekeeper of cool, decides and dictates what is beautiful and acceptable. And let me tell you, it is no longer acceptable for us to revel in black culture with no regard for the struggles facing the black community.” She’s a rising star, and she’s using her exposure to spread awareness about the socio-political problems black people continue to face in America. For Ebonee Davis, the fashion industry has been silent for too long.
Lauren Wasser modeled ever since she was little, but her whole life changed when she nearly died and lost her leg from Toxic Shock Syndrome in 2012. Rather than consider her disability as the end of her modeling career, Lauren is now an advocate against TSS, raising awareness about the disease and supporting her fellow survivors and uses her visibility to share her story. Disabled models very rarely appear in magazines and on runways so Wasser has become a trailblazer, appearing with her gold prosthetic leg on the runway. However, the fashion world hadn’t always welcomed her with open arms. “In the beginning, before my story was really circulating and I would show up to a job where they weren’t aware, I would get some side-eyes out of confusion, stemming from not knowing what to do with me. I was different than the rest,” Wasser told Vogue. Most recently, Lauren was featured in Kenneth Cole’s Courageous Class campaign, which featured various activists from around the world. As Lauren continues to educate the world on TSS, we hope that her appearances in magazines and runways inspire disabled girls everywhere.
8. Lulu Bonfils
At just 17, Lulu is already making a name for herself in the fashion world. Her portfolio includes features in Nylon, ASOS, Lane Bryant, Gypsy Sport, and the list goes on. As a body positive activist, Lulu is pushing back against "Size 0" fashion standards. Wise beyond her years, Lulu also creates art about feminine energy and BDSM energy, as she told Refinery 29. With a wide range of creative interests, Lulu is a new kind of "renaissance woman," a girl that questions the world around her through different artistic expressions — and her ground-breaking modeling career certainly falls under this category. "I always looked up to fat girls. I never, like, worshiped the thin body as a lot of media did. I felt really excluded, personally, just because no one was talking about my body type." She explained to Teen Vogue. As Lulu continues to appear in various fashion publications, she's becoming the kind of representation many girls need. She may just be 17, but already she's unstoppable.
“Modest couture” is becoming more and more prominent and Mariah is spearheading this movement. You might recognize the Muslim British model from H&M’s fashion campaign. Mariah’s appearance in this global campaign has marked a new era for the acceptance of hijab in mainstream fashion — most recently, New York Fashion Week featured hijabs for the first time on their runways. Mariah continues to model, appearing in ads for Puma and Zara, but now she’s become an outspoken advocate, whether it’s sharing her experience as a Muslim woman in today’s society or helping refugees. We hope to see her face in fashion campaigns all across the world. In a time of fear and hatred, she brings so much hope.
10. Lily Olsen
Although she's only 5'4" (very, very short by modeling standards), Lily had her first big break through Balenciaga and Vetements. She's also a multi-disciplined artist. As a metal sculptor, she's crafted many breathtaking pieces but she's now exploring the medium of her photography. As a queer activist, she's using her art to rebel against sexual taboos. One of her projects, #ItsLegalNYC, addresses the legality of toplessness and the censorship the female body continues to endure through a poster with wooden cutouts designed to normalize and desexualize. Her photographs center around queer women. As Lily told i-D, "I shoot them in a way that is happy and strong and empowering, as I want that to be something you relate to femininity - rather than something that's floral." She's a talented artist and model who pulls from all of the influences around her. It'll be interesting to see how she fuses fashion with art and she's definitely someone to watch this upcoming fashion season.
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