I can’t believe I’m going to start this essay with the very thing all my professors told me to never use at the beginning of a piece: a quote. And not only a quote, but probably one of the most known and cliche quotes there is. Kate Moss’s “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” The first time I read that I stopped and thought to myself you know what? Is she right? She has to be right, just look at her. A size 00, so perfect, able to wear whatever she wants.
The fact that people are taught to equate skinny to perfection in their formative years is one of the main factors that creates persistent body image issues. For me, that started by looking at magazines. I flipped through the images before I could even read, and subconsciously at a young age these magazines taught me that in order to be perceived as beautiful I needed to be at least two things: white and skinny.
Growing up Pakistani American, I always felt a little ashamed of my skin. I longed for blonde hair and blue eyes. And it wasn’t because of anything anyone told me in real life. My parents were the most supportive, kind people that loved themselves and their children. None of my friends or their parents ever hinted at anything that made me feel lesser. But looking at those magazines and seeing who was called pretty, that sat with me for longer than I wish it did. I wanted to be those girls and because I looked different, I convinced myself that I could never be that.
As I got older and went from just staring at photos in magazines to reading the articles, I was drowning my brain with almost every possible diet by every possible celebrity: How to lose 10 lbs in a week. What Gwyneth Paltrow eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why all carbs are bad (not true… at all). My mind became a storage room for everything that the fashion industry deemed as necessary to meet their standards. And those standards? They were never inclusive to anyone besides size 0 or smaller, white, gender conforming individuals.
I never saw girls like myself in magazines or walking in shows, and neither did my POC friends. There was hardly any south asian representation, let alone trans or nonbinary individuals that were given the same platform in the industry as their straight, white counterparts. I think in a sense, that lack of inclusion is somewhat responsible for the body image and confidence issues my friends and I dealt with. I, at least, convinced myself I was never going to be as beautiful as the stereotypical models simply because I looked nothing like them.
Things have obviously changed since I was in middle school, and I’m glad there has been an increase in representation from movies to runway shows to editorials. While the Fall 2022 Runway Diversity Report proves that diversity is indeed increasing within the industry, looking at the actual numbers shows there is a lot of work to be done.
Plus size models only accounted for 2.34% of total castings during FW22, while over 67% of American women wear above a size 14. That number is so small and disappointing, especially considering ‘plus size’ means anything that strays from the size 0-4 standard. People are not seeing themselves represented in the industry, which causes not only mental dissonance but physical problems later down the line. This has always affected me in a personal manner. I’ve never been a size 0. When I was younger I was almost always a size 2. In recent years after recovering from an eating disorder and finally reaching a positive mental state I’m more like a size 6. Being removed from that stereotypical safe zone has definitely been hard, because the further you are from that 0-4 range, the more you realize nobody that is hired to represent fashion looks like you. That lack of safety and belonging within the fashion industry goes beyond sizing.
Only 1.34% of total castings included non-binary and transgender models. Think about that. Just 1.34%. This number is not at all representative of the people that make up the fashion audience, or even the industry. The fashion industry is known for capitalizing off minority groups without giving them any piece of the profit or representation. This is a prime example. It seems that many brands are taking a ‘gender neutral’ or ‘gender inclusive’ approach to their collections and creating clothing that is meant to exist without labels. While this is a step in the right direction, these actions without using models that actually embody the concept of being gender inclusive or nonconforming makes things seem performative. Representation shouldn’t be treated as a PR move. It is much more than that to the communities that need it.
As consumers of an industry that tells us what to wear and how to look, we have every right to ask for proper representation. Some brands have started to be better with this. LVMH and Kering, owners of brands like Gucci, Christian Dior, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs promised to stop using models smaller than a size 32 (US 0). While a majority of models are still extremely skinny, this was an important precedent to set and a step in the right direction.
Heaven by Marc Jacobs consistently uses models of all shapes and identities, playing into their models’ personalities for styling instead of sheerly their measurements. This has been incredibly well received by the public and gained Heaven a lot of popularity on social media. Eckhaus Latta also pushes for representation and inclusion by ensuring their clothing is genderless. They show that any piece can be worn by anyone by placing male presenting models in feminine clothes and vice versa. This helps the consumer feel more comfortable going for clothing they like, not clothing they feel like they’re told they have to conform to. Rick Owens typically uses non gender conforming models both on his website and on the runway. These models wear garments both typically feminine and masculine. In wearing them they help reduce the boundaries set between gendered clothing, helping consumers appreciate the clothes for the artwork they truly are.
The fashion industry is far from perfect. While progress is slowly being made and there are a few labels taking the lead in terms of inclusivity and diversity, there is much more work to be done. As consumers, we are fed thousands of standards every day that tell us how to look, how to eat and what to wear. These messages ultimately cause negative self image and issues with mental health. I love fashion. I always have, and I always will. I think while things continue to change for the better (slowly as it may be), there’s one thing that helps me keep myself (and my mental health together. This is a question that while working in the industry has helped me stay sane and learn to love myself: How can you let an industry rooted in body shaming, exclusionism and misrepresentation dictate your own self worth?
Text by Yusra Shah