Evolution of Modeling: The Impact of Body Positivity
As a young girl growing up in this world, what I knew to be true was that thin = beautiful. I believed that having a flat stomach and no fat on my body was prettier than anything else. The mindset that society imposes on everyone, and women in particular, is incredibly damaging. For all its flaws, the fashion industry is beginning to embrace body positivity. This is the idea that all bodies, especially marginalized bodies, are worthy of love and admiration.
The Ideal Body Through History
What society deems as the best body shape for women to have differs depending on context. When and where you exist in the world will determine how you perceive beauty. There is a wide variety of different body types. However, each of these ideals focused on a male-centric gaze and subtly undermined women. For example, people in Ancient Greece valued full-figured, fleshy female bodies. Victorian beauty defined an hourglass figure with a cinched waist as beautiful. Women in the 1920s wore bras that flattened their breasts for an androgynous look. In the 80s, workout videos meant that toned muscles became “in vogue.” In the 90s, ultra-skinny models like Kate Moss became the trend.
The Ideal Body Today
Today, society has dictated that women should be thin, with a toned body and an hourglass figure. As Tina Fey states in her autobiography Bossypants, “Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.”
Luckily, there are women and men everywhere who are trying to change the toxicity of the fashion world. Plus-sized models, actors and performers are spreading a message of self-love and acceptance to their followers. Here are some influencers making a difference:
Ashley Graham is arguably the most famous plus-sized model in the world right now. She does her best to crush stereotypes surrounding plus-sized and marginalized bodies. Graham states that “The thing that I really want to promote and that I want women to understand is that it’s not about wanting something else; it’s about being self-assured about your size and also just loving your body.”
The first black plus-sized model to appear in Sports Illustrated, Precious Lee is dedicated to inspiring a generation of younger women to love themselves. Lee states that “Being black and plus size, I’m fighting on so many different levels. And I think that’s why plus-size models become advocates. What we’re doing is the reason why our inboxes and DMs are full of little girls saying, Thank you so much.” Check out the essay she wrote for Refinery29 titled “The 67% Is The Norm — & It’s Time Fashion Started Treating It Like It.”
Megan Jayne Crabbe
Crabbe is proof that you don’t need a modeling contract to make a difference. Her Instagram account (@bodyposipanda) has almost one million subscribers, as she details how she overcame her eating disorder and moved on to live a full, happy life. Crabbe writes in her book Body Positive Power: How Learning to Love Yourself Will Save Your Life, “Let’s get real about the ideal. It refuses to acknowledge that people of all sizes, shapes, ages, skin colors, genders and abilities exist and are worthy of being seen, heard, and valued.”
Actress, singer, writer, producer: Rachel Bloom does it all. She uses her influence to call out the fashion world for shaming women into fitting one ideal; and also parodies the idea of “sexy” in her song “The Sexy Getting Ready Song.” She discusses the pressures women face to look a certain way. She also claims that “Fashion has always been a source of stress for me because I don’t know how to dress myself. I’m short-torsoed with big boobs, and I don’t really understand what a belt does. But you get on these shows, and people fit the clothing to you. Suddenly you learn, ‘Oh, I should be wearing petite jackets.’
Katie Knowles is plus-sized, partially paralyzed, and unstoppable. Knowles was diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease, as well as spinal stenosis. Doctors told her she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Knowles has recently signed on with Yours Clothing as a model, and said of the experience to mic.com, “No brand has…actually taken the time to speak to a disabled model and ask what clothes are good for different disabilities. Something like this campaign is so important. If you thought it was bad finding clothes as a plus-size woman, imagine being a plus-size woman with disabilities that might restrict what you can wear or physically manage to get on.”
The Future of Fashion
Although fashion standards are always evolving, women are still under pressure to fit a certain body ideal. The industry is beginning to be more inclusive, however we still have a long way to go. Hopefully we can change the way we see beauty. Fashion is for everyone – it shouldn’t be exclusively for a certain body type, skin tone, or age.
Written by Rosie Forster