Fashion models are employed to show off new designs to their best advantage.
As a model, you learn how to walk, pose and display your body to its greatest effect, and the more skilled you are at achieving this, the more in demand you will be. Your chief asset is physical – your look, physique and movement, and little attention is given to your intellect or any other aspect of you as a person. If this concept is valid, why then do some models rise above the parapet to become so-called supermodels, known around the world and as famous as Hollywood actors and legendary rock stars? Is there more to being a model than the way you look, and if so, what marks some models out as being exceptional? If models do have influence beyond promoting fashion trends, can they use it to address wider issues and bring about change?
The importance of fashion in modern society
Fashion has gone hand in hand with changes in society throughout history, for example, the introduction of dropped-waist dresses that were such a fashion statement in the 1920s not only altered society’s concept of appropriate feminine dress but advanced the cause of women’s rights by quite literally freeing them from the constraints of corsets. Fashion, the entertainment industry, and the media have all become so intertwined in the recent past that they seem more like branches growing from the same trunk than individual trees. Actors and musicians set fashion trends and advertise clothing brands, and the media treats all the famous names as part of a set of celebrities that they believe the public wants to hear about. With the constant output of TV, Internet, and music, fashion messages have become integral to all our cultural references. Even those who would claim to eschew fashion are, by adopting a particular style, declaring their allegiance to some kind of cultural tribe, from hippies to goths to the trend for tattoos. Teens and even young children come under this influence, and there is an increasing emphasis placed on appearance and style across all forms of media. With such a significant growth in the importance of fashion, does it follow that models themselves are becoming more important in tandem with the clothing they are paid to wear?
There is no doubt that the supermodel is a global phenomenon that elevates the role of modeling to another level. The supermodel is really a media construct, whereby the most regularly used models were pursued as if they were celebrities, and were turned into celebrities in the process. This has led to models being invited to undertake community and humanitarian roles, working with governments and world bodies like the United Nations. Because the model is seen first and foremost as someone who is employed for their physical rather than intellectual assets, supermodels have been criticised for daring to step out of the arena in which they gained their fame and into the serious world of global politics. The media portrays models involved in anything beyond the catwalk or photo shoots as stepping over the line into areas they have no qualifications to comment on. They are often treated as if they have an over-inflated ego and believe themselves to be more important than they actually are. This sort of knee-jerk reaction is endemic in society, but just because someone is physically desirable does not mean they don’t have a brain to match.
Plus size models
The rigid adherence to a supposed image of physical perfection is finally showing signs of weakening its hold on the world of modeling, and a new generation of diverse models is becoming more widely accepted. Plus size models have been making an impact for quite a few years now, and are being chosen to head marketing campaigns for major brands as well as featuring in heavyweight publications like the Pirelli Calendar. Their influence is being felt across the industry and indeed the world, as they are embraced by women who feel they are under-represented in the fashion business because they don’t fit into a size 10 dress. Models like Candice Huffine and Whitney Thompson are making people stop and take notice with their outspoken views on body image and the way in which they demonstrate that curves can be wonderfully sexy. The plus-size models are breaking down barriers and encouraging women to embrace their body shape and celebrate their curves as assets. This has led to the growth of the plus size boutique – Angel Heart Boutique being one example.
Models with disabilities
There may only be a handful of them at the moment, but having broken through into fashion, these models are proving that disability is no barrier to a successful career. Actor RJ Mitte, who has cerebral palsy, amputee Jack Eyers, Madeline Stuart and Jamie Brewer, who both have Down’s Syndrome, and Jillian Mercado who has muscular dystrophy, have all been featured in big brand advertising campaigns and catwalk shows. There may be the odd voice shouting about tokenism, but if you are of a more optimistic frame of mind, you will see it as the start of a fundamental shift towards representing the full spectrum of human life and all its variety. There’s no reason why a disabled person should feel any less beautiful than the non-disabled, and having role models who are working in the midst of an industry obsessed with physical perfection sends a clear message that disability does not equate to inferiority.
The future for models
These examples illustrate the possibilities for the expansion of modeling beyond being an animated clothes horse and into using your position and influence to bring about positive change. Plus size and disabled models are at a stage where their presence is a campaign statement in itself, so it could be argued they have a head start in making a difference to their profession and to society. On the other hand, they are still having to justify their presence, which is based on their differences from standard models rather than their innate beauty. The shift from models being perceived as little more than mannequins to embracing the host of positive qualities they possess may not be complete, but there are moves being made in the right direction.