Standing at 5ft 2 (on a good day), with a fairly “pronounced bust” and a bum that is very comfortable to sit on, I have been at peace with the fact that I am probably never going to be walking the runway at Fashion Week for quite a while now. That’s fine, but you can imagine my delight when petite models became more common in fashion brand’s campaigns. It was nice to see short girls like me being regarded as beautiful enough to appear in these ads and on their websites. Good work fashion brands!
However, I imagine (but cannot confirm) that there are many women who probably don’t feel well represented in the media. Plus size models are becoming much more prominent in the industry, but aren’t exactly mainstream. Women of colour are also appearing more often, but the ads they appear in probably don’t fully represent every woman of colour or ethnic background. I agree, wholeheartedly, that women of all shapes, sizes, races and ethnicities should be equally represented in the media/fashion industry. After all, if you’re designing clothes for women, they should make women feel good- all women, not just one particular group.
I feel like that’s a pretty popular opinion amongst most people right now, or at least I hope so. So now I’m going to say something that might not be as popular or even thought of.
*Deep breath* …
Models have feelings too! Yes. The girls you see in these ads are all people, women who exist beyond these clothing ads, with their own thoughts and feelings. So when you comment on an Instagram post of a girl modelling plus size clothes, and say she’s “not even plus size / not plus enough” or “She’s too big!”, you’re attacking another human being. When you comment on a model and say “She’s too skinny”, it’s a personal comment about someone’s body who exists and functions outside of that photo. When you decide someone is “too lightskin” or “too dark”, you’re insulting a person’s racial and ethnic heritage. Generally, when you decide that anyone is “too” anything or “not enough” something, you’re telling them that the way they are is wrong. And the fact that you’ve done it behind a screen, or just to your friend as you pass a billboard makes no difference. If anything, it normalises the idea that it is okay to insult women based on their appearance. We already have enough of that in the world and we certainly don’t need anymore.
However, the most troubling part of this is the fact that people seem to think they’re doing the world a favour by making these statements. Why? Because they think by throwing these mindless comments into thin air they might make a difference, that a brand might decide to photograph a different girl instead. In some ways these comments come from a place of care, but it’s care for a girl who isn’t in the advert. If you decide one woman is “too something”, it uplifts a woman who is just the right amount of “something.” But that’s the issue: calling for a good representation of women and more varied model castings shouldn’t be achieved through the insulting of, or at the expense of, another woman- even the ones already in the advert.
Perhaps, if we all stopped tearing each other down for a second and thought about the way we speak about each other, we could make some progress. Fight the right fight. If you’re not feeling well represented by a brand, that isn’t the models’ fault. Insulting the girl in the picture isn’t attacking the brand’s lack of varied representation, it’s attacking a girl. How about reaching out to the brand personally and telling them “Hey I don’t feel like you have enough women of colour / petite / tall / plus / trans models in your ads, because I like your clothes but don’t feel like they’re made for me”? Maybe if we can acknowledge that the brand’s ideology is the problem and not the women in their ads, we can see more women being represented without attacking (and normalising the attacking of) other women.
Written by Laura Cowen