The fashion industry for so long has been dominated by the same type of model. Popular fashion brands have used very thin, white models in their advertisement campaigns and catwalks, from Twiggy in the 1960s to Kate Moss in the 1990s. Although a huge diversity of women exist in size, shape, and race, most women do not see themselves represented in magazines or on billboards.
With the advent of Photoshop, over the years it has become the norm for brands to retouch images of models and celebrities. Thighs can be made thinner, wrinkles and blemishes can be removed, and skin can even be lightened. The creation of highly edited photos has normalised an unattainable image of beauty as something which everyone should aim for. As people see photos of celebrities and models they admire looking flawless, they strive to reach their unattainable standard of beauty.
The consequences of this are dangerous. The eating disorder charity ‘Beat’ estimates that around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, the most common being anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Whilst the fashion industry does not cause eating disorders, it is undeniable that the endless images of super-thin models that we are faced with can be a factor for some. Eating disorders are also prevalent within the industry itself – Victoria’s Secret model Bridget Malcolm, who has struggled with body dysmorphia, apologised last year for promoting her damaging eating habits to her followers.
However, in recent years, more and more fashion brands have been changing their approach. Increasing diversity across models, as well as efforts to not retouch photos, have been fuelled by the body positivity movement, which encourages self-acceptance and celebration of all body types.
In 2014, American fashion retailer American Eagle Outfitters began its ongoing “Aerie Real” campaign. The campaign aimed to use only un-retouched photos in their advertisements, in order to promote authentic images of women and celebrate body positivity. Their decision resulted in increased sales and market shares, showing that women do want to be shown realistic images, rather than an airbrushed fantasy.
However, some initially criticised the brand for the lack of diversity in the campaign, as predominantly thin women were used. But over the years, Aerie has made an effort to expand their diversity. Their Spring 2019 campaign includes women of a range of sizes and ethnicities, as well as many models with disabilities, such as a model with an ostomy and vitiligo. Many customers have used Twitter to express their happiness at the representation of their disability in an industry which very rarely uses disabled people in their campaigns.
In the UK, Missguided also made a pledge to stop retouching their photos. The fashion brand has been highly praised for not editing out visible stretch marks from their models, as well as using models with different sizes and racial backgrounds. Speaking to Glamour in 2017, creative manager Samantha Hellisgo said, “As a brand, we feel we have a strong sense of social responsibility to support young women and inspire confidence. By showing imagery that’s real and authentic, we want to show it’s more than okay to be yourself.”
In spite of the progress made by some brands in their approach to model diversity and photo editing, others remain stuck in the past. As well as using very thin models, many of the photographs used in Victoria’s Secret’s advertisements are excessively Photoshopped – apparently, body hair is edited out of photos, boobs are made to look larger than they are, and even a different model’s arms have been photoshopped onto another model’s photo.
It is clear that the fashion industry still has far to go in promoting a diverse, realistic representation of women in their advertisements, although the work of brands such as Aerie and Missguided will hopefully pave the path for future progress, and greater body acceptance.
Image: José Goulāo via Wikimedia Commons