Over the years, many iconic models have changed beauty norms—Twiggy, Cara Delavine, and Naomi Campbell, to name a few. Today’s modeling standards have been flipped upside down, as agencies search for unique muses.
One way that companies are redefining beauty standards is by featuring women who would have previously been considered “past their time”. Take Daphne Selfe, a woman who is currently 85 years old, the world’s oldest model. Her 70+ year career has played an influential role in the fashion industry since the ‘50s, posing for Dolce & Gabbana, Nivea, Olay, and Vogue. Models Carmen Dell’Oredice, age 82, and Jenni Rhodes, age 81, also embrace their aging bodies. Selfe claims to never have had plastic surgery or Botox, aiming to promote the true beauty that comes with life experience.
The fashion industry also appears to be accepting and embracing tattoos. Rick Genest (or Zombie Boy) took this art form to the extreme, tattooing himself from head to toe. You may recognize Genest from Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” music video, or from his modeling work for Thierry Mugler’s Autumn/Winter collection. Genest treats his body as a canvas, breaking the mold of what is usually perceived as beautiful.
Another dramatic shift in fashion is the continual acceptance of models with specific genetic conditions. Two famous albino models, Diandra Forrest and Shaun Ross, have made waves in the fashion industry. Forrest was discovered by a scout while walking around New York, and has since been featured in Kanye West’s “Power” music video, and walked the runway for Vivienne Westwood. Ross was the modeling industry’s first albino male model when he was only 16 years old. He has modeled for Alexander McQueen and Givenchy, as well as appearing in Italian Vogue and British GQ. Like his female counterpart, he has also been involved in music videos, namely Beyoncé’s “Party” and Katy Perry’s “E.T.”. Another skin condition that has very recently been at the forefront of the modeling industry is vitiligo, in which only parts of the body have less skin pigmentation than others. Chantelle Brown-Young, a current contestant on America’s Next Top Model, embraces the skin she was born with, even after being bullied as a child. Brown-Young’s skin is symmetric in nature, the white spots evenly aligned creating a truly unique and gorgeous look.
Perhaps one of the biggest contemporary changes in the fashion world is the welcoming of transgender models. Lea T was the first trans model to be the face of Redken’s Chromatics campaign. Before this, she modeled for major magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair. The 33 year-old from Brazil decided to get a sex change in 2008, after having a discussion with Givenchy’s head designer, Riccardo Tisci. Tisci calls Lea T his “muse” and encouraged her to dress however she wanted, despite gender norms. Another well-known trans model is Serbian Andreja Pejic. Before undergoing a sex change earlier this year, she was the face of one of Marc Jacobs’ campaign ads. She walked the runway for Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood, and Jean Paul Gaultier. Other transgender models include Isis King, Carmen Carrera, and Geena Rocero, who herself is also becoming an advocate for transgender acceptance. In a recent TED talk about transgender issues, Rocero said, “’When I became a model I thought I had finally achieved the dream that I had always wanted since I was little. My outside self finally matched my inner self.”
While there have been positive changes in the modeling industry for some groups of people, there still seems to be a lack of racial diversity. According to thefashionspot.net (a site that gathers statistics on racial diversity at New York Fashion week), the percentage of non-white models for Spring 2014 was 18.16%. There was only a slight improvement in the next season, which featured 19.17% non-white models. One model, Destiny Owusu, hopes to shed light on this issue, with the creation of her campaign, “Token Black Girl”.
There is also a continuing problem with the size of models. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the average model weighs 23% less than the average American woman, whereas twenty years ago that figure was 8%. If we consider fashion models to epitomize beauty, what do these figures say about our society? The industry is slowly transitioning to become more open towards those of different ages, sexualities, and skin types, however, an array of races and weights remain underrepresented.