“Where are the models of colour? The larger models? The shorter models? The models with a disability? The older models? Models of Diversity is the campaign for more diversity in the models we see every day. We call on the fashion, beauty and marketing industries to recognize the beauty in people of all races, ages, shapes, sizes and abilities. Our mission is to change the face of fashion and modeling.”

This is the introduction when you go on the website ModelsofDiversity.org. Of course, all of us know that there is something really unhealthy about Fashion. It’s not just that the models are super skinny, or that it consists of women who are mostly white, over 5’10′ and must have a pretty impeccaby shaped face and figure. This London based organization is intent on “re-shaping” the world. Diversity matters for many reasons.

 Another organization that has been campaigning incessantly for diversity in the fashion industry is All Walks Beyond the Catwalk. An initiative of Caryn Franklin, Erin O’Connor and Debra Bourne, All Walks has been working with top designers and creatives since 2009, developing a successful educational programm in colleges and teaching young designers to think about diversity.

The Debenhams 2013 look book, featuring, as one popular newspaper put it, “a glamorous grandmother, a Paralympian amputee, a plus size 18 and a petite model as its stars” is one of All Walks most recent successes.

Marks and Spencer too seems to have embraced diversity. Their A/W 2012 global advert, featured older and plus-size models. It is rumoured that the next campaign will be fronted by Dame Helen Mirren.

Such results are remarkable and encouraging, but do not let us get complacent. We still have a long way to go. Have you noticed, for example, how the ‘real woman’ label is being used to differentiate among models? Those who do not look like models are ‘real women’. It might sound good to be referred to as ‘real woman’, but there is a sting.

It means that there is a look which is typical of models, by default inspirational, all other looks are the look of real women, by default non-inspirational. Model agencies routinely implement such a division among models on their roster. They have ‘real people’ and ‘models’ (some agencies dispense with the ‘real people’ altogether, especially if they only provide models for fashion and beauty). It begs the question of what that model look is.

Shall we have a go at guessing? Caucasian, ideally blonde, over 5’10, size 6 (we are being generous with the size here, the smaller the better), max age 24. The height requirement is so stringent that even someone like model Cara Delevingne, who is said to be 5’9.5, was at some point regarded as short: it seems that Marc Jacobs thought so and referred to her as “a dwarf”.
There is also an unintended, more sinister implication, that models are not real women because the majority of them are still under 16, children in fact. Exploitation of the young is the dark side of the fashion industry.

As for ethnic diversity: we do not see as many non-caucasian models as we would expect, given the composition of our society. In fact, statistics have shown that a non-caucasian model on a magazine cover is directly linked to a drop in sales, so magazines positively avoid covers with a non-white face.

The fashion industry clearly needs to work harder on including a more diverse grouping of models in their field, sales or no sales.  However, money talks, and until the public responds to the ads, we may not see a change.  Let’s hope the public wakes up soon.