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Comment: The rise of the “non-model”: step-change in diversity or cynical smokescreen?

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We live in magical times. There are (rich, insane) people walking around with shiny miniature phone-computers on their wrists! Tupac’s hologram performed at Coachella! You can print actual objects in three dimensions! Somehow! And yet we still talk wistfully about “diversity in fashion” and dreaming of that distant utopia in which lovely clothes will be shown to us not on waifish preteen models but on a nice variety of actual adult women (the kind of actual adult women who wear and buy them in real life…).
Of course there have been encouraging signs. We’ve had high profile campaigns fronted by Iris Apfel and Tavi Gevinson and legendary human being Joan Didion as the face of Céline. There’s been Erykah Badu for Givenchy, and Kristen Stewart for Chanel. On the catwalk, the gloriously mutinous Meadham Kirchhoff have a history of street casting part - or all - of their shows, along with a growing number of young British designers including Nasir Mazhar, Ed Marler and Claire Barrow.
But does this really mark a step-change in diversity? Big name brands have for a while spotted the moneymaking potential in casting actresses and musicians in their campaigns. Many have been young, white and pretty, if not catwalk thin: in other words largely embodying the same conventional beauty standards as professional models themselves.
Yes, it’s cheering to see Rihanna make history by being the first black woman to ever front a Dior campaign, but it’s 2015! :( And although street casting - in the right hands - can yield a fantastically varied lineup of ages, shapes and colors, it can just as easily supply a disappointingly familiar group of identikit willowy white teenagers.
The modeling industry itself is ever-so-slowly starting to diversify from the inside, embracing bodies above a size 6 or 8 (albeit still under the absurdly hyperbolic moniker of “plus size”); there are more and more men and women of color on the catwalk, and we’ve seen the meteoric rise of alt-agency anti-agency with its motley tribe of something-slash-something-slash-models. These are all good things but they are really just a start.
Though the growing interest in “non-models” may encourage the modeling industry to expand its understanding of beauty by showing that there’s money to be made in non-conventional bodies and faces, it’s important that the category of “non-model” doesn’t become a smokescreen for peddling the same boring conventional looks it’s supposed to challenge.
For true diversity, we need to see bodies of all colors, ages and sizes. In fact, how about just faces of awesome inspiring people who’ve done really great things? Those are the true “non-models” and that would be a real revolution…

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