The fashion industry suffers from a glaring lack of diversity which is gradually homogenizing our global understanding of beauty.
According to a report by The Fashion Spot, 2021’s New York Fashion Week was the most diverse it has been in years. This should be great news, but when a runway made up of 71.6% white models is considered diverse, there is clearly still an underlying problem.
Some designers, such as Chromat, defied this trend. Chromat hired 14 models of color out 20 total and even featured two plus sized models.
Others, however, took painful steps backward. Erin Fetherston, for example, booked only white models (all of which also happened to be tall, thin and predominantly blonde). Designers Pamela Roland and Monique Lhuillier each hired one model of color out of 16 and 21 respectively.
Cultural definitions of beauty
This narrow, uniform portrayal of beauty poorly reflects cultural definitions of beauty around the world. In many countries, the physical traits common on the runway today are historically seen as undesirable.
“In south India a beautiful woman is someone who was petite and curvy,” shared Gayathri Sivakumar, a cross-cultural kid (CCK) and media effects scholar at Colorado State University. “Big eyes and long hair is also considered beautiful. Women who are very tall or thin were not considered desirable or beautiful.”
Women who are very tall or thin were not considered desirable or beautiful.Gayathri Sivakumar on beauty in India
“The ideal of beauty in Brazil included hips, a smaller chest and a rounder backside, otherwise known as a ‘guitar’ shape,” Christine Garvin writes in an article for “Tripbase”. “Brazilian women have traditionally been thought of as toned, tanned, and curvy.”
In Korea, petite facial features, a V-shaped jaw line and “double eyelids” are coveted traits, Khyati Rajvanshi notes in an article for “The Indian Express.”
Changing cultural definitions
However, these cultural definitions of beauty are changing. As our society becomes more and more global, perceptions of beauty throughout the world are shifting to better match what is portrayed in the media.
“Ever since the explosion of the Internet, there has been a move toward the Euro-centric beauty standards, even in India,” Sivakumar commented.
The effects of this shift can be seen worldwide.
In Iran, women wear their post-nose job bandages with pride. It has grown into such a powerful symbol of status and beauty that women will often wear fake bandages despite never having plastic surgery.
In Brazil, the curvy women who were once seen as beautiful are now often seen as fat and assumed to be poor.
In many Asian countries, women spend thousands of dollars on beauty products and plastic surgery to achieve fairer skin tones.
“I think it is almost impossible not to be affected by the beauty standards set by the media and fashion industry as the messages sent by both are so pervasive,” Sivakumar said. “Media images have an impact on the culture of the society which in turn has a huge impact on personal preferences.”
This lack of diversity not only influences how we see ourselves, but how we perceive others.
According to Sivakumar:
Lack of diversity creates insecurity among people who are different.
CCK model Naomi Campbell recently joined fashion icon and Third Culture Kid (TCK) Iman and fashion activist Bethann Hardison in speaking out against the lack of diversity in the fashion industry. Their campaign, Balance Diversity, calls out designers and modeling agencies who consistently fail to book or promote models of color.
In an interview with Nick Knight for his show, “SHOWstudio,” Campbell promised:
I wont stop talking about [diversity] until I see progress.
Last year’s New York Fashion Week demonstrated positive movement toward greater diversity within the fashion industry, but there is still a lot of work to be done.