Fashion’s leap into inclusivity and representation gives me hope for the future

Illustration by Shannon Fritz

Monica Alarcon-Najarro, Contributing Writer

I’ve always taken inspiration from fashion shows when it comes to the next trends in society. Luxury brands such as Dior, Chloé and Burberry carry high artistic value when it comes to the runway with details such as hair, makeup and set decorations adding to the fashion ambiance.

However, it’s frustrating that many of the models in these shows are white and extremely skinny, which has never made me feel like I was represented in the world of fashion. Though, the industry is changing to be more inclusive with plus-size, racially diverse and transgender models being incorporated into fashion shows and magazine catalogs. While this is a step in the right direction, there is still more work to be done.

Fashion has been an outlet for people to express themselves. However, I’ve shamed runway shows for not being inclusive to different body types other than thin ones.

Lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret cast its first model with Down syndrome, Sofía Jirau. Although decades late, it’s nice to see that Victoria’s Secret is finally opening its doors to a more diverse group of models despite the company’s past controversies.

In a 2018 interview with Vogue, Ed Razek, former chief marketing officer of L Brands, who ran the Victoria’s Secret runway show said that “transsexuals” shouldn’t be featured in the runway show because the show is a “fantasy,” according to a Business Insider article by Mary Hanbury. Shortly after, Razek retired due to criticism of his remarks and sexual misconduct allegations.

Razek’s comment offended transgender people and objectifies women by creating the illusion that women in lingerie are part of someone’s fantasy. I’m sure that whenever women wear lingerie it’s because they want to feel beautiful for themselves — not for someone else’s fantasy.

As Victoria’s Secret is on its way to emulate a more body-positive image, this image has already been successfully executed by brands like Aerie, a women’s clothing retailer owned by American Eagle Outfitters.

Aerie’s mission is to “redefine the standards of beauty by encouraging young women to love their own bodies,” according to a Forbes article written by Shelley E. Kohan, an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Because of this, I’m inclined to shop at Aerie rather than at Victoria’s Secret. Its mission statement aligns with my own values regarding my body and its lingerie clothing fits me a lot better than Victoria’s Secret does.

Even in modeling campaigns, it’s visually appalling to see how Victoria’s Secret strives for models to achieve that “perfect body” look. It’s even evident while walking through shopping malls, with large images of absurdly thin models broadcasted outside its store.

My subconscious mind sees Victoria’s Secret as models I wish I looked like. As women, society has conditioned us to behave and look perfect. With years of this idea being pushed on women, it has become socially conditioned in my mind to always watch what I eat, wear and look like. On the other hand, Aerie has taken a more realistic approach to body standards and makes me feel a lot more confident and comfortable as I shop through its store.

Aerie’s approach is what Victoria’s Secret needed to strive for in the beginning of its creation. Victoria’s Secret needs to stop focusing on what it thinks women should look like and start casting real women of all shapes and sizes. Jirau is only a small step into the right direction.

Brands like Aerie are the reason why representation matters. Aerie gives me comfort in loving my own body because of its consideration of all sizes rather than just small sizes that don’t fit average women.

Models have spoken up about the extreme measures they have taken to fit into the “perfect body” that Victoria’s Secret markets. 

“Unknowingly, I was battling an eating disorder and chronic anxiety that would soon lead to a ruined digestive system, all because I thought I was doing what I had to do to succeed in the industry that I love,” said Bridget Malcolm, a former Victoria’s Secret model, in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar.

The fact that the measures taken to achieve a “perfect body” had such a detrimental effect on Malcolm gives me enough reason to believe that industries need to diversify who they market to. No one is able to achieve that look without restricting their diet.

I’d much rather love to fit in a brand’s clothing that makes me embrace my natural body than a brand that makes me want to achieve a body that is completely unattainable.

Jirau is the first of many models I hope to see on fashion runway shows. Although I’m happy for Jirau, the company’s decision seems performative. It’s almost as if they tried to say to the world ‘Hey, look we actually care about real women,’ after casting only one model with Down syndrome, whereas other brands have been casting an abundance of diverse women — not just one.

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