“Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly,” columnist Mary Schmich famously wrote in a hypothetical commencement speech and filmmaker Baz Luhrmann even more famously said in the spoken-word song ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’.
She, of course, is not alone in her criticism. Not just beauty publications but the fashion industry as a whole has repeatedly come under scrutiny for the standards it has promoted for much of its history. The body that is often presented to us as the epitome of female beauty – tall, slim, light/fair-skinned – has eroded the confidence of many young women who don’t fit into that very narrow category. It’s a basic fact that most of us simply don’t win that very specific genetic lottery (and nothing against those who do; more power to them). Some of us will even struggle to achieve the peripherals we see on overly-photoshopped centerspreads – like long, silky hair and flawless, blemish-free skin – because time is short and we don’t have that spare kidney to sell in order to afford the array of miracle products being bombarded at us from all directions.
It’s a good thing then that the times they are a-changin’. With consumers voicing their dissatisfaction with unrealistic beauty standards and holding brands accountable for their debatable choices and decisions, the industry has finally started to see the importance of representation and has progressively been making an effort to support diversity.
An increasing number of beauty brands are embracing what “real women” – for lack of a better term – look like and are hiring models who shatter all stereotypes associated with fashion. Curvy models are now walking runways and being featured in promotional campaigns. Women from all walks of life are now appearing on covers and centrespreads. And it is encouraging to see that we – well, at least some us – are finally starting to see dark skin as beautiful.
This refreshing wave of inclusivity and body positivity has been visible in the – at times imperfect, but still admirable – efforts of several international brands. To name a few: Kim Kardashian has used a diverse range of models in her Skims
Solutionwear campaigns; women “of every size” have walked the runway to flaunt her collection, and the reality TV star has told Vogue that “diversity and inclusivity are in our brand DNA”. Rihanna’s approach to fashion with Fenty has been all about inclusivity, and she has also hired women with limb differences to model her brand. Dove has a “real beauty pledge” on their website wherein they vow to always feature “real women, never models” in their campaigns, portray women as they are in real life, and help girls build body confidence and self-esteem. Nike has also made efforts to include underrepresented communities in their ads and products and used diverse models, and has even had plus-size mannequins in its stores. Then there’s Old Navy, Aerie, Dressbarn, Target ... the list, encouragingly, goes on.
On the local front we have labels like Manto, a self-proclaimed “small brand with big dreams” that offers clothing “designed for creatives, thinkers, and problem solvers”. Manto “began as a brand for individuals who strive to get up every morning and look forward to creating, contributing, to cultivate.” Make the mistake of visiting their online shop and you will end up with a wallet that is significantly lighter; just their Husn-e-Urdu line will have you screaming “take all my money!” Visit their social media pages and you’ll be delighted by the diversity you see in their photographs (some of which are on display in our lovely style spread this week).
The range of women who appear in these images is remarkable.
You have Ljubica Kara-dordevic, who is not only the princess of Serbia and Yugoslavia, but also has a masters in pharmacy and is a successful entrepreneur who has created a content writing service and co-founded a children’s festival for charity – donning a mustard Manto Solid while holding her newborn.
Then there’s Amna Raheel, who didn’t let being wheelchair-bound get in the way of her dreams.
From being lost and purposeless to letting go of the despair and turning her can’ts into cans, she has come a long way, and now works for a reputable company as an e-commerce marketer and also runs her own little venture.
We also have Qaswa Mubarak who is the youngest female certified commercial pilot in Pakistan and achieved something that did not seem “practical and realistic” to the people around her; architect Khulda Amir who has lived life as a Christian minority in a Muslim majority country; and WearManto’s own Afshan Ahtesham who overcame her family’s reluctance when it came to her further education, working a job, and riding a scooty, and achieved her goals.
All of these women are examples of strength and resilience, and reflect a positive way to promote a brand while also uplifting those who see these images instead of chipping away at our self-confidence, one airbrushed photo at a time.
There is beauty to be found in all of us, if only we, the fashion industry, and the society as a whole are willing to look, acknowledge, uplift, and inspire.
Campaigns like Fenty’s and Manto’s highlight just how important it is to feature women of all shapes, sizes, and colours in fashion. It can be so heartening to see someone who looks like you strutting down a catwalk or looking fierce on the pages of a magazine. Representation in marketing campaigns can easily take the fashion industry into a more positive direction but it can also make the campaigns more relevant and relatable.
We can only hope that one day we can get to the point where inclusivity and diversity will no longer be considered remarkable and will just become a wonderful, healthy norm.