Fashion. Mode. Style. Iconography. Visual standardization.
These are terms that can be said to define a culture. They delineate a mindset of socio-economic expectation and, more importantly, general body image. Although these ideals or standards tend to fluctuate throughout generations, artistic eras and technological advancements, we cannot deny the effects of a governance on the ‘shape’ of expectations placed on human physicality.
Yes, the way we see ourselves often comes down to the way we see others, and this stems from that unrealistic standard that society deems ‘the archetype.’ But enough of the he-said/she-did finger pointing. Where are the intra-industry responses?
Let’s identify one form of visual bombardment we face daily: department store mannequins
Since we (glorious, unique) humans come in a myriad of different shapes, sizes, heights, dimensions, proportions, symmetries and abilities, groups like Pro Infirmis are tackling the glaring underrepresentation of people with physical disabilities in a new and inspired way. The documentary they made on the subject,”Because Who Is Perfect? Get Closer,” chronicles the process whereby Pro Infirmis crafted fashion mannequins based on physically disabled men and women — using real people as models. The team then swapped out the standard (and ostensibly perfectly formed) mannequins usually seen in store windows with their own mannequins in a storefront on Bahnhofstrasse, one of Zurich’s most exclusive and pricy shopping destinations, to showcase the validity of these members of society utterly overlooked by the über exclusive world of mainstream fashion. Prepare to have your mind blown by watching that video here:
Next line of fashionista militia striking hunger pangs into our guts and lifts into our footwear: advertisers
In step with Pro Infirmis’ challenge that unrealistic mannequins don’t represent the full spectrum of human beings, Diesel’s new artistic director Nicola Formichetti recruited style blogger extraordinaire, Jillian Mercado, as a model in the upcoming 2014 Diesel ads — wheelchair and all. Mercado, who was diagnosed with spastic muscular dystrophy, may not be the conventional type to plaster across an international fashion house’s latest PR campaign, but the We Are Connected project gives us exactly the kind of change needed to take the blinders off this archaic bigotry. #denimdelight
And now, shall we stomp and strut the runway after years of tip-toeing?
Designer Rick Owens is notorious for bringing his clothing lines to consumers quite literally on the backs of realistic, non-conformist models. His strike at the distorted media message that we must all look the same began when he presented his 2014 spring/summer collection in Paris with two, physiologically diverse (read: realistic) female step teams (dancers that move to the percussion of their own bodies), caught fire and blazed a trend of radical self-acceptance throughout the world of print and promenade. Similar ‘steppings’ were made by big-deal designers like Donna Karan.
Many a fabricated ideal is based on emaciated runway models and photoshopping-gone-wild or, even worse, plastic mannequins standing high above us demanding our attention before we even cross the threshold of most stores. The sleek, flawless lines and tall, erect structures of these creatures somehow make even the smartest, savviest and most sophisticated woman — if only for a brief moment — feel defeated, deflated, detached and downright disgusted with herself.
The irony of this segregation of culturally accepted beauty norms so deeply embedded into society is that for centuries women have modified the human structure and appearance in ways that ultimately made them abnormal. In the Victorian Era, whale bone enforced, lace-up corsets caused spinal defects, rib reshaping, internal organ damage, birth defects, miscarriages and even death — but a 17-inch waist was simply the apex of decorum! Foot binding, a barbaric practice dating back to China’s Sung Dynasty and only officially outlawed in 1930, was aimed at remolding female feet to look abnormally small (like “a lotus of gold“). Neck-savaging head dresses; tight, heavy and flammable crinolines; deadly lead makeup; and numerous other face-and-form altering fashions have historically been societally endorsed as a collective norm throughout time.
All these unnatural transformations have been shown to cause hazardous and often fatal effects in women. And the effects haven’t just been physical — they have also negatively impacted women’s emotional and psychological health.
Perception is reality
Thankfully, this new breed of form-makers, designers, art directors and documentarians represent the auspicious beginnings of awakening the public and hopefully rousing them to reject what’s traditionally been a conformist and unattainable box of so-called beauty norms.
Will the industry take the onus of responsibility in continuing its rehabilitation toward total inclusion of all the shapes, sizes and abilities in which women come? Time will tell — and we’ll be watching.