When you think of models, you probably think of tall, svelte blonde women. Given the overrepresentation of this type of women in fashion magazines, it’s hard to argue with these associations.
While the fashion industry still has a long way to go, we are starting to see some notable exceptions that portray less celebrated types of beauty. A minority of photographers and companies have broken the mold and enlisted models who don’t meet traditional definitions of a sex-appeal to be the subjects of their photographs and advertisements.
Here are four exciting, progressive examples:
1. India sees more than 100 acid attacks against women each year. This horrific crime is not just physically painful to its victims, but emotionally damaging as well, since the women have trouble re-acclimating with society after being disfigured.
In an effort to make acid attack victims seem less like lepers, photographer Rahul Saharan set up a shoot featuring some of the impacted women. With many of these women accustomed to concealing their faces with scarves, the shoot was an excellent opportunity to boost their confidence and demonstrate their beauty, scars and all.
One of the models, Rupa, is an aspiring fashion designer who has been uncertain whether the acid attack might impede her ability to succeed in a business that puts a large emphasis on appearance. The shoot gave Rupa the opportunity to wear her own design. “This is the first time I have presented my clothes and I am glad to see them being appreciated,” she said.
2. While people are accustomed to turning away from people with disabilities so as “not to stare,” Nordstrom is proud to put models with physical disabilities right on the pages of its catalogs. This year’s summer catalog included a man with a prosthetic leg in Nike shoes and Jillian Mercado, a model with muscular dystrophy, showcasing boots while seated in her wheelchair.
Though the models are presented without fanfare amongst other models, they stand out nonetheless due to a lack of representation in competitors’ catalogs. It’s not tokenism, either: Nordstrom is no stranger to being inclusive toward populations with disabilities. Global Disability Inclusion, a consulting firm, credits the company as being a leader in employing and providing accessibility to people with disabilities, as well.
3. As rarely as individuals with physical disabilities are found in magazines, individuals with intellectual disabilities might be even harder to find. That’s why it was a pretty big deal when baby Valentina Guerrero landed a gig as the cover model of Dolores Cortis’s kids’ swimsuit catalog. AdWeek called Guerrero the “first person with Down syndrome in history to be the main model of a campaign from a prestigious fashion designer.” With her adorable smile, it’s no wonder why she was selected to break down barriers in this manner.
4. Chantelle Brown-Young is a 19-year-old with vitiligo, a skin disorder that alters skin pigmentation. Though she was bullied and called names like “zebra” due to her appearance as a child, she has grown more self-assured and pursued modeling to exhibit a different kind of beauty. Brown-Young, who often models using the name Winnie Harlow, says she wishes she could go back to her younger self to explain that “it gets better.”
It’s the kind of confidence that even supermodel Tyra Banks can appreciate. Banks cast Brown-Young to compete on the current season of America’s Next Top Model.