Proud2Bme | How I Challenged the Lack of Diversity in High Fashion

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How I Challenged the Lack of Diversity in High Fashion

By Emily Pennington--Most models are tall and skinny, and girls who do not fit that mold are very underrepresented in fashion and feel left out. I want to change that. When I was assigned a yearlong school project in which I could choose my topic, write a research paper and create a product, I knew I had to tackle this topic.

My research paper was on the effects that diverse marketing has on sales, while my product was a hands-on approach to putting diversity in the world of fashion, by creating a fashion line with more diverse models.

The picture you see above is a group shot of all of my models. They are all girls from my school, representing a range of sizes and shapes. The fashion line itself is all handmade and designed by me. When designing to show body diversity, I realized that there are certain things to keep in mind—like trying not to design according to typical fashion rules about body type, and encouraging models that it’s okay to wear things that they normally wouldn’t.

Read more: Fashion Springs Forward: Observations from NYFW

Overall, I thought the process leading up to the shoot was fun, rewarding and not much more difficult than designing for the tall and skinny models you typically see. I was proud of my product because I feel that it reflected ideals that are important to me, and hopefully will soon be important to the fashion world as well. Through the pictures from the shoot I was able to show that size does not define beauty. Anyone of any size can look and feel beautiful.

This is reflected not only in the positive feedback I’ve gotten, but in the models themselves. Model Gebriella Hailemariam said, “The fact that I could feel this beautiful in any piece of clothing was such an empowering feeling in itself. Not only was it gorgeous, but it was comfortable and felt flattering to my body shape. I got to feel like a model, just for that day, but that means the world to me.” This feeling of beauty, despite what the media often pushes on girls, is something I hope I can help inspire and spread through my career in fashion.

Read more: 7 Fashion Rules to Break This Season

Anyone can make a difference. I’m just a high school junior who doesn’t have a name for herself (yet). I was just Emily, the girl who sometimes brings a sewing machine to school. However, despite that, I still feel that I have helped make a difference. Everyone at my school knows what I did, people have written articles and I’m planning shows for the future. Anyone can do something like this, and I want to encourage others to, so here are some tips!

  • Don’t design with body types in mind, just design! Design what you like, what you think is pretty, what you want to see in the world. It doesn’t matter if people say the silhouette you chose isn’t flattering on most people—if we want diversity, it’s good to show anyone can wear anything.
     
  • Stay determined—don’t get discouraged by the fact that you may not be a professional. Throughout my process, I felt discouraged a lot because I clearly am not a professional and therefore I felt that I could not make a difference. However, that is absolutely not true. Even if the difference isn’t huge, even if the only difference made is on you or your models, remember that not only are you doing something important, you are doing something you love.
     
  • Don’t let society pressure you. Yes, I know the point of adding diversity is to eliminate this societal pressure, but since it’s something that we want to get rid of, that means it’s there! Don’t let people or the media convince you that your models can’t model because they aren’t as thin as normal models, because it’s okay! They are still gorgeous. Also don’t let yourself get wrapped up in the idea none of your models can have the ‘typical’ model body type—for true diversity, everyone must be represented.
     

About the blogger: Emily Pennington is a junior in high school, and an aspiring designer. As a designer and a teen girl who is not a “typical” model, the lack of diversity in models is something she cares a lot about.

Photographs courtesy of Zoe Herring

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