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Dear Fashion Designers, Do You Really Want Your Work To Make Us Uncomfortable?

Posted by rhea shah in Sexism And Patriarchy, Society
June 13, 2017

Dear famous fashion designer,

There are many things I admire about your brand – your impeccable attention to detail, the craftsmanship in your designs, the quality of your garments and your astounding creativity, to name a few. It seems to me your fashion only gets better with age. It’s beautiful to watch your designs grow with you, mature with you and resemble significant changes in your life.

But what I – and the world – admire the most, is your ability to transform your runway to be an element of the current times. Every season, you almost impossibly manage to have a unique vision – an inspiration for your pieces – and adapt it to an ever-changing, ever-modernising world. Be it high-waisted trousers or flowing floral gowns, skin tight leather or androgynous black suits, your collections resemble the times we live in, and the times we will soon see.

The multi-billion dollar industry, however, would be incomplete without the physical bodies that display the visionary designs of any fashion house: the models. The beautiful, tall, slender ‘pieces of perfection’ who strut down the runway. We aspire to be them, we watch as they glide down, 6-inch heel after 6-inch heel, with their smooth blonde hair, perfect dewy skin, peach lips and mesmerising eyes. We see them on TV, sipping on champagne backstage and in magazines, with their defined cheekbones and cellulite-free mile-long bronzed legs, mingling with people we’ve only seen – and fallen in love with – in movies.

Image Credit: Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Yet, it baffles me – how every small aspect of your esteemed brand changes with the world, improving and inspiring, but the models all remain the same – wafer thin, fair, perfect and unhappy.

Behind the 90-pound body is the young woman who has eaten three almonds in the day; behind the ‘au naturel’ flawless face is the pigmented skin, dotted with pimples, rough by virtue of the heavy coat of makeup; behind the sleek, straight locks are the dry, damaged tresses which cry to be saved from the harmful chemicals being fed to them every day.

But the young girl religiously reading Vogue in her room is oblivious to the unbearable pain inside her favourite model who is smiling at her through page six. At an innocent age, the young girl begins to emulate her; the teenager who used to laugh and eat her chocolate cake without a care in the world now scribbles down the number of calories in her breakfast apple after subscribing to a model’s ‘diet plan’.

Fashion has, as we all know, one of the biggest impacts on any adolescent’s life. But the question on my mind is, is this the kind of impact it should have? To teach people to be lacking in confidence, uncomfortable and unhappy in their own skin? To constantly look into a mirror and find flaws, imperfections, failures?

The purpose of fashion, as I know and believe to be true, is to empower – to make a person feel self-confident, not conscious, in a black minidress; to make someone feel beautiful in a 400-dollar cashmere sweater, not insecure that they could not fit into the size 2 sweater.

While the industry encourages the most stunning and expressive forms of art, it is also one of the primary causes of eating disorders, self-loathing and rejection in the young generation (mostly women as compared to men), setting unhealthy and unachievable beauty standards and norms. And for what?

Why is a particular waist size, skin tone and height requirement enforced in this business? In the real world, people who buy your creations, are not 5 feet 10 inches with 20-inch waists. They are short and tall, fair and dark, skinny and plump, and are still beautiful and deserve to wear fashionable clothes.

The purpose of a model is to bring your designs to life and display its look on the human body. But how can this be achieved by portraying only one type of figure? The many men and women who walk into your store and swipe their credit cards are poles apart in terms of their skin tone, race, size and features.

The biggest disappointment in the world of fashion is conformity. While fashion design and designers, like yourself, are pioneers of the new age of creativity, of pushing boundaries, we cannot ignore the harsh truth that you are blind to the true meaning of beauty. The many unfortunate cases of severe depression and malnourishment among models prove the same.

However, after shedding light on the dark underbelly of the fashion world, it is important to notice and appreciate how on a small scale, slowly, but surely, the norms are being redefined.

From the emergence of the plus size fashion sector, promoting women to love and embrace their curves, to shows including models with physical disabilities to many countries, such as France, setting certain weight and BMI benchmarks so as to not employ underweight, unhealthy models, to more races and complexions being seen on the runway, we are progressing at a gradual speed.

The heavy influence of social media has resulted in campaigns, media intervention and increased awareness about the necessary changes to be introduced in the industry in the future. Though it is enriching to see the rigid lines of this exclusive world slowly blur, it is not nearly enough. Each year, the competitions become more cutthroat and the conditions seem to worsen.

Do you not feel disheartened, knowing you spend incessant amounts of time, money and energy to perfect your craft, only to be the cause of self-hatred and dejection in the hearts of many? Is then your labour fruitful? Is it then worth seeing that actress grasp her Oscar in your gorgeous gown?

I urge you, and everybody else in the world, not only to think about this but also to take action. The only voices that can be heard are of those that actually stand up and speak. I write this to you, sitting at my desk, drinking my non-fat skim latte, wearing a crisp white shirt and size zero navy blue trousers. Ah, which brand you ask? It’s yours.


Your average everyday woman