Fashion Can Promote Broader Body And Beauty Ideals

Today where fashion juries routinely judge the style of any miscreant as lacking, write up fashion rules for get the 'look,' and promote the 'look,' on young pale and rail thin women, I see a plethora of women young and old asking AM I GOOD ENOUGH? WHAT DO I HAVE TO CHANGE TO BE GOOD ENOUGH?

If you were to ask why I've been working like a dog, unwaged for the last two years, I'd have to put it down to a mad case of fashion passion - not the air kissing, gratuitous posing or superficial posturing variety though.

Don't get me wrong I can do that too...but I like a change.

So, along with my All Walks Beyond the Catwalk's co founders Debra Bourne and Erin O'Connor, I rolled up my Westwood sleeves, to challenge the lack of achievable beauty and body ideals my own adorable industry promotes, with exciting and groundbreaking initiatives. Why?

Because I was so struck by the absolute need for change in a world where young women are exposed to more images of unachievable beauty and body ideals in one day than our mothers experienced in an entire adolescence.

You see when I began working in fashion 30 years ago it was an exciting world full of creative possibility. It was as much about identity and aspiration as it was about fantasy. We could all be who we wanted to be - post feminist career woman in power dressing complete with square shouldered tailoring and diva-ish red lips, or sun kissed Californian Amazonian in skin tight lycra. Androgynous or kittenish, pale or dark, on trend or self styled, there were many iconic media role models.

I saw myself mirrored in a daily media diet of femininity that gave me enough diversity to feel that aspirational beauty was varied and exciting. Back then, against a backdrop of post punk and post feminist influences I knew I WAS GOOD ENOUGH.

And I never questioned my right to feel part of a brave new frontier that defined femininity in much wider terms than that of my mother's generation.

Today where fashion juries routinely judge the style of any miscreant as lacking, write up fashion rules for get the 'look,' and promote the 'look,' on young pale and rail thin women, I see a plethora of women young and old asking AM I GOOD ENOUGH? WHAT DO I HAVE TO CHANGE TO BE GOOD ENOUGH?

Has fashion become the lens through which we evaluate ourselves? And has identity become so corporatised that all we experience, when we engage with advertising that uses heavily manipulated images of women, is repeat exploitation of our insecurities around our worth? With more and more women and girls feeling their bodies don't measure up, progress can't be defined by a woman's ability to pay for her own cosmetic surgery you know!

And that's where we at All Walks and our band of fashion renegades come in!

Just as there is a growing movement towards ethical fashion, which prioritises supply chains, sourcing and fair trade wages, we happen to think that ethical practice also involves the use of sustainable beauty and body ideals. The fashion industry has such enormous power to talk to women about their bodies, well as their style, that and in recognising that with that power comes responsibility, it could make the smallest of changes and portray a more inclusive and loving vision of female beauty.

So the first step for us at All Walks was showing what images that prioritise an emotional agenda might actually look like.

I'm interested in your take on things? Do your see something a little nearer your own beauty in our group shot taken at London Fashion Week, of women ranging between 18 and 80, with a range of body types? So far so fashion!

With all the photographs and other projects we have created, portraying beauty in all shapes and shades has been our motivation. You can see Amira in yellow, who has the conventional modelling body, flanked by a variety of women who offer something nearer to your reality. All the designers we approached to make larger sample sizes or supply clothes for this shoot including Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Giles Deacon, Matthew Williamson and Hussein Chalayan, jumped at the chance to contribute.

But its not enough to create clever photographs with top photographers like Rankin, Kayt Jones and Nick Knight...and promote our work in national magazines like i-D, Elle, Grazia and the Telegraph's Stella and newspapers like Independent, Guardian, Daily Mail or create polished launches from institutions like London Fashion Week the National Portrait Gallery and Graduate Fashion Week at Earls Court or even make the BBC Breakfast News, although that's not bad for a start from a tiny volunteer group working on miniscule funds!

What we really need though, is for fashion (through it's 5000 graduates that leave university every year) to take on and promote a shift in thinking in their work. After all... tomorrow's big names, with big budgets and big ideas, are today's struggling college goers.

It was a light bulb moment when we realised that our next step needed to be actioned inside every university and art college in the land...and that why we've managed a careful collaboration with colleges up and down the country to switch on the light for the next generation of image makers, designers and writers working in the fashion world.

I'm very proud that we are not only changing the university curriculum but we have just launched the All Walks Centre of Diversity at Edinburgh College of Art, with Director Mal Burkinshaw. We are also collaborating with Govt. Minister Lynne Featherstone, and a whole host of health practitioners and national institutions to help steer political initiatives towards body confidence.

Big ideas...small steps, All Walks is changing the fashion landscape and although the journey is not without it's challenges, we all feel emboldened by the responses we receive daily on our website

Let me know what you think too.

Follow Caryn on Twitter @Caryn_Franklin


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