2015 the year... models fought back against body-shaming
Whether they were calling out an industry that had turned on them, or the trolls who made it personal, this year, models were not just seen but heard.
First came Agnes Hedengård — the 5'11" Swedish model with a BMI of 17.5 — and her scathing viral YouTube video calling out the modeling agencies (no names named, of course) who told her she was "too big" for the industry. "I don't get any more jobs since the industry thinks I'm too big," she explains in the video, "they think my butt is too big, and they think my hips are too wide. According to the modeling industry, you cannot look like this. You need to be thinner."
Then there was Charli Howard, whose Facebook status took off in a way she never expected. "Here's a big FUCK YOU to my (now ex) model agency," she wrote, "for saying that at 5"8' tall and a UK size 6-8 (naturally), I'm 'too big' and 'out of shape' to work in the fashion industry, I refuse to feel ashamed and upset on a daily basis for not meeting your ridiculous, unobtainable beauty standards... In case you hadn't realized, I am a woman. I am human, I cannot miraculously shave my hip bones down, just to fit into a sample size piece of clothing or to meet 'agency standards.' And anyway, let's face the facts: When I was seven and a half stone, I still wasn't thin enough for you... Until (and if) an agency wishes to represent me for myself, my body & the WOMAN I've become, give me a call. Until then, I'm off to Nandos [Britain's beloved per-peri chicken restaurant chain]."
Both Agnes and Charli, 19 and 23 years old at the time respectively, were relatively unheard of until their social media stunts, but they drew attention to a side of the fashion industry that has long been discussed (2016 makes it a decade since the size 0 debate was first sparked after the death of sisters and models Eliana and Luisel Ramos, from malnutrition).
This year, however, saw a breakthrough. After Rosie Nelson — a 23-year-old British model whose agency told her they wanted her "down to the bone" — started a Change.org petition calling for a law in the UK to "protect models from getting dangerously skinny," a government inquiry into model health led by British MP Caroline Nokes was held at parliament on December 1. (You can read all about the discussion and outcome of the inquiry here.) A couple of weeks later, France passed a law that banned models deemed "excessively thin" from the catwalk and ordered that any photographs manipulated to alter a model's silhouette must be marked with "photograph touched up" — a side of the industry that didn't go unnoticed by young actress Zendaya who took to Instagram to call out a magazine who had Photoshopped her body to look slimmer. Posting the image used by Modeliste Magazine next to the original un-retouched version, the Disney star wrote, "Had a new shoot come out today and was shocked when I found my 19 year old hips and torso quite manipulated. These are the things that make women self conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have. Anyone who knows who I am knows that I stand for honest and pure self love. So I took it upon myself to release the real pic (right side) and I love it."
Then there's the model whose social following eclipses Charli and Agnes' combined total by 10.5 million: Gigi Hadid, the model whose curves have been lauded by the whole industry, and who designers from New York to Paris have booked despite the historically strict catwalk criteria. Gigi has also used social media to call out body-shaming bullshitters this year — not her agent or designers or magazines, but the internet trolls who target other peoples' insecurities. In a statement posted to Instagram, Gigi wrote, "No, I don't have the same body type as the other models in the shows. No, I don't think I'm the best at any given show. Yes, I want to have a unique walk but I also know I have to improve. No, I'm not the first or last model of my type in this industry. You can make up all the reasons you think I am where I am, but really, I'm a hard worker that's confident in myself, one that came at a time where the fashion industry was ready for a change. I'm just doing my job. I represent a body image that wasn't accepted in high fashion before, and I'm very lucky to be supported by designers, stylists and editors that I am: one that knows this is fashion, it's art; it can never stay the same. It's 2015."
Meanwhile, models like Barbara Ferreira, Denise Bidot and Diana Veras continue to be body-positive pioneers, portraying their own bodies authentically and promoting diversity through their Instagrams to a combined half a million followers. And Stefania Ferrario's #DropThePlus campaign is still going strong after she posted a photo of herself with the words "I AM A MODEL" written on her stomach.
In 2015, social media has been an outlet for trolls to vent their sadistic rage, but, more importantly, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube have also provided a platform for some much needed body positive activism in an industry that clearly has a health issue. While Gigi and co. take down the trolls, Charli, Agnes and Rosie are opening up the discussion around the very real pressure on models to reach and maintain dangerous weights. With over 725,000 people in the UK alone being affected by eating disorders and mental health issues, we clearly still have a long way to go until we reach a more body positive future, but this year size has mattered more than ever, and as Barbie Ferreira told i-D back in June, "If the industry really took the risk of diversity, it will be surprised with the support it gets. Everyone is sick of one type of beauty, it's 2015." In 2016, it's time to take the leap.
Text Felicity Kinsella
Photography Ellen Waldton