In the modelling industry there are unspoken rules around the people that end up being used to advertise our clothing brands. Whether it’s high end or high street, it is an industry obsessed with perfection. So, what about people who have skin conditions or disabilities?
Story by Chloe McDermott
Juliette van der Erve (23) Creative Business student at HvA, was a commercial model for seven years since she was fourteen. She has had a lot of experiences in the industry that taught her a lot about herself and the wider world. Including how it impacted her own self-image. In particular, she feels the industry needs to diversify from the ground up to really remove some of its more toxic aspects.
When she was sixteen, as is naturally for a lot of teenagers, she developed acne and was told by the modelling agency she was working with at the time to start taking the pill. Juliette says: “They told me to go on the pill because they said it would give me hormones and your acne might stop so maybe you should do that. So, because of them I started taking the pill. Eventually I stopped when I realised that I wasn’t taking it for the right reasons.”
According to Juliette, it is rare to find models with skin conditions or disabilities. She can think of one high fashion model Winnie Harlow from Canada that has vitiligo, a chronic skin condition that causes depigmentation of portions of the skin. She has met no disabled models either. She thinks: “I have never seen anybody with a skin condition, a disability or even acne. They are really strict on that.”
Even in the case of Winne Harlow she still sees how she is presented in a certain manufactured perfection. “Even as far as her hair goes, she never wears her natural hair which I imagine is going to be curly”, Juliette states. “So even the one top model I know of, even other than her skin condition, has to look absolutely perfect all the time.”
For Juliette, the best way for the industry to improve and leave this toxic perfection culture and allow more diversity in modelling is to change it from the ground up. “If there was a modelling agency that would be more inclusive and choose diversity, then they would sign models with disabilities and skin conditions”, she points out.
It would certainly work to encourage the big fashion brands to meet these people and therefore make them more likely to be chosen for modelling jobs in the future which creates a snowball effect. Younger people interested in modelling who have issues with their skin or physical disabilities will no longer feel rejected by the fashion world thus creating a larger more diverse talent pool in future.
Now people in general are becoming more aware of the power of positive representation and reject the high standards created in the fashion industry. Juliette states: “At a certain point people questioned why we would represent these super skinny, perfect girls when it is not a representation of society at all?”
She also points out that perhaps as people in general start to question these brands and agencies more, they may change as frankly it will make more business sense to adapt. “If you see a brand using a model with the same skin condition then you will naturally become quite interested in buying from that brand.”
Right now, the focus is so much on aesthetics that if someone needed a wheelchair or a visible hearing aid for example, they would most likely be ignored for someone able bodied. Juliette hopes to see a positive change in the future of fashion that will not only include people with disabilities and skin conditions but everyone. She outlines: “Not just disabilities but also all types of bodies. A visible disability, whether it’s a wheelchair or a hearing aid, I have never seen that in a campaign. Not even once. I have never met a model that has that. So, I think that would be great. It would help people with their mental health a lot.”