Token Diversity: A Step Forward or a Way to March in Place?

Hello Ladies and Gents:

Fashion is a pleasurable excursion for me, a way to temporarily escape the responsibilities of running a business and to indulge in all of the beautiful colors, textures, and designs.  Over the years, I developed a personal style reflective of my personality—start with Joan from Mad Men, add a generous dash of Kate Moss and sprinkle with Banana Republic.  Admiring the latest collections and trends debuting for the season became a fun, creative, and somewhat mindless outlet for me, and to this end, I subscribe to both Lucky and InStyle.  Despite the enjoyment I receive from scanning the glossy pages, I can easily, and at length, communicate the many problems I have with the fashion world:  a strong emphasis on hyper-analyzing and then fearing the signs of age, a never-ending list of beauty products you simply must-have, often contradictory instructions to follow the crowd but stand out as an individual, and the downright awful lingerie advice, to name a few.  However, today I want to focus on an issue not limited to the world of general fashion but one that applies to media as a whole:  Token Diversity.

Lucy Magazine had a feature (I say “had” because in their latest edition, it is nowhere to be seen) where they makeover average size 10/12/14 women, encouraging them to explore new silhouettes and adopting trends to fit curvy figures.  Overall, the stylists’ choices were not only body appropriate but downright cute, and for a brief four pages, average and plus-sized women everywhere had models who could represent them.  Flip to the pages before or after the article, however, and you were assaulted with a barrage of tall, size 0/2, white models.

lucky3

To illustrate, I counted the model distribution in the February edition of Lucky and found the following:

  • Of the 25 models I counted, 21 were white.
  • Of the white models, 11 were a variation of blond, 9 were brunettes, and one had red hair.
  • Twenty of the models fell between the industry standard 0 to 4 size range, four were between sizes 6 and 12, and one was a 14+.  In my opinion, the size 14 model could technically be classified  in the 6 to 12 range because she seemed quite tall.
  • In the section dedicated to average women, we find the most diversity with the redhead, one of the darker skinned women, and three of the size 6 to 12 models located here.

During my initial counting, I did not include models in promotions because I was not planning to hold a magazine accountable for the choices made by their advertisers.  Submissions by readers, shots of runway models, and photos of celebrities were also not part of my brief survey.  Finally, I did not count any model who was showing less than 1/2 her body.  After a prolonged internal debate, I redid the count to factor in advertisers as a method for comparing the magazine as a whole.  As with before, I did not include reader submissions, runway shots, celebrities, or women (in either an ad or in an article) who did not show more than 1/2 of their body.  If I had, the skew toward younger, white models would be even stronger.  Below is the revised tally:

  • Of the 30 models, 26 were white, or roughly 87%.
  • Of the white models, 13 were blond, 12 were brunette, and one had red hair.
  • Of all the models, 25 were in the size 0 to 4 range (84%), four were in sizes 6 to 12 (13%), and one was a size 14+ (3%).
  • As with the previous results, the section containing average women had the most diversity.

As I noted the hash marks on my paper, I could not help but feel this simple survey serves as a staggering indictment of the fashion world’s claims of improved diversity.  According to the US Census Bureau, for 2011 the ethnicities of the US breaks down as:

  • White (Non-Hispanic):  63.4%
  • Hispanic or Latino: 16.7%
  • Black:  13.1%
  • Asian: 5%
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander:  0.2%
  • Persons reporting two or more races: 2.3%

The Lingerie Addict wrote a wonderful piece a few months ago discussing how she felt underrepresented in the lingerie world, and it is easy to see why minorities feel forgotten.   With over 35% of US citizens identifying themselves as non-white, it’s shocking that nearly 90% of the advertising and models are Caucasian.

One of the few darker skinned models to grace the pages of the magazine.
One of the few darker skinned models to grace the pages of the magazine.

Beyond race, size is another consideration.  While I firmly believe women who fit the figure requirements of a professional model should be included in fashion magazines (after all, diversity is about embracing all types of women), should they account for a jaw-dropping 84% of the models?  The average woman in the US wears a size 14.  Shouldn’t we see a little more dispersion around that size?

Furthermore, age is conspicuously missing from my tally because none of the models seemed over 35.  Most were in their early 20s.  With a strong and continued emphasis on retinol, anti-aging creams, and Botox, is it any wonder they do not want to feature faces with laugh and smile lines?  There are no models with physical disabilities either—a true shame because articles dealing with fashion and disability are both thought-provoking and informative.

The lack of progress forces me to question whether the tireless efforts of men and women to encourage magazines, the media, and corporations to include models of different shapes, heights, ages, and ethnicities are being taken seriously.  Is the media machine placating us with a token diversity rather than embracing real diversity?  Is the rationale:  Well, now that we have the average model and the black model covered, we can fill the rest of our publication with our standard tall, thin white models and no one can say we aren’t diverse.

lucky4

What strikes me as an even worse element to the issue is how ambivalent the merits of token diversity are.  One could successfully argue that even including a black model or a regular sized model is a step in the right direction, that we should praise the magazine/company/whatever for their attempt, no matter how half-hearted it may be.  However, I view these attempts as a way of keeping business as usual instead of embarking on a journey toward greater diversity across media platforms.

In the past, fashion magazines and retailers have trotted out the excuse “fashion is aspirational” to explain why they refuse to change, but recent studies indicate women are more likely to buy an item if it is modeled by someone who is closer to their size and skin color.  Women crave more diversity, and they are willing to spend money with companies who listen.  Returning to the insulting concept of “aspirational,” why should we suggest all women aspire to be young, thin, white, and tall.  Youth, skin color, and height are completely beyond our control, and even thinness can be as well.  Why not aspire to be ourselves instead?    Self-love and happiness aren’t as popular as self-doubt and longing these days.

lucky2

Cliché though it may be, variety is the spice of life, and praising token diversity offers companies an excuse to continue with the bare minimum.  The process feels hypocritical for companies to showcase women of different body types, skin colors, and ages for one spread when the rest of the magazine is more of the same.  It leaves us no closer to reconciling the vast difference between the average American women and the models used to market to us.  Shouldn’t diversity extend to more than just one spread or one campaign and become the new normal?

Weigh in:  Should we applaud companies for using real women in their magazines even if it is only for a few pages, or do you feel like it’s a cop-out for them?

Erica

Token Diversity: A Step Forward or a Way to March in Place?
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.

30 thoughts on “Token Diversity: A Step Forward or a Way to March in Place?

  • May 7, 2013 at 4:43 pm
    Permalink

    It may sound very pessimistic, but I don’t think that we will see a lot of size diversity in the magazines any soon. There is very simple reason for that: it’s much easier to get decent fit and good photos with size 0-2 models than 10-12 not to mention 20. Most professional 0-2 models have almost the same body type and proportions and fit of the clothes in those sizes is more consistent, and you can always get away with fit imperfection just fashion taping slightly large garments. But for women in average sizes or plus sizes it’s not that easy, so media usually prefer option which is easier and much cheaper.

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 7, 2013 at 4:52 pm
      Permalink

      That is a consideration since many companies receive samples in a limited size range. I think if they were forced to use models in the average size range though, then their recommendations may improve. Trapeze cardigan for a fuller bust? Bahahaha!

      Reply
      • May 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm
        Permalink

        Ha! If they were forced to use average sized models starting today then 90% of them would go bankrupt during a year )

        Reply
  • May 7, 2013 at 6:46 pm
    Permalink

    I am glad someone else brought this up: it’s not that there is a problem with models’ sizes, just a problem with ONLY showing those sizes! I sometimes wonder, if aliens read our magazines and watched our TV shows and movies then came to Earth, how shocked they would be to realize how diverse we are. I get confused by the “aspirational” argument, too. I don’t “aspire” to be taller or have a smaller chest or completely flat abs like most models have… looks great on them, but for me, the only way that any of those might happen is with surgery. Usually I just think “Oh, another outfit that wouldn’t work on me,” and then that designer doesn’t get my business. I know it’s *easier* to design for one size all the time, but does easy trump *right*? (Also, doesn’t it inflate prices when you can only really then sell a product to women who fall in the 0-2 or 4 range?)

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 7, 2013 at 9:46 pm
      Permalink

      What a great comment about aliens! Your point about “right” vs. “easy” could be applied to all businesses, but it reminds me of many of the Polish lingerie and clothing companies. They’re using a more diverse group of models than the majority of US companies do, and I can’t help but feel it is to their benefit. I know that I am personally more likely to buy something if the model is at least somewhat similar to my build, and if others feel the same, wouldn’t it be more profitable to switch tactics?

      Reply
    • Erica
      May 7, 2013 at 9:41 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Cora! I figured she was not a model since it was such a small shot of her, but I counted one or two other fashion industry types they used in the articles as well as all the non-models in the average woman section. To be consistent I included her as well even though she’s right on the borderline of half the body showing. As I mentioned, if I counted every single person appearing in the magazine, the diversity would truly plummet. 🙁

      Reply
  • May 7, 2013 at 10:57 pm
    Permalink

    I’m tired of the not-so-subtle hint that I’m unattractive and undesirable; because that’s what they’re doing. They’re telling me I’m ugly and I should be ashamed and I don’t deserve pretty clothes.

    I’ve often wondered why we allow it this to happen. And by allow, I mean condone the homogenization by buying the clothes, the fashion, the exclusion.

    I know the arguments, I just don’t see how and why they still work.

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm
      Permalink

      Originally, I subscribed to Elle as well because I got a great deal (1 year for $8), but I let the subscription lapse because no matter how hard I tried to resist I was being influenced negatively. Elle, in particular, seemed so anti-aging that I found myself getting wrapped up in body hating psychology and wondering if I could sacrifice this and that in order to buy the expensive products. Fortunately, I came to my senses, threw all of them out, and used it as a lesson for not allowing a money-making enterprise to make feel bad about myself. Still, it’s still sad to see that there’s not as much emphasis on fashion for everyone.

      Reply
  • May 8, 2013 at 9:03 am
    Permalink

    to me it’s a matter of what I want to see. As long as fashion magazines don’t feature people that look similar to me, I’m not going to buy them/look at their online content. I love fashion and often look at places for inspiration or for new trends. As a minority and a curvy gal, I simply don’t bother looking at fashion mags because the clothes they have on 5’11” 112lb blonde models won’t look right on a 5’3″ darker skinned chubby gal. I don’t see the magazines changing anytime soon sadly but I also don’t see them surviving the internet age. There are thousands of blogs out there that feature curvy ladies that I can turn to for inspiration.

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm
      Permalink

      That’s an excellent point about the rise of the fashion bloggers! Like you, I find I get more inspiration from them. Not only is there more diversity in the blogosphere, but I find the looks more wearable than some of the ones touted as “of the moment.” Even though J. Crew is just as guilty of the homogenization, I also draw inspiration from their catalog because they find a way of working in that preppy but modern aesthetic.

      Reply
  • May 8, 2013 at 9:06 am
    Permalink

    Not being represented in fashion doesn’t matter that much to me personally, because I don’t find fashion that important. Yes, I do think it would be better if there was more diversity in fashion magazines, but I think it would be even better if women would stop giving this industry and advertisers in general so much power over their self esteem.

    These are not aspirational pictures for me. My aspirations include things like earning my doctorate in computer science, living in a number of different countries, and improving my health. I’d also like to wear clothing that suits my sense of fashion, fits my body, and is comfortable, but I learned long ago I won’t find that in fashion magazines, which are all about uncomfortable, impractical, and bodies quite unlike mine.

    Reply
    • May 8, 2013 at 11:38 am
      Permalink

      I agree, it is not aspirational. And I don’t really care (for my own purposes/viewing pleasure) anymore that I don’t see women who are “like me” glorified in mainstream print/Internet – except it would make it easier to find clothes to fit me if I saw them on someone like me.

      What i do care about and what does tick me off is the lack of clothing choices I have because the mainstream look (and therefore fit) is dominant in the marketplace. Ironically – it fits a minority well, a majority not so much. Just look around you – how many women do you see in well fitted clothes that came off the mainstream rack?

      Reply
      • Erica
        May 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm
        Permalink

        There does seem to be a widely used fit model for most mainstream clothing. I did a little shopping last night and walked away with nothing other than the decision to place another BiuBiu order.

        Reply
      • May 8, 2013 at 2:01 pm
        Permalink

        I agree. To me, it is all about practicality. I don’t care if I see someone like me, apart from the fact that it would help me picture how the clothes would look on me. I do not need my body type glorified because, frankly, it will be the same as if they didn’t have a winner in sports for the sake of keeping everyone happy. I am very objective about my body and I know that it is not an esthetic ideal, so I don’t need the world holding my hand telling me I am gorgeous as I am – it will only annoy me.

        I am short waisted, and I can rarely find anything that will fit my proportions. Now, THAT is a problem. Everyone makes clothes that fit standard torso length. And I do wish clothing companies featured more models with shorter waist, because right now the opposite is the case – models tend to have long torsos. As a result, I am having a really hard time figuring out how an item would look on me.

        So, really, I want the diversity in cuts and options, diversity in models, to me, is secondary, and is only about a shape.

        Reply
        • May 8, 2013 at 3:32 pm
          Permalink

          We should go shopping together, to commiserate about being short waisted in a regular to long waisted world! I wish clothes could be fun, and attractive – but at this point it’s easier for me to be nekkid.

          Reply
          • May 8, 2013 at 10:46 pm
            Permalink

            Oh wow, I found a short waisted blogger! I am definitely going to look at your blog! Shopping always frustrates me, especially when my husband goes with me and keeps asking me to try on all those gorgeous dresses, while I KNOW the waistline will hit me at the hip, or somewhere between the waist and hip at best.

    • Erica
      May 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm
      Permalink

      Now, those are things worth aspiring for! I think it’s important to sometimes take a step back and remember that we are all beautiful-different but beautiful-and we should not be made to feel like we aren’t deserving of representation.

      Reply
  • May 9, 2013 at 12:26 am
    Permalink

    I gave up on the media (and the fashion industry) displaying people like me. Most of the time I am invisible (as a chubby dark skinned black woman). And pretend someone like me shows up? If I am lucky I get to be the funny friend. Usually it is some horrible stereotype about being loud and ill-behaved. I wrote off the fashion industry and mainstream media awhile ago. If I ever see someone remotely like me, I die of shock. I’d be ok with size 2 models or actresses approaching my skin tone being called beautiful.

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 9, 2013 at 10:55 am
      Permalink

      Jame, that’s a good point about the roles in which we do see women in the minority (whether because of age, skin color, or size). I can think of five or six movies off the top of my head which fit the formula you described. 🙁

      Reply
  • May 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm
    Permalink

    I read the article on the Lingerie Addict and held off commenting as I wanted to think about what I wanted to say. I didn’t want a long, boring response to the lack of representation in the fashion industry. But you see the unbelievable, fantasy ridden use of models in fashion magazines, advertisements, television ……..

    One possible reason is the fashion industry is run by white men and women. They socialize with white men and women and have no contact with men and women of color. Simplistic, I think so. But, what else explains the inexplicable? I am hispanic, Mexican American, Latina, and size 14-16 but I don’t see myself represented in these ads.

    The scariest possible reason is that it is as simple as economics. All the powers that be don’t see the profit in appealing to large women, minority women. Perhaps we are the problem! It is not the white man but the black, brown, plus size women who don’t demand what they have the power to demand. I don’t think there is a concerted effort to encourage designers, manufacturers, magazines, advertisers to include real women from many backgrounds. Encourage, convince, discuss, raise the issue, make it economically a great idea. There are no bad guys/girls here, perhaps just insufficient motivation. I for one don’t have any desire to not see great looking, slender white women modeling clothing and lingerie, just to see myself, blacks, Asians and others of color who reflect a more diverse culture doing the same.

    Reply
    • Erica
      May 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm
      Permalink

      Lisa, lack of motivation can be problematic. It seems like many people aren’t happy with the way things are, but unless there is a scandal or public outcry over something (like the recent Abercrombie incident), no one actively and repeatedly pressures companies for change. As far as skin color is concerned, I’ve never cared much rather the model was pale skinned like me or if she was Asian, Hispanic, black, etc. In fact, I feel like some colors would be better served by choosing models of different skin tones, so even if size is taken out of the equation, there’s no reason race can’t still be changed.

      Reply
  • May 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm
    Permalink

    Erica, I agree with you as why should a manufacturer or editor make changes in the way they do business if they don’t have to. If one or two customers complain about something it is entirely too easy to ignore it. On the other hand if 30, 300 or 3,000 people express concern, I am on it and I think so would people in positions of power. I think we have seen many examples of people changing things if they can motivate others to act. Otherwise it may just be people complaining about something that could or should be changed but the old saying “the squeeky wheel gets the oil”, or something like that seems to be somewhat appropriate. Funny how those old sayings suggest many problems have been around and that is one way to attempt to resolve it. Thanks so much for your time and thoughts!!!!

    Reply
  • Pingback: Diversity In Lingerie | Bras and Body Image

  • Pingback: » Blog Archive » Diversity in Lingerie

  • Pingback: SEXXXYSHOP BLOG - Diversity in Lingerie

  • Pingback: Diversity in Lingerie | Bood-Shop Blog

  • Pingback: #DiversityInLingerie | A Sophisticated Pair

  • Pingback: Diversity In Lingerie: why we need lingerie lovers of ALL sizes! | sevenlies.net

  • Pingback: Diversity in Lingerie: Why I've Been Scared to Talk About Diversity Lately | The Lingerie Addict | Lingerie For Who You Are

What are your thoughts?