Changing the face (and body) of fashion

As London Fashion Week begins, we ask how far have we really come with the body image debate?
14 September 2016

For most of us, September marks the end of the lazy summer holiday. None more so than in the fashion world, where a season of fashion weeks kick off across the world, running back-to-back in quick succession.

Over the past 15 years London Fashion Week (LFW) – a bi-annual event which also takes place in February – has developed into an exciting display of creativity and glamour, presenting an enviable array of well known and up-and-coming talent. So it's a shame that its launch on this September is already framed by the inevitable debate about body image.

Body image and the catwalk

In the global fashion calendar LFW follows hot on the heels of New York Fashion Week, where earlier this month Victoria Beckham came under fire for presenting a collection featuring numerous models perceived as overly thin. Although Victoria hit back, it reflects a persistent trend in the fashion world that's stubbornly refusing to go away.

Affects of social media

Another development in New York was the consolidation of the "see now, buy now" trend being adopted by major designers like Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren and even M&S. It's a breakthrough for the industry and one that also reflects the growing dominance of social media.

Unfortunately this dominance goes hand in hand with the "always-on" digital culture that our World of Good report identified as being one of the factors that is making young people unhappy. The perfect lives generally projected across Facebook and Snapchat have reached their zenith with the likes of selfie-crazy Kim Kardashian and supermodel Gigi Hadid. The numerous photo improving apps and filters further proliferate the idea that "normal" is in reality something heavily retouched. Fold into that the models that fashion industry persists on using, and you create the toxic mix that our report identified.

Luckily, there are signs that change is taking place.

Green shoots

When we launched the Be Real campaign back in 2015 the goal was to change attitudes to body image and help all of us put health above appearance and be confident in our bodies. It's brilliant to see that CSI: Cyber star Charley Koontz becoming the Be Real Ambassador that took our campaign global. As our first US Ambassador Charley has been working hard to get our Be Real Campaign message across the states.

Then back in December 2015, French MPs passed a bill that stated all models needed to have a doctor’s certificate saying they were healthy and magazines needed to label Photoshopped images.

In June Sadiq Khan pledged to ban adverts promoting "unhealthy or unrealistic" body images as part of his mayoral election manifesto. And during London Fashion Week Heidy Rehman who founded Rose & Willard, a label that has designed clothes for Jennifer Aniston, Pippa Middleton and Dame Judi Dench, has decided to choose models who "represent a broad spectrum of women – plus size, alternative, older, disabled, of colour". She said that the pose of each model would reflect only "positive, assertive body language" because many women and young girls mimic fashion campaigns in their Instagram and other social media feeds.

These are brilliant developments and show that when we put our collective minds to it, change can take place.

Let's keep up the pressure, especially while the eyes of the fashion world are looking at the UK during London Fashion Week.

Read more about the Be Real campaign.