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HAYLEY'S TAKE ON WOMEN IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY FOR IWD2017

HAYLEY ELSAESSER

Posted on March 08 2017

Being a woman can be extremely challenging, especially in the fashion industry. 

It's an industry that tells us beauty is found only in a specific set of dimensions, and if you don't fit within that you are wrong and unworthy. They tell girls entering the modelling industry to lose 10 pounds immediately because some 80-year-old male designer in France decided what size she needs to be.




We've been conditioned since youth by every aspect of the media to expect nothing but perfection of ourselves. Being fed heavily airbrushed images of already stunning models smoothed over to remove any aspect of realness; leaving a perfectly plastic shell. 

The beauty and diet industry has created a problem with our natural form, telling us we need to swallow pills and smear on creams to be the best us that we can be. 

Eating disorders are rampant in the modelling industry, but also very likely in your own friend group. When did something meant to nourish us and give us energy become the enemy? 

My first realization of just how wrong the fashion industry is was preparing for my graduate fashion show at university. All the students from my year were gathered in our studio doing a model casting with fresh-faced agency models, with most of them being around 16 & 17 years old. 

The comments from some of my fellow students were heartbreaking: blatantly calling certain girls gorgeous, very thin girls too fat, beautiful girls too ugly, too pimply, too manly, and the list goes on. It was only a handful of students, but the fact they felt so comfortable with being so vocal with their horrible criticisms stuck with me. This wasn't new behavior. This was learned behavior from TV, movies, magazines and working in the fashion industry. These students had seen this sort of behavior and criticism coming from industry figureheads they respected and admired, and had internalized that as standard acceptable behavior.

 

 

From the very start of my experience in fashion starting at university I felt like an outsider. Unlike the other students I didn't fit in my samples we made for assignments, which honestly made me feel sad. I was told my clothing was not commercial and if I wanted to make it as a designer I'd need to drastically change (I left this school to study in Australia thank god). 

It wasn't until I started really getting positive feedback on designs that my confidence started to grow. I realized that my worth is based upon so much more than my physical appearance, which is quite contradictory to what we, as women, are conditioned to think -  especially in this industry

I've encountered a few people during these formative years that helped me see there could be another way. I had amazing teachers that pushed me to think deeper and more critically about fashion and what kind of voice I wanted to have. I did a month-long internship at a very popular fashion brand in Australia and learned they use only healthy models in size 8-10 (4-6 US), and were very cautious of what kind of ideal they were portraying. 

Luckily, I've met countless strong women saying “f*ck you” to fashion norms and carving out their own path that have served as amazing role models. Without these examples, I'm not sure where I would be or what I would be doing. There came a point when I had experienced too many models changing from the healthy size they're supposed to be to an emaciated version of themselves, and heard too many first-hand accounts of the terrible criticisms and expectations set upon models that I decided to make a change. 

I started my brand in Australia and when casting for Sydney Fashion week I struggled to get enough models to fill out my clothing. These girls look so much tinier in real life and were swimming in my US size 2 and 4 samples. When I moved my brand to Canada I had the same problem. While there are some models that are perfectly healthy and meant to be a size 2, there are many that risk their health to get there. 

I decided to make a statement at my second Toronto fashion week, something that hadn't happened in the very traditional industry here. I did a half open casting, half agency model show. I had models from 5'2" to 6'7", size 2 to 16 and from ages 16 to 70, and the show and the clothing looked amazing! My clothing is worn by all shapes and sizes and I wanted to show that you don't have to be blonde 5'10" and a size 0 to look good in my clothing. 

I hoped this would create a discussion about the state of the industry and unrealistic expectation of models. I talked about it in every interview backstage and passionately expressed my reasons behind it and sadly it was hardly covered. The magazines and press I was speaking to perpetuate this ideal in their pages and I suppose were not ready to face their own reflection. 

 

 

 


This was before models like Ashley Graham were hugely popular and "plus size" and diversity was so trendy. It's heartbreaking that these sorts of discussions can only be had when it's something that's in vogue. Whether it’s the size of our bodies, the texture of our hair, or the colour of our skin is, what is ‘beautiful’ or ‘ideal’ should not be decided in a boardroom.

It's important for us women to realize our worth. What is on the outside should be last part of the equation or omitted all together. We cherish our friends for their kindness, complexity and intelligence not that their hair is pretty or what size pants they wear. Shouldn't we afford ourselves the same respect?

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