Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Every Body Counts

Caryn Franklin
Photo courtesy of Ryerson University
"Every body counts" was the message that Caryn Franklin imparted to an audience of fashion students, faculty, media and invited guests at the first annual Diversity Now! lecture at Ryerson University on October 20, 2012. As a former fashion editor, Caryn had many years of experience as a fashion insider, and wanted to foster a movement that challenged and redesigned the beauty ideal to be more inclusive, where "every body counts". In 2009, Caryn Franklin, along with supermodel Erin O’Connor and communications specialist Debra Bourne, founded All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, a campaign to promote diversity in the size, shape, ethnicity and age range of models on the catwalk and in fashion imagery.

In her first lecture in Canada, Caryn encouraged fashion students to think about the unattainable standards of beauty seen in mainstream fashion imagery that perpetuate the standard of the tall, thin, young and white ideal. She noted that fashion imagery has "begun to normalize something that is not normal" in promoting and perpetuating "image of unachievable beauty", and quoted statistics about body image and self esteem to show the level of "unease and destabilization that the fashion industry creates." She said "we have all internalized a body dysmorphia" and asked "isn't it time to make changes?"

Caryn Franklin at Ryerson University
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2012
Caryn used examples from past All Walks campaigns, first launched at London Fashion Week in 2009,  to show that "diversity can be aspirational".  In these campaigns, internationally recognized designers such as Mark Fast, Donna Karan, Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood used a wide range of bodies, including young and thin, as well as older, curvier and culturally diverse types.

By asking questions about design practices, including the drawings that begin on an impossible template of an elongated body, Caryn encouraged students to think for themselves and to see diversity as a "means of creating a viable commercial brief". After the lecture, students created preliminary proposals for a design, film, blog, article or other creative effort and presented their ideas to their peers. As a moderator for one of these groups, I felt privileged to help nurture their ideas, because I feel this is a message that is long overdue in the fashion industry. Although I am slender, I am not tall. And while I am not old, I am old enough to know what looks good on me. And too often, I cannot find what I want. I don't want to look like I'm trying to be 18, even though I am still the same size as when I was 18. I don't see any models that look like me in magazines. I see airbrushed and Botoxed simulacra of what mature beauty is supposed to be and I can only hope that one day it will be true that "every body counts".

For more information about All Walks and the Diversity Now! competition for fashion students in the UK, visit www.allwalks.org.

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