The History and Changes of the Model/Fashion Industry

The Interplay Between the Historic Homogeneous Myth of ‘Ideal Beauty’ and the Emergent Diversity in the Modelling/Fashion Industry

While there are still many of the models in the fashion industry that tend to be thin and light, recent years have seen a slight increase in the number of those with different physical features. For many decades, the world’s fashion runways tended to concentrate on showcasing a homogeneous depiction of what designers perceived as the ideal body image – svelte, young, and light in complexion(MacKinney-Valentin, 2014). heightened awareness and subsequent changes in consumer perceptions and preferences have, however, compelled designers to adopt diversity in their fashion activities and products. Thus, the recent few decades have seen the number of plus-size models and people of color increase in model lineups. At the 2017 New York Fashion Week, for instance, the number of non-white models was 36.9%, signifying a 50% increase in their numbers compared to the preceding year(McDowell, 2019). Because models’ bodies often reflect cultural values, the resulting changes in the treatment of body types and beauty ideals within the fashion industry tend to cultivatepositive perceptions in society.The concept of the ideal beauty image and perceived polished perfection are increasingly diminishing as crucial aspects of society’s reality. Although diversity in the fashion industry is still at its infancy, related trends suggest that the majority of brands are committed to greater body size and racial representation.

The History and Changes of theModel/Fashion Industry

Emphasis on body shape in fashion and the pursuit of societal beauty ideals are no new concepts. Related literature places the beginnings of body shaping within the Minoan civilization era (2000-1400 BC)(Foxcroft, 2012).The first corset – fitted bodice – was initially developed during this period. The Minoans are considered to be among the earliest civilizations to exhibit a general preference concerning how clothes were made and worn, and develop a shared perspective of the ideal body image(Downs, 2013). During this era, women wore strapless fitted bodices and bound their waists with wide belts, which denoted the general fashion preferences(Foxcroft, 2012). Corseting, thus, became a recurrent fashion style in most of the subsequent eras. After disappearing for some time, it reappeared during the Renaissance period.

The Victorian Era (1837-1901) is considered to have been among the first to incorporate the complex, exaggerated modern fashion concept of the hour-glass figure – puffed sleeves and skirt separated by a cinched waist. While the dominant body type for Victorian women was plump and full-figured, hour-glass silhouette fashion ideals compelled them to adorn restrictive corsets to reduce their waists and accentuate their hips(Foxcroft, 2012). Consequently, the Swan-bill corset – an elongated corset – replaced the traditional corset in the 1890s and was used to reinforce the concept of slim waists to project an S-curve silhouette(Foxcroft, 2012). This type of corset allowed skirts to fall naturally over the hips. Thus, an era that revered the long, lean form of the female body ensued.

This era was succeeded by one that facilitated body type preference shifts from the Victorian curvy to the modern-age long and lean. It was during this period that columnar slenderness developed into a fashion. The era also marked the emergence of simple, linear, amorphous clothing designs(Downs, 2013). As time progressed, feminism took center stage in society, causing significant changes in norms that defined acceptable activities for women in society. Women began engaging in athletic activities, such as cycling and tennis, which served to emphasize the concept of long, lean muscular bodies. As a result, innovations for measuring weight and body fat began to emerge. Thus, fashion and athletics developed an ideal body image of a 5’4″ tall woman with a  about “10 Stone” or 140 pounds(Downs, 2013). This is the fashionable female body that was carried to the contemporary fashion industry, which only made the imagery additions of large busts and chests.

Contemporary Marketing Behaviors in Modelling and the Larger Fashion Industry

As with other industries, the performance of the fashion industry is highly dependent on its capacity to attract and maintain consumer traffic to facilitate high sales. Naturally, fashion industry players are obliged to develop strategies to enhance their revenues, which serve to ensure their sustainability(Yan &Bissel, 2014). The underlying concept of ideal beauty is an essential part of its overall strategy, whose aim is to influence consumer perceptions concerning their products. As it is, a fashion industry player’s ability to contract and retain a high-ranking model has a significant influence on its performance.

The global fashion system, especially the modeling branch, is widely criticized for emphasizing face value marketing tactics – selection and presentation of models is based primarily on the “perfection” of their bodies. Mainly, prevalent marketing practices tend to utilize the models’ “perfect” shapes to create commercialized effects for commodities by linking them to the glamour and elegance of their physical features(MacKinney-Valentin, 2014). The concept behind this practice is that when a celebrity or model promotes a particular product, her ‘ideal’ image offers the intuitive feeling that using the brand will bring out the better version of the consumer. Within this marketing system, ‘defective’ bodies are perceived to be problems that should be disguised or fixed based on the constructed images of beauty(Soley-Beltran,2006). A typical illustration of this face value tactic can be drawn from the 1980s contract awarded to Jose Borain by Calvin Klein(MacKinney-Valentin, 2014). Among the terms contained within in the deal was that the model would maintain all her body features, including her physical appearance, physiognomy features, and weight. Naturally, she would lose her contract the moment she became disfigured or suffered illness or mental impairment.

Fundamentally, print advertisements in women’s magazines and other public spaces continue to be the prime channels for promoting commercialization of beauty standards. Specifically, marketing extracts in media have tended to promote the idea that clothes comprise a means of communication and empowerment through its continued sanctioning of the role model factor(Yan & Bissel, 2014). Magazines such as Marie Claire, Elle, and Vogue, for instance, have been at the forefront in defining the in-fashion girl cultures for the last few decades(McDowell, 2019). Most of these magazines tend to feature ‘ideal’ models, carefully selected from particular age-groups, backgrounds and cultures based on their target markets. Essentially, the underlying marketing concepts of using multiple models applied in magazines tends to promote the idea that one’s ability to multiplicate personalities has a positive implication on the index of power(Soley-Beltran,2006). Since different modelsare equated with different personalities, the possession of a variety of ‘ideal’ fashion products is perceived as a sign of personal strength and wealth(Soley-Beltran,2006). Thus, marketing advertisements in such magazines and other media tend to present identity as an artificial construct that consumers can embrace once they accept the transformational allegory supported by the industry.

While the emphasis on the ideal image of the lean, light skinned construct is still prevalent, emergent practices and behaviors within the fashion industry’s marketing and modelling sectors suggest a gradual departure from this norm.Notably, the recent few decades have seen a slight increase in the application of gender bending strategies and the use of models from non-white races, as well as those with physical imperfections in fashion marketing campaigns(Jha, 2015). For instance, Riccardo Tisci, the creative director for the 2011 Spring/Summer Givenchy campaign selected Stephen Thompson, an albino model, as the official face for marketing the event(MacKinney-Valentin, 2014). In the campaign, there were no attempts Thompson’s imperfection – albinism –, rather his image was used to suggest a potential within the context of the event. Another case that exemplifies the emergent diversification preferences concerns Chanel’s decision to feature twenty models of color in their 2016 Fashion Week show(McDowell, 2019).Taylor, Johnston, and Whitehead, (2016) suggest that the emergent preferences for subversive beauty ideals entails deliberate attempts to increase social currency – the values that are effective in gaining social status. The premise of this change in tactics is the reorganization of the fashion system due to the emergence of new media, fast fashion, and digitalization that has disrupted the conventional fashion cycle(Lawler, &Nixon, 2011). Essentially, there appears to be a developing assumption within the fashion system that fashion tribes and niche reference groups are more likely to sway consumer preferences than the traditional class-related signifiers.

FashionConsumerBehaviors and Impacts onSociety

The social comparison theory proffers that humans have a habit of evaluating their abilities and opinions by comparing themselves with others. The resulting action or behavior is such that people will strive to change by attempting to eliminate the disparity between the perceived self and the desired others(Yan, & Bissel, 2014). Naturally, the greater the attractiveness and importance of the desired other, the stronger the pressure to assimilate and achieve uniformity. When applied to fashion and the concept of ideal beauty, this theory suggests that people will be inclined to compare themselves to the idealistic images of beauty presented in media(Rice,2014). The pervasive thin model disseminated by fashion-related advertisements in mass media increases the pressure to attain ideal beauty uniformity among consumers(Swami, Coles, Wyrozumska, Wilson, Salem, & Furnham, 2010). While this assumption is true, there are certain underlying determinants. For instance,people will avoid making comparisons to ultimately superior models – they will only do so if the perceived disparities involved can be eliminated practically or when the will to remain a member of the particular group is strong(Yan, & Bissel, 2014). Regardless of the reasons for pursuing uniformity, the resulting behaviors and attempts to eliminate the perceived disparities have far reaching implications on consumers and society.

Essentially, the continued dissemination of the ideal image in fashion presentations in different mass media invokesbehaviors that have both psychological and physiological impacts on consumers. According to Afful and Ricciardelli (2015), consumer societies in which women’s bodies are utilized as tools for selling products while being presented as the ultimate commodity are likely to create all sorts of body image problems fortheir memberships. One such problem is that they tend to establish an environment of exaggerated body insecurity, leading to many issues, including anorexia – self-imposed starvation(Afful and Ricciardelli, 2015). In such societies, being oversize is often perceived as a metaphor for feeling powerless. The influence therein is so much that in some societies, losing weight is a considered a major priority that must be attained by all means – responses from 33,000 women participating in a 1984 research by Glamour magazine suggested that losing 10 pounds was more satisfying than achieving any other goal(Yan & Bissel, 2014). Essentially, the psychological implications of the ideal image myth are evidence that unlike most of the old feminine ideologies, the concept of beauty continues to leverage the power to control behavior among women in society.

As a social construct, the fashion concepts of ideal image and beauty coupled with heightened globalization have also served to alter the conventional constructs of beauty in many cultures across the world. Essentially, prior to the global age, different cultures across the world had unique standards of attractiveness, which were drawn from their respective memberships’ physical features(Patton, 2006). In China and Japan, for instance, beauty and health were associated with rounded faces and mild chubbiness(Yan & Bissel, 2014). Today, however, most of the world’s cultures have developed heightened preferences for the Western beauty standards, which are disseminated globally in the majority of media. This trend was highlighted in a study conducted on 32,000 young girls drawn from 10 countries(Dove, 2004). The results indicated that only 13% of the women interviewed were “okay with their body shape and weight” while only 2% perceived themselves as beautiful(Dove, 2004). Additionally, 30% of Canadian and Germany teenage girls indicated that they desired to change their skin color(Dove, 2004). Asian women were also obsessed with whitening cosmetics and skin lightening surgeries(Dove, 2004). This departure from the cultural norms has been widely criticized for the derailing the beliefs and practices of different societies.

In light of these insights, the recent trends of diversity and inclusivity within the fashion system offer a promise of cohesion and prosperity to both society and the industry. Acceptably, this tendency is perceived to decentralize the inherent standards of beauty within the fashion system, thus, distorting the autonomous myth of beauty. Besides, giving the ‘imperfect’ models the opportunity to partake in fashion shows, decentralizing beauty standards will also reduce the widespread obsession with the Western lean, white image that is the root cause of many health and social issues.By embracing many beauty ideals, the fashion system offers women a wide variety of models with which they can relate, therefore, reducing the associated pressures of assimilation. Additionally, diversifying beauty standards will also extend fashion industry opportunities to a wider variety of players besides the typical cosmetics, apparel and surgery providers.


Indeed, the global fashion system is on the verge of disrupting the longstanding and widely shared standards of beauty – the white and lean myth. While this may be perceived as just another phase in the evolution of the industry, it is apparent that the direction and dynamics in this particular shift are unique. Contrary to previous tendencies to maintain homogeneousperceptions of the ideal beauty, the emergent trend emphasizes its decentralization. As suggested by the literature, the restricted version of the perfect being has vast adverse implication for both society and consumers. Thus, it is widely perceived that diversifying beauty preferences in the industry will serve to reduce most of its existent challenges.


MacKinney-Valentin, M. (2014). Face value: subversive beauty ideals in contemporary fashion marketing.Fashion, Style and Popular Culture, 1(1), pp.13-27.

McDowell, E. (2019).Improved racial diversity on the runways of Fashion Week. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications,10(1), pp. 92-99.

Soley-Beltran,P. (2006).Fashion models asideal embodimentsof normative identity. Trípodos, número, 18, pp. 23-43.

Afful, A. A.,& Ricciardelli, R. (2015). Shaping the online fat acceptance movement: talking about body image and beauty standards, Journal of Gender Studies, 24(4), pp. 453-472.

Taylor, J., Johnston, J., & Whitehead, K. (2016). A corporation in feminist clothing? young women discuss the dove ‘real beauty’ campaign. Critical Sociology, 42(1), pp. 123–144

Swami, V., Coles, R., Wyrozumska, K., Wilson, E., Salem, N., & Furnham, A. (2010).Oppressive beliefs at play: associations among beauty ideals and practices and individual differences in sexism, objectification of others, and media exposure. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34(3), pp. 365–379.

Lawler, M., &Nixon, E. (2011). Body dissatisfaction among adolescent boys and girls: the effects of body mass, peer appearance culture and internalization of appearance ideals. J Youth Adolescence, 40, pp.59–71.

Jha, M. (2015). The global beauty industry: Colorism, racism, and the national body. Routledge.

Rice, C. (2014). Becoming women: The embodied self in image culture. University of Toronto Press.

Downs, C. A. (2013). Influence of fashion industry and media on individual body perceptions held by femalecollege students as compared to perceptions held by middle-aged females (Thesis). Baylor University.

Foxcroft, L. (2012).Calories and corsets: A history of dieting over two thousand years. Profile Books.

Yan, Y., &Bissel, K. (2014). The Globalization of Beauty: How is Ideal Beauty Influenced by GloballyPublished Fashion and Beauty Magazines?Journal of Intercultural CommunicationResearch, 43(3), pp. 194-214.

Patton, T. (2006). Hey girl, am i more than my hair? African American women and their struggles with beauty, body image, and hair. NWSA Journal, 18(2), 24-51.

Dove (2004). Only two percent of women describe themselves as beautiful


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