In the last decade or so, we have seen a spike in the number of individuals who feel deeply concerned about the way that bodies and women are presented in advertising. According to data from the Be Real Campaign, up to 83% of adults do not feel confident about their body, one third of children say that they worry about the way that they look and an estimated 31% of 25-34 year-olds say that the way they look has stopped them going for a job they wanted.
More recently, we have seen numerous conversations spring up about the types of bodies that we are exposed to. This includes, British singer Jamelia stating that overweight and underweight women should not be able to shop on the High Street, as well as the tragic death of Eloise Aimee Parry who died after taking diet pills she had bought online. The latest has been Protein World’s provocative adverts of a female model clad in a yellow bikini with the words: “Are you beach body ready?” across the London Underground.
83% of adults do not feel confident about their body
In order to contrast such campaigns, we have seen the rise of small (but powerful) photography campaigns which claim to show a diverse range of women’s bodies. As someone who used to work as a plus size model, I long to see a wider presence of body shapes and skin tones in both mainstream fashion/beauty campaigns as well as smaller photography projects, because it is something that we all need to see. Many men and women do not realise the amount of make up, special lighting, airbrushing and photo editing that goes into shoots and images before they are printed and distributed to the masses.
Whenever I see a new campaign which highlights ‘diverse’ beauty through things such as stretch marks, wrinkles, greying hair, women’s bodies post pregnancy and more, I’m usually quite impressed with what is offered. That wasn’t until I recently took a closer look at how ‘diverse’ these beauty campaigns claim to be. Every now and then, there’s an image of an African-Caribbean woman dotted among a plethora of white women, but not a single Asian woman. I’m not sure about you, but to me, that’s not what I call a ‘diverse’ beauty campaign.
It’s problematic enough that women of colour do not feature regularly in such campaigns
Before I continue, I just want to clear up what my definition of “Asian” is. I’m very aware that in America the term “East Asian” refers to individuals from the sub-continent, whereas “Asian” is used in the UK to describe individuals of sub-continental descent.
For a start, it’s problematic enough that women of colour are not regularly counted or feature in such campaigns. Secondly, where have all the Asian women gone and why aren’t we being included? In a continent that contains around 60% of the world’s population and a massive Diaspora- we’re not exactly in short supply.
People were shocked that I was “allowed” to do that kind of work
This attitude comes despite the fact that India, along with Venezuela, has produced more Miss World winners than any other country, with Lakshmi Menon becoming the world’s first Indian supermodel. Many Indian Miss World winners, such as Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra, go on to achieve international recognition. In addition, we are seeing more and more South Asian women in the diaspora make their mark upon the beauty and fashion world such as Neelam Johal for Burberry and Nina Davuluri – who was the first Indian-American woman to win Miss America 2014 and Miss New York (2013).
But during my time as a plus size model, I hardly ever saw other Asian women in campaigns. I’m happy to say that there’s more and more of us moving into beauty and fashion as bloggers, designers, models, buyers and owners. There are many reasons as to why people think that Asian women do not regularly appear in fashion and beauty campaigns. One major reason, that I can ascertain from my personal experience, is that agencies do not approach Asian women and do not know where to ‘find them.’ The latter has always made me laugh; it’s as though they expect to knock on a door and find us all sat around a table together. In fact, many people who saw me reacted as though they’d seen a dinosaur and were shocked that I was “allowed” to do that kind of work.
Another reason is that many Asian cultures do not allow their girls to join the fashion and beauty world because they are concerned it may dilute their traditions or values as well as expose their girls to an industry which is notorious for wreaking havoc with self esteem. This has some truth to it as Asians tend to gravitate towards traditional careers such as Law and Medicine – but there is an increasing number who are now moving into tech and creative industries as they become more respected among various Asian communities. Being Asian and carving out a career in an industry that has not been tried and tested is not a regular occurrence in our communities – but it is fast becoming a reality that we must start learning to embrace.