Are We Beginning To Redefine Mainstream Beauty?

For years the job title ‘model’ held the connotations of an unattainable, one-of-a-kind beauty. It was this unattainablility and thereby exclusivity that made the title a rare, envied position.

When the supermodels of the ’90s were plucked from relative obscurity to stardom, the industry consisted mainly of an elite select women who came to represent beauty across the world. ‘The Big Six’ (Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer) were the fashion and beauty industry’s definition of what it meant to be beautiful. 6 women came to represent women all around the world.

Since then the playing field has leveled due to diversity and a broader ‘aesthetic’ that includes quirks (as long as the quirk ‘works’ ofcourse). But the general requirements (or limitations?) remain the same; tall (above 1.7m for print and 1.8m for catwalk), good skin, preferably white, if not preferably not too dark, skinny.


Denise Bidot for Swimsuits For All

But last year, we saw a few things changing with the appearances of some new faces. Gigi and Bella Hadid (although still tall and below average weight) represented a category of athletic ‘fuller’ women who are unashamedly curvy (shape-wise) and body-powerful. Natural hair and beauty made debuts in the form of red carpets (Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o) and on the runway (Alexander Wang, Victoria’s Secret). Plus size models such as Denise Bidot and Ashley Graham walked ramps at NYFW, became the first plus-sized Sports Illustrated models, and made headlines with unretouched bikini shoots respectively.


Andreja Pejic by Jez Smith. Credit:

Yes, the industry is changing. Women are becoming more vocal, they don’t want to have an idea sold to them about how they ‘should’ look, eat, what they ‘should’ apply to their faces or cover/uncover. Women want to be sold TO. Women want the women who represent them to well, look like them. It’s no longer about exclusivity. It’s about relatability.

The extraordinary found in the ‘ordinary’.


Local model, Nastassja Van Der Merwe has done numerous editorials for both local and international titles as well as campaigns for international brands. She is 1.6m. Fellow SA model, soon to be international, Jessica Lee Buchanan (COSMO SA’s Jan 2016 cover star) sits at 1.67m. Internationally, runway models Cara Delevignge and Charlotte Free are both 1.73m but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming designer muses.

While short models have always been around (Ehem, Kate Moss, 1.73m and Devon Aoki, 1.67m) they are becoming increasingly commonplace in jobs they’d ordinarily get overlooked for at the mere mention of their height. Internationally a shift in the importance of height is evident. Street style and fashion blogging stars like Kristina Bazan, Tiffany Hsu and Miroslava Duma, are fast becoming just as relevant in setting trends and selling clothes, and showing that style has nothing to do with height. Petite models aren’t ruling the runways, but slowly and surely, their work and aesthetic are being given the opportunity to speak for themselves.


Fani Segerman by Ricardo Simal

Fani Segerman; stylist, model, casting director at Scout’s Honour and creative director of local agency, My Friend Ned;  has appeared in titles like Oyster and VICE magazine, and most recently in Vogue Italia. A ‘short’ model herself, Fani agrees, “I think the change in model requirements is due in part to the societal push for more diversity. People want to see models that actually look like them.” She also reckons that social media is playing a big role in accessibility into the industry, “Amazing new faces [are] popping up online. Models are being booked through their Instagrams .. [More] people have a chance [and] agencies [are] focusing on different types of models.”


Transgender modeling had more than just ‘a moment’, it became a fixture in the industry with new catered agencies popping up and models like Lea T , Hari Neff and Andreja Pejic receiving the same status as cis-gender rivals.

Segerman (above) and My Friend Ned have also brought attention to gender queer models by being the first local agency to include a non-binary division. A brave move considering that South African fashion industry and public are still relatively conservative by international standards. However this move will surely create a ripple effect and encourage knowledge of what it means to be gender-fluid. Segerman told the Mail & Guardian, “[It] felt like it was the natural thing to do; a necessary thing to do.” Agency owner,  Candice Hatting, says that the response has been positive.


Last year’s fashion weeks not only saw an increase in diversity and widening of what Bethann Hardison, former agent called a racist excuse-the designer’s ‘aesthetic’. It also saw an embracing of natural everything, most importantly natural hair textures. Black models aren’t just the ‘yellowbone’ ‘just white enough but still darker’ acceptable shade of fashion.


Maria Borges on the Victoria’s Secret 2015 Catwalk. Credit:

Models such as, Senait Gidey, Ajak Deng, Roberta Narciso and Maria Borges (who is not new, but who embraced her ethnic hair on the Victoria Secret runway last November for the first time in the shows history ) are respectively flaunting their natural beauty on runways (like Balmain, Bottega Venetta, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy) and frequently featuring/covering international titles like Archetype, ELLE, W and Glamour .


Soo Joo Park for Mimco. Credit:

Asian models breaking the supermodel title are Soo Joo Park as face of Mimco, runway and Vogue favourite Liu Wen making Forbes’ ‘highest paid models’ list 2015 and Sui He walking the VS runway for the 5th time last year.


Says associate fashion writer, Lauren Chan, of Glamour US (who was one of many titles to call the current shift and popularity of plus-size models a ‘revolution’) in documentary, Straight/Curve, “The demand from the consumer is there to see plus-size models in magazines.” She states that the main reason for height and weight restrictions is not about the clothing fit, compromise of aesthetic or lack of demand, they are restrictions enforced by designers themselves, “The plus-size models are available at top agencies. What we’re missing is that piece of clothing, that sample size, to fit them in to get them in book.”

“Most woman are not tall or very thin. They go out and purchase the look they [see] in magazines [and] expect to look the same, and of course they don’t.. Which [makes them] think that [they] are not beautiful [by societal standards]… [It] is so damaging.”, says Mel Vaughan of Boss Models South Africa.

Mel’s credentials speak for themselves about the changing attitude towards plus-size modelling locally: She has sat for Edgars, YOU magazine (bridal edition) two years in a row, done a campaign for Contempo, covered Essentials magazine and recently shot for Jet.

To put it lightly, says Fani, “I think the world is changing and it’s about fucking time the fashion industry does too.”

By Zoya Pon

Feature image:

Models: Fani Segerman and Christopher Starr / Styled and shot by Stylist UK-SA /Hair by Kelly Greening / Make up by Gareth Coleman