The talk over the need for diversity in fashion is continuing to escalate, with the voices of body-positive activists, bloggers, models, designers and everyday fashion-lovers becoming so loud they are impacting big brands and retailers. In the UK, the Women’s Equality Party called for an overhaul of the standards that dictate what kind of bodies we are used to seeing on runways, with a campaign to break down negative norms that filter down throughout society and impact the way young girls grow up.
There has also been extensive focus on how images we see in fashion prevent us from considering other body types as “beautiful” due to the continual reinforcement of one archetype. Thankfully this is beginning to change, with many powerful voices speaking out in favor of diversity.
But there is one major voice missing among the bo-po world – men. This has largely been a women-led movement, and rightly so as women are the majority of targeted consumers of fashion and advertising. But it would be futile to ignore the negative ways narrow ideals impact young men and boys also.
A group of body image activists and models decided they would make their voice heard at London Fashion Week Men’s in the hope that organizers and designers will recognize the importance of diversity. Spearheaded by plus size menswear retailer Jacamo, campaigners Jack Eyers, Jamie Park, William Girling, Andy Caine, Gordon McCormick and Paul Gill staged the #FashionForEveryMan protest in January, as they want to see different body shapes, sizes and abilities being represented on the runway.
Similar to what women are now speaking out against, Jack Eyers told Mashable how men like him feel excluded from mainstream fashion conversations and aesthetic.
“As an amputee, growing up there was a lack of fashion icons that looked like me and nobody that I could relate to. This made me feel singled-out and alone, as I was not represented. My ambition is to change this so that people and particularly young people growing up feel represented in the fashion industry,” he said.
Each of the protestors involved were also finalists in Jacamo’s Real Men Runway 2016 competition which was an event to find a more everyday male model to be their face. A statement from the retailer explains why bringing attention to the problem of male body image is important to them.
“There’s no denying the models here at Men’s Fashion Week look great, but they’re not always representative of UK men and we’re here to make that known. We believe that fashion should be for every man, without any barriers, and that’s why we aim to widen the net of models used,” said Ed Watson, a spokesperson for Jacamo.
Mashable cited a study from 2014 which found an eye-opening link to binge-drinking, eating disorders, drug use and obesity among adolescent men. It also said 20% of young men are concerned with their body image, and there was a common prevalence of the need to be more muscular among them.
A quick look through any men’s health, fitness or fashion magazines shows the same kind of homogeneous imagery, build, skin color, and body shape. Yet in the real world, men come in all shapes as sizes and it’s no surprise that these narrow and often dangerous ideals become the catalyst for such disordered behavior. What is even worse is the narrow standards of toxic masculinity that are still very present in our society at large, which prevent men from being open and vulnerable about their insecurities the way women are much more able to be.
Jacamo also commissioned a study to use the findings for their own campaigns, and found as many as 95% of men don’t feel represented by fashion campaigns, a third aren’t happy with their body shape, 57% admitted to going on diets to alter their bodies, and 20% resorted to extreme measures such as taking slimming pills in their quest for body perfection.
What are we teaching our youth when they inherently dislike the body they are born with and are determined to go to any and all lengths to fit some narrow ideal that an industry decided was what men and women should “aspire” to?
“While we were shocked to hear how little men feel represented by the fashion industry, we weren’t surprised. It’s our ongoing ambition to make more men feel represented on the high street, so while there has been progress over the years, there’s still a long way to go with the male fashion industry lagging behind women’s,” said Ed Watson about the retailer’s findings.
Last year in the US, plus size male model Zach Miko was signed to IMG models which was hailed as a major step in the right direction in terms of disrupting the supply chain that feeds the narrow body image standards, from agencies, to brands, to designers, to retailers, to fashion week event organizers, and finally to the media.
More and more male celebrities are speaking out about their own private battles with body image, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently admitted even during the height of his body-building career, he would look in the mirror and hate what he saw. There have been others, such as UK singer Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Ron Perlman and cricket player Freddie Flintoff, but it becomes especially powerful when men like Arnold are unashamedly speaking truth to their experience, as he has been held up as a stereotypical hyper-masculine body image ideal for decades.
It becomes a disarming cultural moment to see such a public figure tell other men who perhaps feel trapped in a cycle of toxic masculine ideals to know they are not alone, and to struggle is to be human.
But there has to be change within the fashion industry. It is such an incredibly powerful vehicle of communication when it comes to aesthetics, that if it only became a world where all bodies, abilities, ages, skin colors, etc were the norm, perhaps masculinity would be revolutionized in a very positive way.
Here’s to retailers like Jacamo willing to make the voices of everyday men heard with their #FashionForEveryMan protest. And here’s to more of the fashion industry taking notice and following suit.