Vogue brings in speaker to discuss body image

Ben Barry, Founder and CEO of Ben Barry Agency, spoke to a crowd in Goodes Hall on Thurs. night about changing beauty standards in the fashion industry

I AM VOGUE WEEK was created to foster discussion on body image.
I AM VOGUE WEEK was created to foster discussion on body image.

With Vogue Charity Fashion Show just weeks away, organizers took the opportunity this past week to create some buzz for the show and raise dialogue about body image.

I AM VOGUE WEEK was the second of such weeks this school year, with the previous one held in the fall.

The week’s events included a bake sale and flash mob, culminating with a talk by guest speaker Ben Barry on Thursday. Barry is the CEO of the Ben Barry Agency, a modeling agency that is known for its use of models of diverse body types, skin colour and age.

“We represent models of all ages, sizes, background and ability for fashion and beauty brands. We are the first model agency in the world to represent such a diverse cross section of models,” Barry told the Journal. “We have over 100 models that we represent. They work for brands including the Bay, Dove, L’Oreal.”

According to the Agency’s website, its dedication to diverse representation is a reaction to the staid ideas of beauty portrayed in the media.

“Models reflect a singular ideal of beauty—thin, tall and young—dramatically different from the average female consumer,” the website reads. “Studies have provided mounting evidence of the negative influence on the self-image of millions of women. Fueled by such harmful impact, governments, advocacy groups and women themselves are calling on the advertising industry to diversify the models that wallpaper the world.”

Barry said he thinks advertisers are missing an economic opportunity by not using models that reflect the appearance of consumers. He also hopes to inform people that it is not just those within the fashion industry that have the power to change beauty standards, pointing to social media and street fashion blogs as examples where average people can engage and see themselves reflected respectively.

“You see the role of social networking. Now consumers can lend their voice to critique ads or compliment them,” he said. “The consumer is very empowered today. They don’t just have to absorb these images they see. They can have an active role in engaging these brands.”

They can see that the fashion industry is not just made up of tall, thin, able-bodied white women, that there is a really strong movement to include a variety of women and men.”

Vogue co-president Nicole Emmet, ArtSci ’11 said the week was created around Barry’s talk, with a goal of creating positive dialogue on campus.

“People don’t talk about changing the fashion industry for positive body image, they don’t talk about the idea of older, plus size models on the runway,” she said. “Having someone like Ben Berry come to speak who is living proof that it can be successful and it is a positive change, that it is a reality that we can actually achieve within our society.”

Emmet said she is personally invested in the quest to improve dialogue on body image in fashion.

“We’re doing what we’re doing this year for many different reasons,” she said, adding that many people close to her have experienced negative body image issues.

“It’s hard to say that someone’s never been through any sort of body image issue. Whether it’s been taken to an extreme or not is where everyone differs.”

The positive body image encouraged by I AM VOGUE WEEK is echoed by changes made to the fashion show itself, Emmet said. She cited the requirement in past years for all models to don a bathing suit for auditions, which was done away with this year.

“As a result, our audition numbers went up. And about a third of our models were hired who didn’t end up wearing a bathing suit to their audition,” she said, adding that they’ve also opened up one dance scene and one model scene to the entire cast. “We have people from exec members, interns, creative designers, dancers and models doing each of them. So it’s going to be an all-cast dance scene, which will be disco. And then we have the all cast lingerie. And there’s 43 people in the lingerie.”

Emmet said response to the week’s events have been mixed.

“You’re never going to please everyone,” she said. “There are people that just still don’t believe that we have good intentions. People that will still come out and say that we’re not actually being true with what we’re doing. But there are people that are coming out and they’re saying that this is inspiring them.”

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