In the age of empowerment, models are on a mission to break the stereotypes and challenge the criteria by which their success is measured.
Oxford Dictionary’s definition of a model is “A person employed to display clothes by wearing them.” Which is, in the literal sense, true, of course – but clearly inadequate especially when one thinks about the successful, outspoken and inspiring models of our time, like Adwoa Aboah, Winnie Harlow, Ashley Graham, Hari Nef and Halima Aden. If there was a chance to edit that definition now and expand it, what could’ve been said?
A model is a person (i.e. a human, not a hanger) who has a unique character, soul, opinions and beliefs. A person who works hard to show that, that there’s much more to them. A person who works hard in the professional sense too, in not always so glamorous conditions which they have little control over, while more often than not facing gender and racial discrimination, verbal abuse and bullying, sexual assault and constant criticism about how to look, what to eat, who to become. A person who has scars and marks, insecurities and health issues like everyone else, but perhaps feels that people don’t want to hear about all that, they just want to see the body – the person who is employed to display clothes by wearing them.
But not anymore. Now, that person is not afraid to show the layers of who they are, and inspire thousands, even millions of people to do the same and not hide themselves, to embrace their identity, ethnicity, sexuality and to be whoever they want to be. That person is part of the new generation of models who use the power of social media to do that. Through social media, these models have the chance to show and express their true selves whenever and however they want and get their message out to the world in an instant. As Sara Ziff, the founder of the Model Alliance, points out, “Social media has given models a platform they didn’t have before.”
This powerful tool enables models to share any abusive and exploitative behavior they experienced in the industry with millions, get it off their chest and shed light on a much-glamorized part of the fashion world. One of the most prominent examples of this is how Cameron Russell used Instagram to encourage her fellow models to share their experiences with sexual assault in the industry, by using the hashtag #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse.
By sharing their stories, insecurities and “imperfections” through these platforms, models often find an incredible amount of support and encouragement and inspire many people with similar issues. For instance, when Iskra Lawrence shared her 10-year journey of overcoming her body insecurities on her Instagram, her post quickly became viral and received thousands of likes and support comments.
Models use social media platforms also to promote campaigns on social and environmental issues and raise public awareness. Adwoa Aboah is one of the most important such names that come to mind, as she uses her social media accounts often to promote and share news of her non-profit organisation Gurls Talk and engage with millions of young people.
On the other hand, there’s also the other side of the coin – models receive not only support and appreciation but also harsh criticism and hateful comments and face cyberbullying too. However, although it is by no means easy, thanks to their self-aware, confident and brave attitude, they can rise above the negative, don’t let it dim their light and use the very same platform where people criticize them to show they are not defined by others’ opinions.
One of the many models who experienced serious cyberbullying is Öykü Baştaş, a young Turkish model who was discovered thanks to IMG’s Instagram scouting campaign We Love Your Genes, and made her runway debut at Gucci, becoming the first ever international Turkish model.
Following the Gucci show, her remarkable rise continued as she walked runways for some of the most important fashion houses, such as Burberry and Acne Studios. However, in her home country, there were very few designers who wanted to work with her. One of them was Cengiz Abazoglu, one of the most famous fashion designers in Turkey, who said about choosing Öykü:
“When casting models, one of the most important qualities I look for is individuality. I prefer to select models who are unique, confident and charismatic. Öykü is also one of those models, when I first saw her I was very impressed by her natural presence and high energy, and immediately wanted to include her in my shows.”
On the other hand, since Öykü doesn’t necessarily fit the conventional beauty standards of Turkish society, instead of widespread support and acknowledgment of her success, she started receiving hundreds of hate messages and criticism on social media based on her appearance. However, instead of letting this get to her, she took a different approach, and simply replied: “I also don’t think I’m beautiful, I agree with you.”
Following that statement, suddenly the reactions changed, and she started to receive apology messages and huge support from people. While this example highlights some very problematic aspects of Turkish society on a sociological level, it most importantly shows how the models of the new generation are not afraid anymore. They’re not silent. They’re not perfect, and they know they don’t really need to be because they’re human. They know better than putting their energy into photoshopping and filtering their images constantly, so they can meet the expectations. They don’t care, actually. What they care about is making the modelling industry a better, fairer and more genuine place, where models can be who they are – neither the ugly duckling nor the swan, in Öykü’s words.
And they know that this self-awareness is all that counts in an industry and world that constantly try to make them doubt themselves. Well, not anymore.
How to Become a Successful Model in 2018
Embrace your unique features that make you stand out, don’t try to change them in order to become who someone expects you to be. There will always be someone telling you you’re not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough – don’t let their opinions dictate who you are, know that only you can define yourself. Wear your so-called imperfections more confidently than any high-end designer label. Most importantly, genuinely accept yourself for who you are, love that person from the bottom of your heart and do all you can to express the soul of that person, be it through writing, making art, advocating for causes you believe in, or in any other way you please. Don’t forget, you may not always find bliss in silence, but always in being yourself.