|[Image description: side-by-side of two photos of La'Shaunae and Aaron.]|
By Amelia A. J. Foy
I’ve been following two aspiring models for a long time now: Aaron Philip, a black trans girl with cerebral palsy, and La’Shaunae Steward, a young fat black woman. Over the time I’ve been following them, I’ve seen them try and try to get modelling agencies to notice them - to give them a platform, to step away from the “norm” of thin, able, white and cis. So many agencies were too scared at deviating from this standard: they’re too short, too fat, too black, too queer, too “other”. In this last month, both of them were signed; Aaron to Elite NYC and La’Shaunae to Revolt Model Agency in London.
This is so important for so many reasons. Firstly - they made it. Against all odds, past all struggles and doubt and online abuse, they made it. These two women are powerhouses - I’ve seen the abusive comments they get, the anonymous accounts created purely to demonise and bully them, all done with a healthy helping of transphobia, or racism, or fatphobia. And they never compromised their visibility, their politics, or their dreams.
They’re also trailblazers. The fashion industry for so long has relied on unattainable beauty to sell their products and grab attention - because that’s what it’s about. It’s about marketing. And marketing works best when the customer feels inadequate, with the only solution to this being to try and attain “perfection”. We all know it’s unhealthy - we’ve seen enough articles on it. These too being so real, so representative of the underrepresented, is incredibly powerful, especially to other members of their respective communities. Seeing someone like yourself make it is not just inspirational, but makes you realise that you can succeed, too. There’s nothing wrong with you. It dismantles the shame society has forced on your identity, replacing it with pride, hope and motivation.
I can only hope this means the industry is changing. That this is part of a wider cultural shift, where bodies are embraced in all the forms they come in. Where fatphobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, and all other forms of oppression can be broken down and forced out of our streets and our media. And that, as a result, we can love the skin we are in, and not fear how others will react to us.