Genderqueer model Rain Dove has the kind of wide, angular jaw that looks like it's been precisely carved out of rock; the kind of jaw that often gets female or feminine people who possess it labeled "androgynous." And androgyny is a thing that Dove does well — although her unapologetic, matter-of-fact languor gives the illusion that she isn't doing much at all, beyond presenting her truest self to the world.
Despite appearing as a model in Vogue, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan (to name a few) few of us would expect to see an aesthetic like Dove's walking down a Victoria's Secret runway. The brand is known for showcasing conventional components of female beauty to a satin glow: Pillowy lips, flowing hair, and slim, curvaceous bodies carefully swathed in delicate lace. Recently, however, Dove has broken the Victoria's Secret mold by executing a photo shoot wearing Victoria's Secret lingerie, in an effort to prove that everyone is beautiful regardless of the oft limited imagery we're presented with media-wide. Dove juxtaposed her own photos with edited images of actual Victoria's Secret models, super-imposing the heads of the models onto her own body; and the side-by-side comparison gives "sexiness" more than one meaning.
"I like the one in the pink the most. I feel it shows the greatest juxtaposition of the traditional femininity that VS portrays and the image that I want to put into the world," Dove tells me in an email. "I also got the most heat for it, so I feel that it's the most effective image for encouraging a dialogue."
And a dialogue is just what Dove has sparked. After her images went viral, the Internet was awash with articles, most of which were asking the same questions: Is there enough diversity in fashion, and are we ready to see more? Dove believes that when it comes to changing the narrative of beauty, fashion plays a huge role; and that starts with consumers demanding more than what's given to them.
"We are the potential general consumer base, and if we ask for diversity, Victoria's Secret will likely go where the money is. Their goal isn't to push us away — it's to get our loyalty," Dove explains. "We have the power to state our terms for obtaining that. If we remain quiet, then Victoria's Secret will remain the same."
Victoria's Secret has not yet responded to Bustle's request for comment.
The concept of reimagining beauty is a popular idea these days, and brands have responded in myriad incarnations to varying degrees of success. Plus size retailer Lane Bryant came under fire this year after launching the #ImNoAngel and #PlusIsEqual campaigns, with many of its customers criticizing the fact that the brand didn't use diverse enough models — or at the very least, models over a size 14. MAC Cosmetics got in on the action by launching its MACnigficent Me campaign, which transformed six winners into spokespeople for the company. For better or worse, there appears to be a shift happening in the fashion and beauty worlds, and for Dove, it's a welcome one.
"DKNY has had a nice movement towards celebrating uniquities," Dove tells me. "Diesel has had some incredible campaigns, including some of my favorite models like Jillian Mercado. Aerie is inspiring their target market of young teenage girls to be more comfortable with their bodies by not using Photoshop in their advertisements. Department store brands like Macy's and Target are working on having more equal and diverse representation on their billboards and catalogues."
And it doesn't stop with store brands, either. According to Dove, even luxury fashion houses are doing their best to present fashion through different channels.
"A higher end brand that has always explored the lengths of humanity is Jean Paul Gaultier, who has featured everything from tattoos and facial hair, to models over 50, to the rainbow spectrum of sexuality and race," Dove says. "Balenciaga also. A lot of great brands are shifting and adapting to this new movement of human representation."
These campaigns are certainly compelling, but Dove's recent photoshoot has created a different kind of splash: It's not a brand presenting an image in the way it thinks consumers want to see it, but rather an individual using her own resources to push back against the narrative presented. Dove's images here are reminiscent of French stylist Nathalie Croquet, an industry veteran who recreated high fashion ads with her un-retouched, unapologetic self as the model.
Dove, along with the host of other brands and individuals who have launched campaigns that buck the traditional narratives of beauty, have all raised some interesting questions for consumers: Why do we want to see ourselves in fashion campaigns, and what is a brand's obligation to show it to us? Furthermore, is it more important to assign ourselves the label of "beautiful," or to move away from the concept of beauty being valuable altogether?
"I don't believe that Victoria's Secret or any brand has an obligation to be representative of their consumer," Dove says. "They are private entities who are free to market as they see fit because their only real responsibility is to pay their employees and bills. However, I do believe that Victoria's Secret and similarly structured brands shouldn't be afraid of losing their consumer base by being more open to diverse representation through marketing. Victoria's Secret has the power to be something bigger than a product creator for their customers. They have a power to be a movement that not only makes their consumer look good, but feel good."
To the second question, on whether or not beauty should be seen as valuable in the first place, Dove raises another interesting point.
"If we expand the definition of what is beautiful so that it includes more people," Dove explains, "Then we will put less value on the concept of beauty as it currently exists. It will become less about its power over you, and more about your power over yourself. It's not so much about different groups of people being represented, but about every individual seeing themselves as beautiful. You cant change that through generalized representation or association. But you can change it by featuring people who state that there is always something beautiful in everyone, even just by existing."
The fashion world's continued involvement in changing what it means to be beautiful remains to be seen. Perhaps this push for nontraditional campaigns that deconstruct traditional narratives of beauty will be nothing more than an anomaly, and perhaps brands like Victoria's Secret will never subvert from convention. Still, the growing number of instances of non-traditional beauty in advertising seem to promise a more inclusive, unconventional approach to identifying what is beautiful, and Dove remains hopeful about what comes next:
"Fashion always has, and I believe always will, have the power to change the world."
Images: Sandy Ramirez; Courtesy Fascinate Media