Many of British Vogue's first and second generation of readers made it clear they did not want non-white models on the cover of the magazine. In fact, when Donyale Luna became the first black model to ever grace the cover of the publication in March 1966, many protested by canceling their subscriptions. Still, Luna, now known as the world's first black supermodel, went on to become an "it girl" of the '60s — and was photographed in premiere glossies like French Vogue, Time, and Playboy.
The next time any Vogue would put a woman of color on the cover would be nearly a decade later, in 1974, when Beverly Johnson adorned the cover of the American edition.
The iconic Tracey Norman was also busy breaking barriers during that decade. In 1975, she became the first transgender, African-American model to make it big — although she was not open about being trans at the time, for fear of discrimination — by becoming the face of Clairol's Nice 'n Easy 512 Dark Auburn box in 1975.
But fast forward decades later to 2018, and we're still seeing firsts. In January, Ashley Graham became one of the only curve models to ever land a major beauty contract when she signed with Revlon.
There's no question that these monumental feats have helped to transform the fashion industry into the increasingly inclusive space we see today. But, at least as of right now, there is always more work to be done — particularly around body inclusivity on the runway. In order to create an industry that is all-encompassing of its diverse consumer base, these major achievements, and the people using themselves to forge change, cannot be seen as one-time props or used as token characters, but rather be woven into the fabric of the fashion industry — and only time can prove that out.
Still, 2018 provided plenty of progressive moments that should be celebrated. Industry figures like Tess Holliday, Mama Cax, Jillian Mercado, Sonny Turner, Ericka Hart, and Slick Woods all continued to create representation for individuals at the intersections of race, size, physical ability, and life stages, both on the runway as well as in magazines. Here — in these models and activists' own words, plus the words of the people they're creating representation for — are five moments from the past year that should make us hopeful for the future of diversity in fashion.
Tess Holliday's Bodysuit For Cosmopolitan UK
Model Tess Holliday ended the summer with a bang when she posed for Cosmopolitan UK's October 2018 cover.
While this wasn't her first time being the star of a magazine — she made her print debut in 2015 for People's body issue — this particular shoot was what she describes to Bustle as a high point in her career. A day before the glossy hit newsstands, Holliday tweeted that had she seen that type of representation as a young girl, it "would have changed [her] life." However, she still admits to having some hesitations before going on set — even telling Cosmo UK's editor-in-chief, Farrah Storr, that she was feeling apprehensive, since a body like hers had never been exposed on the cover of a major magazine.
"'Your body is a Cosmo body,'" Holliday remembers Storr telling her in response. "That really stuck with me because leading up to the cover, I was such an emotional wreck. Even though I knew I was pushing the barriers by looking the way that I did and being on the cover and being my size, those feelings kind of creeped in. Like, maybe I don't look the way I should — all of the toxic stuff."
But once the 33-year-old arrived on set, she was pleasantly surprised that the magazine had booked not only a plus-size stylist for her to work with for the shoot, but also a plus-size tailor, who helped to create the custom emerald green bodysuit she rocked for the issue — proving the importance of representation both in front of and behind the camera.
"When I tried it on, I was like, 'Oh I don't have enough cleavage, I want more," she reminisces. "And they were like, 'Absolutely!'"
Being on the cover of Cosmo was already a dream come true for the fashion maven, but being able to flaunt her full figure, bare arms, and legs made the moment even sweeter. "I had a feeling when I was taking that photo that that was going to be the cover," she shares. "I was very, very pleasantly surprised that when they cropped it, you could see how fat I am. You could see my legs and all of that and they didn’t Photoshop me — it’s just really refreshing."
The Fashion Spot's annual diversity report for 2018 found that models size 12 and over had seen more representation than ever before this year, with 18 covers in total — 10 of which featured non-white women. However, while the number has certainly grown (only eight plus-size women graced fashion covers in 2017), out of the 745 magazines analyzed, only 2.4 percent featured non-straight-size cover stars. Still, Holliday believes her Cosmo cover could create a ripple effect for plus-size body diversity, since she adds that many models in this category don't have a body like hers.
"Was the cover important for me? Absolutely," she says. "It was a highlight of my career so far, but that was because of what it meant for other people and hopefully the future, and changing the conversation and saying we belong and we matter."
Inemesit Etokudo, founder of her eponymous fashion blog which focuses on everyday and travel attire for plus-size women, says she will keep her copy of the magazine for years to come, and couldn't agree more with Holliday saying the cover was monumental for their community. "I was in awe when I first saw it," Etokudo tells Bustle. "Her arms were exposed, she was wearing a bodysuit, she had the thick legs — she looks like me."
The 25-year-old, who says she's been a longtime fan of Holliday, also says that the model's Instagram platform #EffYourBeautyStandards, was a pivotal force behind pushing her own online career forward, as it was one of the first collectives to regram her photos. Etokudo also applauds the model for using her body to shine a light on size diversity and acceptance within the plus community specifically.
"She's just someone who really embodies the notion that our bodies do not define who we are," Etokudo explains. "She was my first sort of exposure to that world. I want to thank her. Tess has been a big part of my journey."
Sonny Turner's "Sample Size" For Chromat
Sample sizes of the clothes runway models wear have traditionally ranged from a size zero to four, according to Grazia. But despite average consumers and well-known celebrities pushing for size inclusion for off-the-runway pieces, some designers still stick to the status quo of how how their clothes are first debuted in shows. Consider, for instance, a 2018 WWD interview with Tom Ford, in which he claimed he was not even aware of any discussion about diversity in sizing for the runway.
"In today's world, models are a standard size," he said in the interview with the publication. "You make your collection and the girls come in, they put them on, if they don’t fit the clothes, they don't get the job."
However, not everyone in the industry agrees with this philosophy — especially Chromat founder Becca McCharen-Tran.
For the swim and body wear line's spring/summer 2019 Saturation collection NYFW show, McCharen-Tran called upon model Sonny Turner to wear the brand's "Sample Size" T-shirt, in a medium, on the runway. Together, the pair sent the memo that they were ready to break the body rules the industry has historically set for models on the catwalk.
"I was so honored to walk for Becca," Turner tells Bustle. "It sent the message that sample sizes have been so damaging to the industry and are the easiest way to exclude plus models — everybody has a runway body."
And she definitely doesn't hold back when it comes to sharing her thoughts on sizing overall. "Who told us we have to abide by these sizing rules?" she questions. "We should wear what we want and not listen to sizing." The model also admits that as a UK 12 (U.S. 10), the moment made her reflect on never feeling like the "right size" when she first entered the industry two years ago. "I wish there was more inclusivity for in-between women," she adds. "I have spent most my life in those in-between sizes."
In February, Vox Media's Cleo Abram and model Amber Tolliver analyzed the hip measurements listed on the comp cards of hundreds of models. The two discovered that the vast majority of working models have either 33-, 34-, or 35-inch hip measurements, with the second largest group of working models measuring between 41 and 47 inches. However, in the video about their study, Abram revealed that the pair found "there's virtually no one in between" — that is, models who are size 6, 8, or 10, like Turner.
Fellow model Bree Warren also shares her frustrations when it comes to sample sizing with Bustle, but says that with Turner's message and brands like Chromat making notable and genuine pushes for inclusivity over the years, she's hopeful for the future.
"Sonny is such a babe ... [I think] Chromat was the first to break the rules and send an incredibly diverse group of models down a New York Fashion Week runway," she says. "It’s crazy that some brands are still resisting diversity. I think in 10 years from now, we will find it ridiculous that we never had diversity before."
The Australia native, who has worked with major brands like Seafolly and Dior and was featured on the cover of Women's Health Australia this year alone, also says she prefers to not be put into a straight or plus-size category. "The whole idea of labeling models is getting old," she says. "I understand we need to have something on the tag, but it’s nothing more than a number to me."
Ericka Hart's Mastectomy Scars On The Chromat Runways
Breast cancer survivor, model, and sex educator Ericka Hart first made headlines in 2016 when she went topless at Afropunk's annual festival in Brooklyn, New York — baring what she calls "warrior scars" from a bilateral mastectomy two years prior.
Originally coming to the music event wearing a top, in an op-ed for Afropunk, she admitted she wavered between keeping it on or exposing their new breasts, post-reconstruction. But in the end, Hart decided to be bold in order to raise awareness for black bodies battling breast cancer, having previously been unable to find photos of people who looked like them in reconstruction pamphlets. Hart's photos soon went viral — and since that day, she hasn't stopped using their body for advocacy.
Hart, who has been a longtime fashion lover, walked not only in the the fall/winter 2018 show, but also on the spring/summer 2019 Chromat runway as well — each time pulling her swimwear to the side to reveal their scars.
"Whoopi Goldberg was in the audience in the February show and it was so amazing to be naked in her presence," Hart laughs. "I was also wearing a thong and I thought, 'Why not just get a little more naked?'"
As for the September show, along with wanting to spark a conversation, she says she simply preferred the suit zipped down. "I also just love my scars and don't want people to feel ashamed or less than if they have similar scarring," she explains.
But the 33-year-old does admit while she did plan to show off their "staple" scars once again during both their walks, that much like at Afropunk, she had a few hesitations before going topless at an event as highly publicized as NYFW. "The runway is incredibly nerve-racking and walking while undressing is not easy!" she says.
However, the message Hart was aiming to send during their walk helped them to overcome their fears. "My black, non-binary femme, queer, small fat, disabled body is already taking up space in an industry that actively says we do not belong," the survivor proclaims. "I want to make it abundantly clear through using my body that we will not be restrained by some made up industry standard."
And it appears as though the fashion world is taking heed of these types of strides — at least on the commercial side. The 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue showcased a refreshing array people of different races, sizes, and abilities, including Ebonee Davis, Hunter McGrady, and Brenna Huckaby. In terms of gender identity, The Fashion Spot reported that trans and non-binary models had 53 runway appearances during spring 2019's NYFW shows. This is not only an all-time high, but also a huge push forward from only 33 modeling the fall 2018 collections. However, progress seems to be slow when it comes to intersectionality, seeing as only 29 spots went to models of color in spring 2019, while no plus-size or older trans or non-binary people were cast.
Jessica Florence, a fellow breast cancer survivor, has long admired Hart for their honesty and outspoken advocacy surrounding diverse body acceptance. Florence says the sex educator has broken many barriers, not only in the breast cancer world, but also for LGBTQ and QTPoC as well. "To see them on that runway makes me feel as if I’m doing something right by sharing my story, showing my scars, and rebuilding that confidence that I didn’t have before, in hopes of helping others in their journey," Florence says.
Although the pair had many conversations prior to the Chromat show, Florence says she remembers one piece of advice Hart gave her in particular. "She said, 'You have to keep speaking your truth to make a difference' — that stuck with me," the Florida native reminisces. "[The Chromat show] goes beyond just a runway walk — Ericka is most definitely walking in their truth."
Teen Vogue's September 2018 Digital Covers
For most fashion magazines, the September issue is paramount. With the colder seasons quickly approaching, that particular month is often seen as a time when many opt for new wardrobes, making advertisers eager to get on the pages of the glossies. And the cover stars are typically handpicked for this critical issue based on their clout within the fashion community, all according to a report published by Glamour UK in 2016.
But instead of sticking with the status quo, Teen Vogue — which in recent years made clear its commitment to increase inclusivity throughout its coverage — decided to feature "the new faces of fashion" on its September 2018 digital issues, using three models with disabilities as their cover girls, making this one of the few times non-able-bodied people have taken up this coveted space.
Jillian Mercado, Mama Cax, and Chelsea Werner all graced the cover of the colorful issue, each rocking fits from major design houses like Kenzo, Moncler, Off-White, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci. Inside the pages, they all shared the hurdles they faced as well as their triumphs while trying to make it in the fashion world.
Cax tells Bustle that the cover opportunity was a time to shine a light on accessibility for models with disabilities. "So many times I go to castings and ... there are no elevators. Or for the jobs themselves, you need to use stairs to get to the actual location," she says. "What if I was not able to use stairs? Then that makes my job literally impossible."
And while the general lack of awareness surrounding the needs of disabled people is frustrating for the model, she shares that she will still make an effort to use these instances to educate her able-bodied counterparts. "I always try to let them know, or make sure to request an elevator, even if I don't see one around, so that they're able to think about it a little bit more," she adds.
Before entering the modeling world, Cax says that she was working at the City of New York Mayor's Office, and thought at the time that she would eventually enter the international relations field as a disability advocate. Still, she always loved fashion and even ran her own blog. However, she admits that she initially thought the loss of her right leg after her battle with cancer at 14, along with being a black woman, may have held her back when trying to get signed to an agency. Yet, it was those two unique traits that helped propel Cax's career forward, leading her to land major campaigns like Instagram's #RunwayForAll in 2016, along with becoming the face of Tommy Hilfiger's adaptive line in and Olay's Face Anything, both in 2018.
But despite all of her successes, Cax knows these moments aren't really about her. "I think more than what [the Teen Vogue cover] meant to me, was the responses that I got from other people with disabilities," she shares. "I never realized how much of an impact it was making."
Mercado, on the other hand, began her journey into fashion when she was a young child. Her mother's work as a seamstress and her father's work as a shoe salesman ignited her interest. "I have two younger sisters and my parents would tell me that I was the most interested in knowing where things came from and how they were made," she tells Bustle.
As soon as the now-31-year-old was accepted to New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, where she studied fashion marketing, she knew she was destined to work in the industry — but at the time, she thought as an editor. Mercado's dream was to have the power to hire other people with disabilities to work behind the scenes, in hopes of creating more visibility in front of the camera for folks like her.
This dream led her to land a beauty editorial internship at Allure — making her Teen Vogue cover a full-circle moment (both are owned by Condé Nast). "Going to lunch [as an intern], I would pass by the Teen Vogue office and go, 'Oh, my God, that's Teen Vogue,'" the model remembers. "I'm still pinching myself today that [the cover] even happened."
As for being featured on the September issue specifically, Mercado believes it sends a clear message to the fashion industry that people with disabilities aren't going anywhere. "It's not like a 10-second thing," she proclaims. "This is not a check-off-your-list kind of moment. This is, 'We are here, we're not going to leave until this is no longer clickbait or news.'"
But what made Teen Vogue's already notable September covers even more outstanding was that Keah Brown, a journalist, speaker, and soon-to-be author who also has cerebral palsy, was commissioned by the magazine to write the story, which she tells Bustle "meant the world."
"It was like I was watching magic take place in real time and I knew that it was going to matter so much to the [disabled] community," Brown says. "It wasn’t a story about us being used as props for able-bodied people to feel good about themselves. It wasn't about us feeling bad about ourselves. It was, 'Hey, here are these three models, they’re all doing amazing things — let’s celebrate that.' Not because they’re disabled, and not despite it, but it's just in tandem with who they are."
Slick Woods On The Fenty x Savage NYFW Runway
Rihanna took the beauty world by storm in September 2017 when she launched her eponymous cosmetics line Fenty Beauty, offering the most inclusive foundation and makeup range yet. So when the Grammy winner debuted her Fenty x Savage lingerie collection to close out NYFW, naturally, everybody was included.
Two pregnant models were featured in the show, one of whom was the incomparable Slick Woods, who wore a revealing, cut-out one-piece that put her belly front and center. Woods certainly isn't the first model to hit the runway in lingerie while expecting, now joining the ranks of her predecessors Alessandra Ambrosio and Irina Shayk, both of whom were in the early stages of their pregnancies during the 2011 and 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Shows, respectively. But Woods, who stands at 5 feet, 10 inches and also revealed to Elle earlier this year that she dates both women and men, arguably set a new standard for pregnant models, not only being lingerie-clad while she was full-term, but also by being in labor while rocking the runway.
"This is the face of a WOMAN IN LABOR," she wrote on Instagram shortly after the show. "We hold sh*t down most of us don’t even know how much we’re going through, I’m here to say I CAN DO WHATEVER THE F*CK I WANT WHENEVER THE F*CK I WANT AND SO CAN YOU."
Kim Katrin Milan is a speaker, educator, and fellow new mom who identifies as queer. For her, Woods' moment was one she personally felt connected to. "I loved being pregnant and I loved the way that my body looked," she tells Bustle, while admitting she did feel pressured to be modest while carrying. "I totally respect people who want to do that, but I always really, really liked embracing my body while I was pregnant. My first pregnancy shoot that I did was actually me in lingerie."
Milan goes on to explain that when women are expecting, their bodies tend to be desexualized by society. "We don't necessarily get to consider ourselves beautiful or get to wear lingerie," she explains. "It's the weirdest thing because ... often moms being sexual is how we got to be moms in the first place."
A 2015 study published by the Archives of Women's Mental Health found that body image can play a huge role in maternal depression, which further pushes the importance of Woods using her body to send the message that people can be sexy — on their own terms — throughout this life stage.
"When precedents like that get set, when you see the possibility of what that can look like, it can be such a source of inspiration for so many other women and creatives to be more visible and to be present in different spaces," Milan asserts. "I feel like once you set the bar high like that, then we get to see people surpass that over and over and over again."
Only time will tell what the fashion industry has in store for the next year, but there's no question that in 2018, consumers have made it clear that they want diversity to be more than just a trend or basic tokenism. People in and out of the fashion industry are calling for inclusivity at every level of fashion — from the front of the camera to behind the scenes — to be a genuine reflection of the world we live in. And this year, with more racial, size, and gender diversity in the pages of premiere style magazine than ever before, it seems as though the industry is finally taking another step toward change.