by Emily Coogan

Meet fashion's problem with diversity.
As a visual medium, fashion is primarily concerned with the way clothing is perceived while being worn. Narrow and unchanging ideals of beauty within style mean the scope of representation captures only what is deemed palatable by the industry itself. The homogenous beauty standards constructed and perpetuated by fashion brands make it clear that the industry is afraid of change to the detriment of diversity efforts, however lacklustre.
At its core, fashion considers the body as paramount, prescribing rules and attaching meaning accordingly. Conventions of dress mediate how the wearer is perceived publicly, confining particular bodies to particular styles to maintain social order. The way clothing is worn is inextricably linked to the natural body and associated social connotations - this is where fashion marketing steps in - to sell us the utopian standard, ideal image or aspiration. The fashion industry subsequently capitalises on creating normative dogma for consumers to subscribe to. 
Fashion as both an industry and sociological concept, operates globally, negotiating, promoting and endorsing fashionable bodies. What defines a fashionable body, beauty, and physical attractiveness varies according to extraneous factors, such as trend cycles and culture. A beauty ideal is multidimensional, encompassing both physical features and anything used to alter or adorn the body. Accordingly, beauty conventions revolve around size, race, gender, religion, and other political and cultural implications.
Negative assumptions and judgments are imposed on those whose sartorial appearances contravene what is considered fashionable, which is contingent upon the messages disseminated by fashion marketing and internalised by consumers. Ideal body forms are established each runway, campaign, and collection, with whiteness, thinness, and euro-centric features retaining their status as the epitome of beauty. Minor deviations from this norm are only permitted when deemed fashionable and palatable, generally within restrictive parameters and under the guise of representation.
So, when are deviations from the norm allowed?
Bodies that transgress beauty codes are typically subject to judgment; however, slight deviations are seen where it is still digestible, falling within conventional beauty parameters as much as possible.
Take the cover of American Vogue Magazine with Harry Styles as an example, which exemplifies the ways fashion prescribes ideas of masculinity and femininity as additional social constructs working in conjunction with beauty norms. Here, Styles is pictured wearing a Gucci dress for American Vogue in December 2020.
The stylist plays with notions of gendered bodies by dressing Styles in a decorative dress, being a typically feminine fashion. As a well-regarded white cisgender male, the fashion world is his oyster, and he is at liberty to negotiate the boundaries of gendered fashion. The cover of this magazine, consequently and very favourably, frames Styles as the face of gender non-conformance, neglecting to disrupt the beauty norms that continue to repress less-palatable bodies.
Harry Styles US Vogue cover shoot - fashion and gender
Another example to consider is Kim Kardashian's famous figure, featuring prominent curves that cannot be divorced from her personal brand. Such features have historically been disregarded by the fashion industry (thanks to white supremacy) as they are typically associated with black communities and cultural inferiority. Kardashian is repeatedly co-opting Black culture (Black-fishing) and Black trends to elevate her personal brand. Via cosmetic procedures and dress, she taps into both white and black landscapes, allowing her to benefit from whichever is deemed fashionable in the circumstances. As a white-passing and wealthy woman, Kardashian's beauty is celebrated by fashion, where black bodies are maligned for the same features.
Kim Kardashian blackfishing
 Although there are increasing external pressures, particularly from young consumers, the fashion industry is largely responsible for perpetuating rules as to what is palatable, meaning defiance needs to be instigated from the inside. Currently, freedom to explore normative ideals is granted only where to do so would not be too radical. Bodies that transgress social codes are considered dissident unless the wearer benefits from other hegemonic features.

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