Why The Lack Of Body Diversity In Street Style Photography Is Offensive

Fashion is about expression, it shouldn’t be homogenised

Article by Billie Bhatia- Elle Magazine 

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Fashion week isn’t just about the clothes coming down the catwalk anymore. It is also about the hectic furore outside the show of street style photographers frantically snapping show-goers.

Street style photography shouldn’t be homogenised
Street style photography has become a mad circus of flashbulbs, shouting, scrambling and people genuinely can’t get enough of it. The demand for street style pictures is bordering on outrageous – to see what these supposedly ‘real’ women are candidly wearing. These are the images that are supposed to inspire us in the way we get dressed, the way we can utilise our wardrobes so they feel fresh, unique and fashion-forward. We want to see real women like us getting it right, not models – we have the catwalk to fulfill all of those needs. But what part of that is actually real?
Dressing for fashion week as a non sample size-girl is already tough enough: there is the mandatory break down on Thursday night when exhaustion has set in and I find myself buried under a sea of white shirts and black roll necks sobbing that I have nothing to wear. Once the tears have subsided and I have managed to scrape together an outfit in which I feel ‘fashion’ enough to be accepted by the bludgeoning mob, I remember I am about to pitted against my peers in the fashion week extravaganza and it all comes crumbling down again.
Not only am I, and my body shape, dismissed with a certain disdain by street style photographers I am deliberately pushed, tripped and shunned whilst racing to capture someone slimmer, someone deemed much more stylish than me.

I hardly deserve the crown of ‘Most Stylish Woman Of The Year’ (because I get it wrong at least once a week), but I would like to think working for the biggest selling women’s magazine has imparted some sense of style.

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What ELLE Wears to Work: 21 June 2016 | ELLE UK
This is me, in a What ELLE Wears shoot
VICTORIA ADAMSON
Agreed, I am not in the same league as the Chiara Ferragnis and Miroslava Dumas of the world, but I thought the point of the street-style photography was that it was real?

ARE PLUS-SIZE GIRLS NOT REAL? SHOULD WE NOT BE REPRESENTED?
It appears street style, which was intended to be the modern lens of fashion has been disillusioned into thinking it is capturing something different and new, in its essence. In fact, it’s falling into an eye-rollingly old trap.
On the Sunday of London Fashion Week I happened to stumble into a beautiful girl wearing an almost identical outfit to myself – lace edged skirt, grey cashmere roll neck and bomber jacket. We smiled at each other and before I knew it the photographers had come running.

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Here it is, the outfit in question, in our What ELLE Wears to London Fashion Week gallery
VICTORIA ADAMSON
For a split second I thought, ‘Ha! They have seen we are twinning and want to get a picture of it.’ Don’t be naïve, Billie. As I was quite literally pushed to one side, it was all too apparent that the picture they sought was of the tall, slim brunette because she was aspirational and I was not…despite our style being the same.
I thought that street style was supposed to be a point of difference from the girls coming down the catwalk, but it’s not different at all. In fact it’s worse, because it represents an unconscious bias that we still have sitting there always in the back of most people’s minds.

At least in most of the shows, there is now pressure to be a little more diverse. Now, more than ever, designers are making sure to use a cast of different skin tones. And when they don’t, they are being pulled up on it.

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Paris Fashion Week Fails To Champion Diversity
But among the photographers snapping away outside of the shows, there isn’t the same pressure to be consciously diverse in choice of subject matter. Which means old paradigms about what is attractive and beautiful come to the fore.

Where are the women representing style in their 30, 40 and 50s? As according to the images out there style only surfaces either in the under 30s and the peppered over 75s that have been deemed icon worthy. If what we are seeing is all one woman, how does that match who are?
We have some amazing photographers that shoot our street style on ELLE – namely Victoria Adamson and Georgia Devey-Smith – who have always made me feel part of the team when they take my picture, when I have nailed the outfit they tell me that I’m owning it and when I haven’t they aren’t afraid of telling me that either. But as I sit here and research street style trends for the coming season, the one trend that is painfully obvious is that girls with curves are irrelevant.
Style doesn’t equate to a body size, it doesn’t equate to a shape, age or colour. It transcends all of those boundaries. At a time when female empowerment is at its peak, I think it’s about time we stopped judging and started embracing difference.

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