Size 14 Kathryn in VAWK S/S 2011

Size 12 Lelia in VAWK S/S 2011

On Monday October 18th, VAWK by Sunny Fong presented their Spring/Summer 2011 collection, Toro Safari, in Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Combining Spanish and African influences, the winner of Project Runway Canada season two created a richly textured collection: perforated suede, weightless leathers and fringe. We were delighted to provide models of varying ages and sizes for their runway show. Size 12 Lelia, size 14 Kathryn, 61 year old Helen and size 4 Carolyn each made their fashion week debut. The media raved about the empowering representation of women, with the Globe and Mail exclaiming:

The models were not the undernourished, underage waifs typically seen at fashion shows.Instead, Fong sent women of varying shapes, sizes and ages down a makeshift runway that undulated in imitation of the Frank Gehry staircase overhead. The underlying message was that his clothes are wearable and accessible to a large swath of the Canadian female population.

Diversity on the runway has been slowly gaining mainstream momentum with labels such Chanel, Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier and Zak Posen casting models of varying ages and sizes in their most recent Paris shows. VAWK, however, has featured diverse models since its launch three seasons ago. We have been thrilled to partner with this leading luxury brand since their start and help them authenticity reflect their consumer while still staying true to their high fashion DNA. Photos Credit: Model Resource

61 year old Helen in VAWK S/S 2011


My Role Model: Moji

August 6, 2010

Moji in an image from her portfolio

Moji is a woman whose confidence and radiance makes you believe in yourself as soon as you meet her. As the winner of our Every Woman Search, her positive energy, passion for fashion and fierce catwalk strut inspired the judges and audience alike. But what makes Moji so special — and makes her my role model — is her commitment to her community and her belief that fashion is a form of self-expression. She works tirelessly with youth in the justice system to help them realize their full potential. Her attitude towards fashion reminds us that fashion is not about trying to look like someone else, but it is about expressing your personality, playing with fabrics and having fun. Reading about her experiences of discovering, challenging and redefining beauty inspired me to always be me … and to have fun with fashion while doing it; I know it will do the same for you.

As a young girl growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, my light skin, light brown eyes, gangly figure, flat chest and bottom went against the accepted norm and ideal representation of a black person and an African for that matter. I was teased constantly but my older sisters always told me that I was pretty and special which gave me the confidence to face all challenges head on.

My parents always dressed well and my entire family had a love for shoes. Although we didn’t have much, what we had was quality. In my neighborhood, I was the first to wear trousers and a men’s shirt with the tail un-tucked (compliments of one of my brothers). Within a short period, my fellow neighbour girls started to wear trousers; to the chagrin of their parents. I have always had a sense of fashion and the statement fashion conveys about an individual. One must not be afraid to make a statement in a tasteful and classy manner.

I arrived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1978 with plans to attend college. I was admitted to the Radio Arts program in Lethbridge where I continued to amaze my classmates with my fashion sense. I always came to class wearing a dress or dress pants (never jeans) and had my hair styled differently five days a week. Many foreign students were shocked by what they perceived as either bravery or stupidity.

At the time, a black female with an accent studying broadcasting in Alberta was unheard .  There were individuals who advised me against perusing broadcasting because they believed that no one would hire me, it would be a waste of my time and my foreign tuition fees. Regardless of the naysayers, I completed my diploma and acquired a job at a radio station. After six weeks of employment I was “let go” once the owner found out that I was black. Instead of being discouraged, I enrolled at the University and earned a BA in Sociology. I have not, nor will I stop learning and achieving.

Back in Calgary in the late 80s, with three small children and a full time career, I entered the Mrs. Calgary Pageant contest. Surprisingly, I made the top ten but a career in modeling as a black person was not meant to be. This was due to the restrictions that were placed on what constituted the present ideal beauty, the industry and media at large. Nonetheless, I have never allowed restrictions to define who I am or who I can become.

A few months ago, Sharon Cornwall of Fashion Has No Borders Expose in collaboration with Ben Barry Agency put out a call in search for the “Every Woman” Competition. One of my children entered me in to the competition. Initially, I was reluctant to participate thinking that my modeling days were over. My daughter reminded me that she has never seen me shy away from challenges or adventures before. With this reminder, I decided to investigate the criteria further. As soon as I found out the criteria for the competition…..individuality, confidence, charitable, beauty and inner strength….I decided to embrace the challenge and have fun while at it. I love having fun regardless of what I’m doing.

On March 20th, 2010, at the BMO Centre in Calgary, Jeanne Beker of Fashion Television announced the winner of the competition. Out of 1400 applicants, I was chosen as “The Every Woman” winner. I now have the realization that my fashion and beauty journey from Nigeria has come full circle to being chosen and represented by the Ben Barry Agency: An agency that promotes all people, cultures and challenges the status quo concept of beauty.

After meeting in person with Ben Barry, I know that I’m ready to embark on a new adventure and possibly a new career. Whatever happens happens, I’m ready to have fun modeling and live life to the fullest because we all have only one life to live.

My message…..Go ahead! Take chances, go where you’re not suppose to go, do what you’re not suppose to do and dare to be different, if you wish.

Moji in an image from her portfolio

Every Woman Search

March 23, 2010

Jeanne Beker announces Moji as the winner of our Every Woman Search

On March 20th, we were delighted to announce that the inspiring Moji was selected as the winner of our first Every Woman Search with Fashion Has No Boarders at the BMO Center, Stampede Park in Calgary. The event, hosted by Fashion Television’s Jeanne Beker, invited women who had never modeled before to bring their personality, character and lived experience to the runway and model in a fashion show. From hundreds of applicants, a group of judges selected ten finalists of a variety of sizes, ages, and backgrounds and taught them how to strut the catwalk and celebrate their own beauty. All of the women who entered serve as role models for each of us. Moji’s story, character, and fierce catwalk inspired and empowered the judges. Immigrating from Nigeria at age 19, she has spent her years in Canada teaching life skills programs to Nigerian teens and working with The Immigrant Women’s Society, The Congress of Black Women in Calgary, and the YMCA Minority Achievement Program. We are honoured and thrilled to welcome her as our newest model at the agency.

Winner of our Every Woman Search Moji

My Role Model: Cathy

March 9, 2010

An image from Cathy's portfolio by Felix Wong

My work to promote diverse media images is only half of the effort; the other comes from the women and men we represent who have the courage and confidence to re-define our visual culture with each flash of the camera and step on the runway. They serve as the ambassadors for this new movement of beauty that reflect and represents all of us — and their stories and positive energy inspire me daily. Given their important role in my work, I have decided to launch a new series on my blog that profiles our models, introducing you to the women and men behind the pictures. I have called the new series “My Role Model” because that is how I think of fashion models; they are role models that should empower us. In each post, I will introduce you to the person profiled, and then, in their own words, they will share  their experiences in life and motivations to model. Each person has a story; I want share their stories because they are as inspiring as the way their images change the wallpaper of our world.

I am delighted that the first role model is Cathy Iadinardi from Montreal. I met Cathy last year via social networking shortly after she was selected as a finalist for Canada’s Next Top Plus Model Search presented by Addition Elle. I was immediately captured by her confident and soulful spirit that I saw translated to her pictures, whether professional or candid with her friends and family. When I had the opportunity to meet her in Montreal, I saw her spirit in-person and immediately asked her to join my agency in Toronto. I am excited to work with Cathy; I know she will inspire people through her courage to listen to herself and speak her mind.

I’ve struggled the fluctuations of my weight for as long as I can remember. I started my first diet when I was 11 and worried about how I might lack acceptance from others because of the weight. At that age the seeds of self-hate are planted and it becomes very difficult to steer away without the proper guidance. Everyone woman in my family struggles with their weight, so weight loss and appearance was a huge presence in my upbringing. I made excuses for myself not to achieve certain goals, be more productive with myself. I stopped myself from enjoying life, doing things that a normal adolescent girl would do. I dreaded the changing rooms at department stores to the point that I avoided shopping malls all together. I struggled with binge eating disorder and by age 17 my weight escalated to 320lbs and found myself spiraling down as my self-esteem diminished. I lost myself in this whole process.

I finally woke up one morning and had enough. I felt in my heart I needed to do something drastic to get my life back. I booked a plane ticket to Africa when I was 19 and left the country for 6 months. The experience shaped and shifted my perception on life; it helped me grow as an individual and also helped me get my life back on track. I noticed right away how differently people’s mentality was. Strangers say hello to one another on the street, they were content with what little they have and another shocker… curvy women were PRAISED. Curves were a sign of health, wealth and sex appeal! Upon my return, I took it upon myself to lose weight and most importantly promised myself to approach the endevour it in a positive and healthy way. I made it a point to love myself and do things for myself that would feed my soul. I read beautiful books, took mediation and yoga classes, surrounded myself with positive people. After 3 years I dropped 100lbs.

I am now a healthy size 14/16 from being a size 26. I have never been happier; however I would be liar if I said I don’t battle with “fat girl demons” from time to time. They come and go, and its a price to pay while living in North America, to be bombarded and subjected to weight loss pills and gimmick on top of gimmick that is just brainwashing people, adolescent girls especially. Becoming a model has been an exciting and extremely fulfilling experience and has also assisted my journey to self-acceptance. Adolescent girls need more positive messages about weight, self-esteem and body image issues. North American women spend way to much time criticizing the way they look instead of using that precious time to feed their spirits with beautiful experiences and self exploration. Hopefully I can be a positive role model and aid in the healing of negative body image.

An image from Cathy's portfolio

Someone for Everyone

March 1, 2010

Debenhams' ad campaign featuring model diversity

The models in Debenhams' ad strike a pose in front of their poster

The models in Debenhams' ad strike a pose in front of their poster

Debenhams has continued to celebrate the diversity of their consumers. Last week, the UK department launched an advertising campaign for their Principles fashion line that features models of a variety of sizes, backgrounds, and abilities. By celebrating women of all abilities, the chain became the first UK fashion retailer to employ a model who uses a wheelchair in an advert. Michael Sharp, Debenhams’ Deputy Chief Executive, said: “We cater for women of all shapes and sizes, young and old, non-disabled and disabled, so we wanted our windows to reflect this choice.” Debenhams says that it is committed to using disabled models in other photography; a second photographic shoot is being organized.

While there has been much debate over the inclusion of size diversity in fashion, the incorporation of women and men of a variety of abilities has remained absent in the media. In my fight for diversity, I have always included abilities as one of the positions in the movement for diversity in fashion. In 1998, when my agency held a model search in Ottawa, we selected Joe Radmore, who uses a wheelchair, as the winner of the search. That same year, the brilliant Alexander McQueen used model Aimee Mullins, with two specially carved wooden, prosthetic legs that he had designed, in his London Fashion Week show. All of these efforts are important steps in diversifying fashion, but it is important to recognize that  models of different abilities that have been incorporated into fashion to date have represented the singular and accepted size, age, and racial beauty standard. To be truly groundbreaking, fashion needs to use people of diverse abilities who are also of a variety of sizes, ages, and backgrounds in their adverts and on their catwalks.

Debenhams reminds us all that we must continue to push, with courage and conviction, for people of all abilities to be incorporated into fashion advertising and on the runway. Fashion and style knows no size, no age, no background, and no ability; they are open to our definitions and re-definitions because the most important runway is not the catwalk in New York or Paris, but the sidewalk in our neighbourhood where we breath life into the clothes – whether we strut, limp, or wheel.

Winner of the 1998 Ben Barry/Billings Bridge Model Search Joe Radmore

Model Aimee Mullins who stared on Alexander McQueen's runway


The seven models who participated in the fashion show to launch the Charter

On October 16th, 2009, I was delighted to join the Quebec Government and members of the fashion industry to launch The Quebec Charter for a Healthy and Diverse Body Image. Eight months before, I was hired by the Government as a special advisor to help develop and draft the document. We developed the Charter through consultations with professionals from fashion, health, education, Government as well as those with eating disorders. We also debated and discussed various drafts of Charter with a committee composed of members from these various sectors until we achieved consensus.

The Charter proposes a vision for a society that values body diversity and identifies seven principles for industry, media and regulators to follow in order to help make it reality. Through the seven principles, we are all challenged to act as agents of change to help free ourselves and each other from self-limiting beauty stereotypes. Aside from helping develop the Charter itself, my particular touch was launching the Charter with a fashion show featuring seven models of different sizes, ages, and cultural backgrounds to show the vision in practice. Over the next year, I will join the Government and other professions on a committee to help the spirit of the Charter take hold through the industry and other sectors.

Here is a copy of the Charter:

Québec Charter for a Healthy and Diverse Body Image

The body image presented in the public sphere and the media influences self-image, self-esteem, and, indirectly, public health. We recognize that beauty ideals based on extreme slimness can harm self-esteem, particularly in girls and women. We believe that eating habits and weight loss practices are influenced by biology, psychology, family, society, and culture. We encourage partners from all fields—governments, community organizations, and corporations—to work together to help diminish social pressure in the interest of a healthy and egalitarian society. We believe that with their vitality and creativity, the fashion, advertising, and media sectors can provide leadership and exert a positive influence over the public. We want to follow the international trend in the fashion industry towards awareness campaigns on problems related to excessive preoccupation with weight, anorexia, and bulimia. We are determined, at the instigation of the Minister of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women, to collectively contribute to drafting this charter and launching a common call to action to promote a healthy diversity of body images.

We, the undersigned, therefore pledge our support for a vision of a society in which body diversity is valued and, in consequence, undertake, as part of our respective missions, to

1. Promote a diversity of body images, including different heights, proportions, and ages

2. Encourage healthy eating and weight control habits

3. Discourage excessive behavior with respect to weight loss or appearance modification.

4. Refuse to subscribe to esthetic ideals based on extreme slimness

5. Remain vigilant and diligent in order to minimize the risks of anorexia, bulimia, and unhealthy concerns about weight

6. Act as agents of change in order to promote healthy and realistic practices and images regarding the body

7. Promote the Québec Charter for a Healthy and Diverse Body Image to our partners, clientele, and colleagues while actively adhering to and respecting these principles


Acclaimed author Rebecca Walker (Black White Jewish, One Big Happy Family, Baby Love) shares her thoughts on women’s magazines and feminism:

How do you think mainstream girls/women’s magazines have impacted “modern” feminism?

Girl’s/Women’s magazines impact women positively and negatively. They provide a sense of community, a location for fantasies of glamour, a shared generational visual language, a heightened appreciation for fashion, and content that is relevant and helpful for girls and women, i.e. articles on breast cancer prevention, body-image issues, and the plight of women in other countries.

However, the magazines are often at odds with their own goals of befriending the reader. If they define beauty in a limited way-white, thin, rich, overly-sexualized, and objectified-sometime magazines manufacture in girls and women a desire to alter ourselves, or, even worse, to question the worth and fabulousness of our own (i.e. not white, not thin, not rich) lives in comparison to those portrayed in the magazine.

And because models don’t speak, their fabulousness is all about how they look, not how they feel. The reader begins to see herself that way, to focus more on the external, “Do I look okay?’ than on the internal, “Am I okay?”

That said, as a reader of women’s magazines, I believe women can have an interactive relationship with a fashion glossy. The reader does not have to be a passive absorber of the messages of the magazine, but can pick and choose, based on their level of insight, which ideas and images to integrate into their consciousness.

Readers can also read/look with a sense of irony and critique, changing the material into a piece of cultural matter to be engaged and partially rejected, and not mindlessly shaped by. This line of thought is consistent with the Third Wave idea that women are not only victims, but agents in our own lives; our work as Third Wavers is not just to diminish victimization but to amplify agency.

What do you think of the direction that these mainstream magazines are headed in? Negative or positive and why?

Mainstream magazines depend on advertising dollars to survive, which is why the magazines reflect so directly the interests of those advertisers. Make-up, pharmaceutical cosmetics, fashion, etc., will continue to claim more pages, and meaningful, unsubsidized content will continue to fall away unless there is significant intervention.

As media empires are driven toward healthier trends by consumers-like green products and conflict-free diamonds-I believe we will see some positive change. Supporting the Dove campaigns for Real Beauty is one way to apply the needed pressure for change. Dove is having an incredible impact on women, girls and the industry at large by expanding the standard of beauty in their models, and initiating dynamic public discussion about the right for women to feel good about themselves as they are.

Is there a counter balance to whatever effects these particular mainstream magazines have? Any examples?

Women have to take responsibility for loving and accepting ourselves, period. There is an old Langston Hughes poem about a woman looking for her reflection in a sink full of dirty dishwater. We will never see ourselves if we keep looking to the wrong places for glimpses of our beauty.

We live in an amazing moment. Never before have there been so many incredible women at our fingertips. From Frida Kahlo to Anais Nin, Yoko Ono to Angela Davis. With a simple Google search we can see some of the most brilliant and fashionable women in the world. These women of history should become our magazines, our friends, our mentors across time.

Other measures for counterbalance include education: readers should know who profits from the magazines and how the mags function as pieces of pop culture. Feedback about beauty and everything else should come from reliable sources that know and love us. Women and girls need to be involved in cultivating dynamic lives.

I am learning French, swim as much as I can, study Tibetan Buddhism, travel as much as possible, read, cuddle with my partner and son. There is so much with which to build a life filled with happiness. The magazines can be an alternate world, almost like a drug, that delude you into thinking that happiness is in there, in that make believe world, rather than out here, in the life you have. Not true!

Exposure to international standards of beauty is also helpful. In Mali a woman is not considered beautiful unless she has a large forehead. To realize that different cultures have different ways of defining beauty helps to understand that ours is also just cultural, just local, and not universal. This can be liberating.