As a mixed race (albeit white passing) baby girl born a Georgia peach and raised all across the lovely south, I remember the first two, and very distinct, moments I felt seen and represented in the world at large.
The first was when the cartooned Mulan battled gender stereotypes across the Disney screen, and the second was when I watched Alex – or rather “the Asian Charlie’s Angel”/Lucy Lui – kick aallll kinds of bad guy butt (and in killer outfits, mind you) as a super spy in what would quickly become my favorite film. My friends would point and say, “it’s you!”… and of course it was. In their eyes, and in mine, there wasn’t anyone else I could be because there was no one else that looked like me.
Later, of course, I realized that neither Disney Princess-Warrior nor Charlie’s Angel were real jobs (the last I still believe is yet to be determined, Charlie call me plz and ty) but alas, the lack of diversity in the world around me remained very, very real.
As an awkward teen with dreams of being in the fashion industry, I would stare in awe at models in glossed magazines and think – I will never be that. My eyes will never NOT disappear when I smile; I will never be tall; My nose will never be thin; I will never be beautiful.
For years, from TV screen to fashion industry – the world has been overwhelmingly white. The push for diversity (of color and of size) in recent years is a push for inclusivity. It’s a push for little girls and boys of color to see that their roles in life aren’t limited to their TV’s narrow reflection of reality or stereotypes. That their features, Eurocentric or not, are unique and beautiful.
In response to an article calling out the fashion industry’s blatant lack of inclusivity, Robin Wallis Atkinson, CEO and Creative Director of NWAFW says, “It’s our job to do better. At NWA Fashion Week we strive to showcase more than just one type of body or face. Diversity doesn’t happen if you don’t push for it – and making sure that message is heard loud and clear up and down the chain of command is important.”
And sure enough, NWAFW has been hard at work putting their money where their mouth is.
In NWA Fashion Week’s last fall show, every bit of 4’11”-tattooed-imperfect-me walked the runway (look there, little girl’s dreams DO come true) for designer Sara McGuigan of Love Zelda, whose mission to showcase the strength and beauty in diversity rings true throughout her line.
This year, with Mad Girls Mag, I sat front and center at the Spring 2018 NWAFW – watching beautiful men and women, of beautiful size, color and age, walk the runway.
Is there still work to do? Always. Are we making progress? Always.
Read on for some beautiful bits from some of the beautiful people who walked in this year’s Spring 2018 NWA Fashion Week:
“Modeling was something I always wanted to do, but at the time I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I found my confidence and decided to go for it. I’m so glad I did because I’ve met amazing people since joining NWA Fashion Week.” – Gelynda Johnson
“I’ve always loved being in front of the camera and being able to share some small piece of myself with the world. When I’m modeling I feel confident and fierce. It’s a beautiful feeling that every woman deserves to feel.” – Geylin Castillo
“Fashion Week is like a family. Everyone comes together as if we’ve always known each other, even the newcomers. Everyone is accepted and it’s a great feeling to be a part of something bigger than myself. It’s amazing how we all work together – from hair and make up to designers and models. It’s truly an unbelievable experience to watch it all come together.
The talent that Arkansas has is incredible, too. And we all love working together – from all over the state. Nothing feels like a competition, and that’s what allows us to all come together. Our shared goal to rid creative boundaries is what makes NWA Fashion Week great.” – Merrick Cole
“Being a part of NWAFW was an amazing experience! I had the opportunity to meet so many unique people who all had a love for fashion. Walking on the runway gives me so much confidence, and NWAFW allows me to do all of it right here in NWA – the place I have grown up and lived my whole life. That means so much to me.” – Tabatha Taylor
“I started modeling five years ago when I got scouted in Dallas. Before that, I wasn’t even thinking of modeling – my dream at the time was to be a pro fighter. Since modeling, I’ve met so many amazing people and I’ve had the opportunity to travel to awesome places. I love it.” – Huey Nguyen
“The modeling industry is so competitive but the people involved are absolutely amazing. I cannot stress enough how many wonderful and talented people I have met over a year and a half of modeling. There are so many opportunities and I absolutely love being a part of something that showcases all the amazing talent here in Arkansas.” – Hannah Wall
“NWAFW is one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. Being around so many talented and absolutely beautiful people draw me to the show – the energy is like nothing else. A lot of us are like a little family and it’s truly a blessing to share the stage with such a gorgeously eclectic group of creatives. I try to ‘live deliciously’ and being a part of Fashion Week helps me do just that.” – Shane White
“I had never really thought about modeling until one of my close friends started pushing me to get out of my comfort zone and get in front of a camera. I fell in love with photography and the the idea that each picture has a story behind it. When I heard about runway, I started thinking about how amazing it would be to put a story into movement.”- Caleb Nichols
“Being a part of fashion week was a dream. I never thought I would be able to walk on a runway but NWAFW has given me that dream. As an artist, being around so many creative and driven people was inspiring. NWAFW is a wonderful thing. ” – Rowen Bolonsky
“I’ve been modeling since I was about 17. Now that I’m 20, I have been in this business for 3 years in Arkansas. Getting to the know the loads of photographers, models, hair/makeup artists and creative directors has been the most valuable and rewarding thing. The connections I’ve made have gone further than business and photoshoots. These people are my best friends. My people. Fashion week is like a family reunion. It’s beautiful to be a part of – the love and energy is so palpable.” – Saralyn Marie Hellstern
“I started modeling about four years ago and I love that it’s brought me out of my comfort zone. The energy from a runway show is so amazing and I truly enjoy the chaos behind the scenes. This was my second time participating in NWAFW. The volunteers are fantastic and each designer brought their own unique style. I can’t wait to see what fall brings.” – Brogan Stafford