As the fashion industry grapples with changing norms and mores a new breed of model is helping redefine the parameters of beauty presenting an alternative to the staid and outdated blueprint of yesteryear. No longer content with a production line of homogeneity cocooned in ennui, models such as Clémentine Desseaux are challenging convention and slowly making inroads in an industry desperately in need of an alternative. Together with co-founder Charli Howard the All Woman Project continues to make strides toward diversification and acceptance.
Tell us about how you got started as a model.
I started this as a hobby back in France. I was trying to do something a little different and make extra money while studying. I didn’t think it would take me this far.
What challenges did you face starting out in this industry?
It was hard starting out in France because plus size modeling barely existed. Jobs were scarce and people did not see us as models. We weren’t treated the same. I actually did not like my first few jobs at all. I thought to myself why am I here many times. It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. and worked for American clients that I started enjoying this.
Why do you think the fashion industry has been so hesitant to diversify?
Because people are scared of change in general. Why try bringing something new to the table when what you already have is working just fine? Change takes efforts and sacrifices along the way. It also takes visionaries who know there’s something more to be found. We’re still working on change every day and diversity is one of them.
How has the conversation around body acceptance and diversity changed since you began working as a model?
Oh it changed tremendously. It’s now a trend, which is good and bad. It’s good because everyone is now part of the conversation. It’s bad because whenever the trend is over the conversation might be over too. It’s our role to make sure the trend becomes a real part of our society and stays current until it doesn’t need to be mentioned ever again because it would have become normal to be diverse. There is still a lot of work to be done.
What does diversity look like to you?
Diversity is including all types of beauty regardless of age, size, color or gender. It takes a different shape depending on the industry and company but most brands are global and so are their target customers.
As global obesity rates continue to climb, the media continues to perpetuate thinness and whiteness as the ideal. Where do you think the disconnect comes in?
America is a land of extremes. We promote extreme whiteness and thinness to people who are dying from consuming bad food made from artificial ingredients and full of saturated fats. It’s all about measure and balance. Making the ads less unrealistic while improving the health issues the people are having is the way to go for me. It’s all related.
What changes would you like to see the fashion industry implement to address this issue?
I’d love to see our fashion leaders take risks and stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again. We now know that bad messaging in fashion magazines has ruined many a girls self-esteem and is responsible for a lot of women’s issues with their self-worth. It created food-related issues and distorted the image a lot of women had of themselves. Both are related to portrayals of unrealistic body images. Why are we still seeing cover lines such as The Most Extreme Diet of the Year or The Best Beach Bodies of the Summer or Lose 10 lbs in a Week all over the press? It’s time the media took responsibility and actually helped women feel confident, self-satisfied and empowered. We’ve had enough.
I spoke with Charli (Howard) last year about The All Woman Project you both started. Can you tell us about the feedback you’ve had about the foundation.
It’s been a great ride. From a single campaign we created to denounce the lack of diversity of fashion, month people began to talk about it, which led to a series of campaigns with amazing partners and turned into a full-blown charity last year. We’re now starting to organize our school program in order to bring diversity and self-love to schools country-wide and hopefully soon world-wide with a European campaign planned for this summer to reach girls over there too. We just landed our first ever beauty collaboration with our friends at BABOR collaborating on the packaging design. We’re launching our first clothing line collaboration in a month and getting ready for our Women’s Day campaign. There’s a lot in the works! Let me know if you know any volunteers that can help.
What message would you like anyone reading this to take away?
That they are enough. They have the potential and they don’t have to fit in to achieve anything on their vision board.
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