The swimwear line We Are Handsome debuted a brand new activewear collection for men and women on a tennis court in Sydney at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia this week.
Let’s take a quick roll call of the non-models, shall we? There was the former champion pole vaulter: Amanda Bisk, the ballerina: Juleit Burnett, and the Instagram-famous yogi: Sjana Earpwalking through the smoke in their fresh kicks carrying sports equipment.
Marie Claire praised this as an example of body positivity (entirely possible,) claiming that they were following the example of France’s ban of too-thin models (unlikely.) It shouldn’t be surprising that a new activewear brand exclusively using athletes instead of models would lead anyone watching to conclude that this was 1) different and 2) inspiring. But being anti-model, pro-athlete, and anti-everyone else is tricky territory when you’re doing a runway show for empowerment purposes.
One half of the We Are Handsome design duo, Katinka Somers, explained the casting this way:
We’re all just regular girls, I think that we’re helping to promote a healthy body image. Fitness isn’t one shape or size, so we’re empowering one another and celebrating every single, shape, size and sport, she told the Daily Mail Australia.
There’s a big thing about “who should be on the runway” so we know we’re breaking rules by having girls that have never been on a catwalk before (and who are nervous about it).
About who should be on the runway. Most of the time, it’s your garden variety “thinspo” models. But these are “fitspo” athletes with commendable achievements. These women are still doing their mega thin, totally babalicious thing, but they’re seemingly stronger than your typical runway models and the rest of us.
Editor at Take Part, Samantha Cowan had an issue with celebrating this show as body positive. She wrote,
“These toned “non-models” don’t differ too greatly from those ordinarily featured in fashion shows and have bodies that are still a far cry from that of an average woman.”
She went on to say that making the lean kind of athletes the only visible athletes can actually cause unhealthy behavior.
Messages of fitness paired with lean athletes can have the opposite effect of the healthy ideal they allegedly promote.
Furthering her case, she cited a recent study in Australia. Researchers showed glorious images of fitness models with encouraging messages about all the things everyone could do. But even though the photos didn’t zero in on abs made of stone, they only made the study participants feel, YOU CALLED IT, like miserable sacks of potatoes.
Obviously for most people, the We Are Handsome athletes aren’t pillars of strength through which beacons of hope shine for us all. Particularly with a sporty show like this, when women who work out religiously, but aren’t so small are absent, it can be problematic. Some women feel that not only are countless healthy bodies overlooked, the message is that they’re all less powerful. Of course, if this show wanted to take a crack at being truly representative, we would have seen a gymnast using prosthetics.
Even if lifting Bulgarian bags doesn’t give you the arm pits of a ballerina, this show could be viewed as body positive if you stop counting the body fat. Perhaps it succeeded in celebrating achievement, even if wasn’t everyone’s.
Is this brand successful in challenging the oppressive runway standard that fragility is more feminine than strength? Is this a dangerous way to perpetuate the myth that only skinny people are healthy? Is this We Are Handsome show body positive or not?