These women have gone from making fashion statements to also making social and political statements when walking the runway, showing us that #RepresentationMatters.
Pink pussyhats, complete black or white ensembles, yellow vests and pantsuits—what do they have in common? Each has been harnessed by people around the globe to make large-scale political and social statements. “The history of dress is a history of protests,” art historian Quentin Bell said in 1951—a statement that still rings true today.
Ahead of the United States 2016 presidential election, thousands of people across the country donned pantsuits of all different colours. Far from a coincidental fashion choice, the move was an impactful protest through clothing, wordlessly highlighting their allegiance to then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—famous for her signature pant suit style.
Celebrities and fashion designers holding international renown and millions of followers have the unique power to make individual fashion choices that spark global discourse and can create positive impact. Here, we highlight four people harnessing their uniqueness in the fashion industry to create a more diverse society.
Supermodel Kate Moss’ daughter Lila Grace Moss graced the runway in early October, closing Milan Fashion Week with a big statement: her insulin pump on her thigh, visible below her Fendi and Versace bodysuit and jacket.
Moss has type 1 diabetes—the less common form of the two types of diabetes, found in just 5-10% of diabetics in the United States. The condition occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to keep the blood sugar at a healthy level, and as there is no cure, insulin pumps or daily insulin shots are needed to ensure the body gets the energy it needs.
Moss first shared that she had diabetes in a 2020 interview with The Kit, and while she hasn’t publicly spoken up about her decision to showcase her insulin pump on the runway, the statement was met with an outpouring of positive comments on social media. One user stating, “You are truly so inspiring thanks for showing the world you can do anything and more even when you have type 1 diabetes. (From a mother with a son with the same illness).”
Rising to fame in 2014 as a contestant on TV show America’s Next Top Model, Winnie Harlow has since grown to become one of the biggest names in the business. Harlow, who was diagnosed with vitiligo at four years old, has also been a key player in creating a more diverse environment in the modelling industry. Vitiligo is a long-term skin condition where pale white patches develop on the skin, caused by a lack of melanin—the pigment found in skin.
Harlow says her rise to prominence in the modelling industry is “all to be able to tell, no, show the world that representation matters. That beauty is within the eye of the beholder and no one's definition of beauty should matter but your own.” As a child, Harlow experienced such severe bullying that she was forced to drop out of school—an experience that she later told CNN helped her learn to love herself despite what anyone else thought of her.
Her work advocating for awareness and acceptance of vitiligo is already having a visible impact. Model Shahad Salman who has the same skin condition told Vogue that she used to not “feel good” about herself and didn’t like the way she looked, but “Winnie was the person who gave me the confidence to fight… I feel that now I, too, can inspire other girls from the Arab world.”
Indigenous model Quannah Chasinghorse, made global headlines when attending the Met Gala this year, themed ‘Americana’. Chasinghorse, whose Indigenous ancestry is both Hän Gwich’in (from Alaska and Canada) and Oglala Lakota (from South Dakota), celebrated her heritage on the red carpet with the aim of bringing true American culture to the event. “Native American culture has been appropriated and misrepresented in fashion so many times,” Chasinghorse told Vogue. “Reclaiming our culture is key—we need to show the world that we are still here, and that the land that everyone occupies is stolen Native land.”
She wore a billowing metallic gown complete with piles of turquoise and silver jewelry, which Chasinghorse explained, paid homage to her years living on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. “The turquoise jewelry represents protection, guidance, and love in Navajo culture.”
Chasinghorse’s face tattoos, called Yidįįłtoo, also work to redefine modelling standards while educating the wider public about Indigenous traditions. The tattoos are hand-poked by a woman to commemorate events in one’s life, and for Chasinghorse, these tattoos are visible on her chin and the corners of her eyes. She shared that wearing the tattoos makes her feel “empowered” because she knows that by doing so, she’s able to continue a tradition that was “meant to be erased”.
BERNADETTE BELLE WU ONG
Bernadette Belle Wu Ong, this year’s Miss Singapore, decided to use her televised moment at the Miss Universe pageant in Florida to share an important message: Stop Asian Hate. Wearing a bedazzled red bodysuit and red boots, Ong was draped in a cape of red and white—an ode to the Singaporean flag, while the back of the dress revealed the words ‘Stop Asian Hate’ along the long train.
Ong’s powerful statement came in the midst of an alarming escalation in xenophobia and racism targeting Asian people globally—fuelled by discrimination due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On Instagram she wrote, “what is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence! Thank you #MissUniverse for giving me this opportunity! My national costume is inspired by Singapore’s National Flag—it symbolises unity for all and social harmony in a multi-racial, multi-cultural and inter-religious country.”
NIKKIE DE JAGER
YouTube star and renowned makeup artist Nikkie de Jager walked the carpet at this year’s Met Gala in a gown of soft blue tulle adorned in flowers. Written along a bow on the front of the dress were the words ‘Pay It No Mind’—a nod to revolutionary trans icon and activist Marsha P. Johnson. The quote was considered Johnson’s go-to response when questioned about their gender. Johnson’s activism in the 1960s and 70s had a significant and long lasting impact on the LGBTQ+ community, and they also earned the title "The Saint of Christopher Street'' due to the kindness and support they showed towards New York’s LGBTQ+ community.
“I knew I wanted to pay homage to a trans icon who was at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots… Marsha P. Johnson paved the way for so many of us, and I hope I made my community proud tonight,” Jager wrote on her Instagram. Jager came out to her 12 million YouTube subscribers as trans in January 2020, hoping it would “inspire little Nikkies around the world who feel insecure, who feel out of place, who feel misunderstood” to commit to “live your life like you wanted and the way you deserve."