Models shaking up the industry you definitely need to be following


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Models shaking up the industry you definitely need to be following

Because fuck your beauty standards

For much too long, the modeling industry has looked pretty much the same: Skinny, 18-year-old girls with shiny hair and little to no personality.  The ‘super skinny’ trend gained traction in the general public, which created a wave of health concerns including eating and mental disorders, spurring the demand for a change.

However, the industry has seen a dramatic shift in the past few years as the public demands more diversity and representation. People are now demanding more from brands and modeling agencies and models can be more transparent about their identity with their followers and rely on themselves instead of their brand for marketing.

There are now more and more models who look like and represent consumers as icons and role models.  Diversity in the beauty industry has created a new aura of independence and confidence, and these are just some of the women challenging what it means to be a ‘model’.

Sara Geurts

Sara Geurts has a connective tissue disorder called Dermatosparaxis Ehlers-Dalos Syndrome (EDS), meaning that her body does not produce much collagen, resulting in premature wrinkles.  While the 26-year-old model may look beyond her years, she does not let that stop her from loving her body.  According to a video produced by Bancroft TV, “My skin was my biggest insecurity, but now I think it’s just the most beautiful thing ever.”  When she reflects about how she used to view her body, she states that “it makes me so sad that I looked at it as this ugly thing at one point in time.”  According to Bri Berglund, Sara’s girlfriend, “it’s amazing to see how far she’s come… I couldn’t imagine her not modeling because she’s just so amazing at it.”

Madeline Stuart

Madeline Stuart is not only the world’s first model with down syndrome, but has also become a household name supermodel.  In 2015 after attending a Fashion Parade with her mother, Madeline decided she wanted to become a model.  She has now walked on runways in New York Fashion Week, Art Hearts Fashion Week, Style Fashion Week, Melange Fashion Week, Caspian Fashion, Runway Dubai, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week China, Birmingham Fashion Week, and Sunshine Coast Fashion Festival, just to name a few.  She has been featured in Vogue and in February 2017 launched her own fashion label, 21 Reasons Why.  According to her mother Rosanna, “the one thing I have always engrained in Madeline is to believe in herself and to never give up.”

Khoudia Diop

Khoudia Diop is a Senegalese model that used to be continuously teased for her dark skin tone.  It was not until she moved to Paris at age 15 that it was suggested that she take up modeling.  She now works with The Colored Girl, is an advocate for anti-bullying, and is working to create her own anti-bullying label and campaign.  Khoudia has also done multiple campaigns that draw attention to her Senegalese heritage and culture.  According to Khoudia, “one of my goals is to make all my dark-skinned sisters out there laugh at those mf with their ‘beauty standards.’  They’re nobody, noooobody, to tell you how you should look.  Keep glowing, queen.”

Melanie Gaydos

Melanie Gaydos is a 28-year-old art student from the Pratt Institute who was born with ectodermal dysplasia, a genetic disorder that can interfere with the proper growth of the hair, nails, teeth, skin and glands.  When she was a child, she had about 40 surgeries to correct her mouth, eyes, and ears.  Melanie is also partially blind and has no teeth, and refuses to wear dentures because, “Having teeth … just made other people around me feel better.”  According to Melanie, she became interested in modeling because “I knew that I was the only person who looked like me. I was the only person who had my sense of vision and such a unique way of looking at the world.”

Winnie Harlow

Winnie Harlow was discover on Instagram by Tyra Banks and subsequently competed on America’s Next Top Model in the 2014 season.  After being bullied in school, being called things like “zebra” and “cow,” Winnie went on to be featured in Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Vogue Italia, Ebony, and a Sprite commercial.  According to Winnie, the secret to her success is, “I loved myself.  And with that, opportunities started to fall into my lap.”

Jillian Mercado

Jillian Mercado is a Latina model of Dominican parents that also has muscular dystrophy.  Jillian has been featured in campaigns for Nordstrom, Target, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Glassbook, Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book, and the merchandise campaign for Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour.  According to Jillian, “I’m showing that having a disability doesn’t have to be ugly, and how it should be embraced. I wish I had that role model growing up, but to be that role model is great.”

Kanya Sesser

Kanya Sesser was born in Pak Chong, Thailand without legs.  After she was adopted and moved to Portland, Oregon, she used her high energy, strength, and unique abilities to take up a passion for sports and outdoor activities.  Now, Kanya has done both sports and lingerie modeling for Nike, Billabong, and Panty Prop, and is currently training to compete in mono skiing for Team USA in the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games.  According to Kanya, the reason she does modeling is because “It’s something fun and it shows my story.  I’m different and that is sexy.  I don’t need legs to feel sexy.”

Precious Lee

Precious Lee became the first African-American plus-size model to appear in Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue in 2016 and has also starred in Lane Bryant’s campaigns #ImNoAngel, #PlusIsEqual and #ThisBody. After a slow start to her career, Precious found that once she started being true to herself and modeling on her own terms, her career began to boom.  According to Precious, “Once I started sticking to my guns and trusting my own voice, that’s when everything started to click for me… Because when you’re truly connected to yourself, everyone around you can feel it.”

Ari Fitz

Ari Fitz has literally done everything – and has done it damn well.  A graduate of UC Berkeley, Ari worked in the tech industry with her own start up before she sold it at age 22.  After that, she went on to be a cast member at The Real World: Ex-plosion, a filmmaker, and a model.  According to Ari, “I am a woman who works as a model who uses her money to create the creepy horror films, who is also queer, also black, also is on national television, and I think that’s fun… Because I live on the outskirts of what you consider normal, it gives me even more power to be creative, to do something totally different.”  When discussing the creation of her films and the agency of the individual, Ari stated that, “You’re never going to see a woman who is just sitting and screaming, and not taking any action in my work, and that’s very important to me.”

Halima Aden

Halima Aden is a 19-year-old Somali-American who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya.  Not only was she the first Prom Queen in her high school to wear a hijab, but once she began attending St. Cloud State University, she was the first woman to compete for Miss Missouri USA to wear a hijab and burkini. As of February, Halima has walked for Yeezy in New York, and Max Marra and Alberta Ferretti in Milan, and will be a judge in the Miss USA 2017 pageant.  Halima has continued to make history by being the first hijab wearing woman to walk an international runway, be signed to a major agency, be on a Vogue cover, and be on an Allure cover.  According to Halima, “Not having somebody that you can look up to, it did affect me in a way. If I can give that opportunity to a girl, where she can flip through a magazine and see someone dressed like her, or someone who looks like her or has a similar background, I think that’s important.”

Bethany Townsend

Bethany Townsend was a make up artist and aspiring model when in 2010 she had to get fitted with two colostomy bags as a result of Crohn’s Disease.  After her bowel burst, Bethany thought she would not have the confidence to ever get back into a two piece bikini.  It was after she submitted a photo of herself to the Crohn’s and Colitis UK Facebook page that went viral that she realized “For me it’s just a picture, but to so many other people, it’s so much more.”  According to Bethany, “I felt like I finally had the confidence after three-and-a-half years of having them that I wanted to give other girls the confidence, the guys the confidence, to be like, we have nothing to be ashamed of.”


Creating diversity in the modeling industry creates strong role models for girls to look up to. Seeing strong women do whatever it takes to break down as many barriers and shatter as many glass ceilings as possible is inspiring.  These women teach us that with hard work, dedication, and a whole lot of self love, we truly can accomplish anything.