Why the fashion industry is behind the times – in more ways than one

It’s common knowledge that the world of fashion isn’t exactly open-minded when it comes to the definition of “beauty.”

With such a severe gap in the number of plus-size models (or anyone over a size zero) on the catwalks and on magazine covers, it’s no surprise that the fashion industry falls down in other ways, too.

A recent investigation by style site The Fashion Spot focusing on the number of people of colour featured on the covers of style magazines has highlighted just how difficult it can be for models to gain recognition if they do not fit the “perfect” ideals. In a survey of 44 major print publications from 2014, it was found that models of colour featured on just a fifth of covers during the year.

To make matters worse, certain magazines used only white models on their covers. Vogue UK did feature more than one group cover including models of different ethnicities, but writer Gillian Forbes noted that the magazine “hasn't featured a woman of colour on a solo cover in 12 years (Naomi Campbell got that honour).”

The piece was later updated to note that celebrity models including Beyoncé, Salma Hayek and Rihanna had featured on Vogue UK covers in the last 12 years, but that no other fashion models of colour had featured except for Naomi Campbell.

Of course, Vogue UK’s editors could argue that they are simply featuring the models of the moment, regardless of skin colour, weight or any other factor. However Gillian also notes that “one of Britain's most prominent and in-demand models, Jourdan Dunn, wasn't afforded a cover, despite her impressive body of work and overall popularity. Yet Cara Delevingne and Kate Moss were given two covers each… If a high-profile black model isn’t afforded a major cover in her own country, there’s a problem.”

Vogue UK is not the only magazine to be slated in the research – Vogue Russia, Paris, Ukraine and Teen Vogue also featured only white models on solo covers, as did Harper’s Bazaar US and UK. Coincidence… or selling tactic?

Fashion media has come a long way in recent years, but it’s disappointing to see these magazines fall down in such a big way.

It’s true that designers and publications are extremely strict about their choice of model – you just need to look at the body shape that dominates the catwalks to see that – but it’s distressing that the same strict decision-making might apply to something as basic as skin colour. Surely we have moved beyond that kind of small-minded thinking by now?

In this day and age, diversity should be a given, not something that is so glaringly lacking in so many industries.