Since her social media post about body diversity in fashion went viral in 2015, model Charli Howard has been on a mission to explore the big issues in the industry. Now, she’s sharing what she’s learned in a new BBC podcast, Fashion Fix.
It’s been four years since model Charli Howard made headlines by penning her empowering “f**k you” letter to the fashion industry on social media.
“Here’s a big FUCK YOU to my (now ex) model agency, for saying that at 5”8 tall and a UK size 6-8 (naturally), I’m ‘too big’ and ‘out of shape’ to work in the fashion industry,” she rightfully wrote. “I will no longer allow you to dictate to me what’s wrong with my looks and what I need to change.”
The post went viral and raised essential conversations and body image and diversity in the industry. A lot can happen in four years, but have we seen enough changes around these issues?
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“2015 wasn’t really that long ago, but I do think that fashion has really changed so much since then,” Howard tells Stylist. “Back then, the ‘body positivity’ movement wasn’t really in the mainstream, it wasn’t being discussed. There was still a huge pressure to be thin.”
Howard wrote the message when she was at the “end of her tether” and “couldn’t do it anymore”. But the response she received only helped to fuel the model’s mission to question the big issues.
Howard penned her memoir Misfit, which candidly tells her experiences of living with anorexia, bulimia and anxiety. She is also the founder of the All Woman Project, a charity which works with schools to educate about body image and mental health issues. Her 2018 novel, Splash, is a children’s story about a girl who dreams of being an Olympic swimmer. And, she is the owner of successful new skincare line, Squish Beauty.
Howard can now add “podcaster” to her resume, as she has just launched Fashion Fashion Fix on BBC Sounds. In the pod, the host examines diversity by retelling her own story and speaking with guests.
“Through this podcast, I’ve learned that there are people who are really trying to make an active difference. The industry has really come on so much since my post first caught people’s attention.
“A lot more brands are being called out if they’re not using models of colour or of different sizes. It’s just not acceptable to only use white, skinny female models. I met a girl called Mariah [Idrissi] who was the first model to do a campaign in a H&M hijab and discussed this with her.”
“And, because we now all have our smartphones, we can comment on pictures on social media if we don’t agree with something, so we can let the brands know. We’ve never had that space to interact with them and be vocal before. I talked about this when I met another model who made the Humans of Fashion app, which gives models the platform to have a voice. They can now speak up and say, ‘We don’t want to be sexually assaulted’ or, ‘We don’t want to be paid a year late’.”
The role that social media plays in conversations about body image has rapidly increased over the last decade. Although it is regularly viewed as a negative space, Facebook did give Howard the platform to share her message about why she left her modelling agency.
So, how does she feel about social media today?
“I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. Of course there are people on it who don’t use it for good, but all of us now have the power to control who we follow and who follows us.
“And it’s not like the old days when scrolling through Instagram felt like walking past a big billboard of someone who you will never look like. Brands are putting money into influencers now who represent every single shape, size and colour.”
One subject that Howard has changed her view on is the idea of body positivity.
“I’m more for body neutrality to be honest,” she says. “The overall messaging is good when it comes to body positivity but I do think it leads to a bit of competitiveness and it can be negative. I think neutrality is more inclusive and about accepting that not every day is a good day.
“Some days you’re going to feel bigger than others, that’s just life. Body neutrality is about not making your body the forefront of every conversation, which is how it should be.”
Another urgent issue that Howard explores on the podcast is sustainability in the fashion industry.
“I’ve learned tonnes about how I can be more aware of the things I’m buying,” she shares. “Also, the more sustainable methods we can use when it comes to clothing, such as renting, buying vintage and repairing clothes.
“My personal favourite eco-friendly fashion brand is Mother of Pearl, but obviously that’s for a bit more of a high-end market. Reformation and People Tree are great brands that are working really hard to be sustainable, too. But predominantly, I do think vintage clothes is probably the way forward.
“For the podcast, I spoke to a Bangladeshi ex child factory worker, and she went through some awful things. I also met street wear designers who are trying to be more sustainable and vintage clothes sellers.”
Howard will share more tips, personal experiences and conversations on body image and sustainability on her podcast. It’s a must for anyone who supports both movements – which is all of us, right?
Images: BBC, Getty