Charli Howard has been modelling since she was 17, after a friend sent her pictures off to agencies. She’s been relatively successful, working for beauty brands like Illamasqua and Vidal Sassoon, along with magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Cosmo. Despite her striking looks and small frame she claims her agency (which she isn’t naming) dropped her, saying her weight and skin were a “problem”.
Howard didn’t take this lying down and penned a Facebook status update, which promptly blew up. “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 wrote. “I refuse to feel ashamed and upset on a daily basis for not meeting your ridiculous, unobtainable beauty standards...”
“In case you hadn't realised, I am a woman. I am human,” she continued. “I cannot miraculously shave my hip bones down, just to fit into a sample size piece of clothing or to meet ‘agency standards’. And anyway, let’s face the facts: When I was 7 and a half stone, I still wasn't thin enough for you... Until (and if) an agency wishes to represent me for myself, my body & the WOMAN I've become, give me a call. Until then, I'm off to Nandos.”
Here Howard shares her story and tell us how the fashion industry needs to take stock, question its beauty standards and stop with its body-shaming bullshit.
“I wrote the article out of frustration and didn’t expect it to have the response it did. For a while, I’d noticed my anxiety was getting worse when I had to go into the agency. I dreaded being measured or having to take bikini Polaroids. If I was a bit bigger one day, or had spots (like the fun times I was measured on my period), they’d turn down jobs until I'd lost it again – which is hard for a woman, when your body changes naturally throughout the month. I'm not a child. As a result from the stress and nerves, my skin was constantly breaking out.
Secondly, supermodels like Cara began coming forward to speak of the pressures they’d faced while modelling and how they were ill-treated. That certainly encouraged me to speak up. Like Cara’s psoriasis, my anxiety and stress led to my break-outs. It was an amazing step for someone of her status to come forward and speak openly about the problems she’s faced, when she’s quite clearly beyond beautiful – psoriasis, supposed “weight gain” or not. The pressures to look perfect are just too much to handle. People wonder why teenage girls are fucked up scrolling through Instagram all day and won’t take any responsibility for the images they’re selling.
My agency dropped me the day before I wrote it. They’d asked me to come in and chat, but I rang them instead. They said, “Oh, it’s a bit awkward talking about this on the phone”, as though dumping me in an office full of bookers would've somehow made it easier. They said they “appreciated” how much I’d tried to keep my weight down, but that my body and skin were a problem. I just thought, fuck it. My skin is never a problem when I'm not dealing with agency bullshit and when letting their ideals of beauty rule my life.
“The industry needs to stop using the same tall, skinny white girls as a way of selling fashion. That’s not exciting. It certainly doesn’t reflect the general public, or account for the vast amount of beauty in the world” – Charli Howard
It’s hard to keep up with what the industry defines as ‘beautiful’ anymore. Though I do think it’s changing, one minute we're told looking unique is in; the next, designers are sending the same type of girl down runways. There needs to be a balance. Beauty ideals are hard to get right as they're continually changing. You will never be too thin, too pretty or too individual enough.
The industry needs to stop using the same tall, skinny white girls as a way of selling fashion. That’s not exciting. It certainly doesn’t reflect the general public, or account for the vast amount of beauty in the world.
Models like Winnie Harlow and Ashley Graham are killing it right now, so why are agencies not representing more non-white or curvaceous models? They clearly work. They’re bright, intelligent and striking women with a voice. If that’s the current beauty ‘ideal’, let’s encourage that.
It’d be great to get sexy, healthy 90s supermodel bodies back. Their bodies were a defining moment in fashion. They went down in history. And they were what, a size 10? Do you honestly think a size 10 model would get that level of work now?
The industry is a complete white-wash. Why the hell was London Fashion Week full of white girls parading down the catwalk? Where were the models representing the non-white girls who buy those clothes or read those magazines? Stop using black and Asian girls as ‘tokens’. They’re just as beautiful and will sell just as many clothes.
Be braver than me and state to your agency that you will work at the size you’re happiest at. If you’re unhappy, choose happiness. Life’s too short. Being a model does not define your beauty. It certainly won’t make you happy. Also, remember that fashion is a dream world. It’s a place for you to escape to, but not take too seriously. Appreciate it like it’s art, and leave it at that.
We have reached out to Howard’s former agency and will update this post should we have a response.
Follow Ted Stansfield on Twitter here @ted_stansfield