Category: Think/Act/Reflect

Call To Action: Support Women of Nepal

On Saturday morning, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Kathmandu, Nepal, causing massive devastation across the country. A landslide that occurred on Tuesday afternoon further compounded the chaos and devastation. At the time of writing this post, 4,800 people were pronounced dead and over 9,200 were injured.  While there is plenty of media coverage highlighting expat women from Canada, Australia, and the United States surviving the quake, few media outlets have honed in on the experiences of Nepali women.

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Image courtesy of Xinhuanet

In addition to needing food, water and shelter, there is a dire need for emergency medical care. With overcrowded hospitals and a decimated healthcare system, many pregnant Nepali women are giving birth in unsanitary conditions and without support. Initial estimates of the damage place losses in the $10 billion range, a figure that nearly exceeds the country’s GDP. With Nepal’s economy already on shaky ground, it’s doubtful that critical health and social programs will return any time soon.

Feeling galvanized to hop the next flight to Kathmandu? Please don’t. Plenty of trained professionals are collaborating on the ground and volunteers frequently just get in the way. However, these programs do need money to function. Fortunately, Good Magazine compiled a wonderful list of ways you can help from home. Organizations like SOS Children’s Village and Save the Children provide assistance to families in need and help children who have been separated from their families. The U.N. World Food Program and International Medical Corps offer food and medical care to those affected by the earthquake. Not in a position to donate money? That’s okay. Help map the extent of the disaster by tagging media online through Micromappers. Friday marks the start of May, so if you resolved to make a monthly donation, consider helping Nepal as it rebuilds.

Boston Marathon 2015: 48 Years of Long Distance Women

Today’s post will be brief so it does not distract you from the real event of the day: the Boston Marathon. Just watching the footage live makes my heart beat faster: the chilly weather, the slick roads, and the huge crowds out there encouraging the runners mile by mile. I remember how emotional I was last year when, a year after the infamous bombing tore across the finish, I toed the start. I tear up when I hear the announcers talk about how Shalane Flanagan, an elite runner who grew up outside of Boston, said she would give up all her other running accomplishments if she could win her hometown race. To all my young ladies out there, watch this race and get inspired.

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Image courtesy of Deadspin.com

Don’t forget that 48 years ago, women were not allowed to run long distances because it was considered “too dangerous.” After all, women were fragile flowers, so there uterusus might fall out if they exerted themselves so strenuously. I never tire of watching Kathrine Switzer’s episode of Makers. As the first woman to register for and complete a marathon, Switzer describes her experience of registering with her initials to mask her gender, wrestling with race director Jock Semple as he tried to physically eject her from the race, and coming to terms with the critical importance of her participation. No one should ever have to prove themselves to defend their own gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., but I’m so glad Switzer (and Bobbi Gibb, who bandited the race in 1966) gutted it out. It’s the reason Melody, Kate, Katie, Marie, Rebecca, Beth, Stephanie and the rest of my North Brooklyn ladies can compete today. Best of luck to everyone running and enjoy the day!

Body Image On Film: The Focus Group

According to comedian Sara Benincasa, stories are important. And she should know; she tells plenty of them. Benincasa earned a degree in creative writing and put it to work as a citizen journalist during the 2008 election. During this time, she gained media attention for her video shorts satirizing vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Soon, she expanded her scope to include more comedic projects, including a talk show where she interviewed comedians in her bathtub, a one-woman show chronicling her experience with panic attacks and agoraphobia, and a storytelling show that she recently performed in Oslo, Norway.

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Photo courtesy of Sara Benincasa

For her latest project, The Focus Group, Benincasa plays a 5’3,”175 pound 34 year-old who decides to “focus group” her body to make herself more attractive to men. She will also executive produce, write, and co-direct the film with her friend, Adam Wirtz. She also caught then attention of some other heavy-hitting feminists: Bad Feminst author Roxane Gay signed on to associate produce the film. With a solid team and financial backing from fans and friends alike, the project looks to be a great time.

Yet no endeavor is risk-free, and Benincasa plans to put a lot on the line. As she discloses in her Kickstarter video that she is no toothpick, and the very act of a woman getting naked on camera is seen as subversive if she’s not a size 2. Benincasa chooses to wrestle with her own body image issues in front of an audience, even if that means fueling trolls, because she wants to remind other women that they’re not alone in their struggles. And though she suffers from panic attacks, agoraphobia, and a host of other anxiety-based ailments, comedy allows her to embrace the fear and channel it into something creative and productive.

You can donate to support the project on her Kickstarter or follow her on Twitter to stay current with the project’s progress. Good luck, Sara!

Four Months And Counting: Waiting for Loretta Lynch

Maybe it’s the Emergen-C or Theraflu talking, but I’m a bit confused about why it’s taking so long for Hon. Loretta Lynch to be confirmed as U.S Attorney General. While Lynch received the nomination 124 days ago, she has yet to receive confirmation from Congress. How does this wait stack up against Attorney Generals of recent years? Let’s take a look.

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Image courtesy of DailyKOS

So what’s the hold-up? While Lynch has taken some heat for defending the President’s immigration policy, she served as a prosecutor in Eastern New York for years and maintained such a clean record with law enforcement that even Rudy Giuliani is clamoring for her confirmation. Her moderate politics are a step away from Eric Holder’s, making her more appealing to Republicans who dislike the current Attorney General’s relationship with the White House. Yet Democrats admit that instead of pushing the nomination forward when they had the chance, they chose to focus on other things. Now Lynch’s fate hangs in a gridlocked bipartisan balance that won’t budge until April.

So maybe it’s because they’re occupied passing legislation that cracks down on sex slavery? Oh wait, they didn’t get to that part of the agenda, either. If I had known that using spring break as an excuse would get me out of finishing work in college, I might have done things different. This delightful dance of willful procrastination speaks to a larger issue of frustrating obstructionism in Congress. Senators: whether you’re for her or against her, Loretta Lynch is a qualified candidate that deserves your attention. Stop playing Musical Chairs and make a decision.

Time to Vote: Women on 20s

What do the United Kingdom, Argentina, India and the Central African Republic have in common? These countries all print women on their paper money. While the United States features Sacagawea (and formerly Susan B. Anthony) on the dollar coin, it has yet to feature a woman on paper currency. According to an op-ed by the brilliant Gail Collins, the last woman on any paper-based United States currency was Martha Washington. If you weren’t around to witness it in 1886, Ms. Washington’s face graced the back of a silver certificate along with her husband’s. Meanwhile, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant and Franklin continue to run our wallets. But lately, this shortcoming is becoming more noticeable.

While our currency may not have changed in the past two hundred plus years, our perceptions of them have. Jefferson was a slave owner and racist who used pseudoscientific platitudes to bolster his opinions. Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law, robbing native tribes of their land and confining them to reservations. Why not swap out a founding father with a checkered pass for a woman who’s an all-around boss?

Enter Women On 20s, the brainchild of Barbara Ortiz Howard and Susan Ades Stone. The pair took President Obama’s comment about women on currency and ran with it. With plenty of input from scholars and the general population, they compiled a list of 100 possible candidates for the first round. (In order to be considered, the candidate must be deceased for at least two years.) Candidates were judged based on their contributions to society and the obstacles they faced over the course of their lives. Here are the first 15 of the primary voting round:

Alice Paul (1885-1977): Paul spearheaded the United States suffrage campaign that won women the right to vote. After securing the 19th Amendment, she spent the next two decades heading the National Woman’s Party and fighting for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Betty Friedan (1921 – 2006): The author of The Feminine Mystique later became the first president of the National Organization of Women. Widely considered a founding mother of the feminist movement, Friedan led her supporters in the fight for reproductive choices, job opportunities, and equal rights.

Shirley Chisholm (1924 – 2005): This New York Congresswoman became the first black woman candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sojourner Truth (C.1797 – 1883): Born into slavery, Truth later became an abolitionist and a feminist; she later escaped to freedom with her infant daughter. Truth went to court to reclaim her son, becoming the first black woman to win this kind of case against a white man. Her critical speech, “Ain’t I A Woman,” addressed the racial divide and exclusion present in feminism.

Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964): Carson’s book, Silent Spring, spearheaded the environmental conservation movement in the United States. Her influence led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the banning of harmful pesticides.

Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005): Parks’s refusal to yield her bus seat to a white patron may have kicked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but her commitment to the movement ran much deeper. Throughout her life, Parks was an active member of the NAACP and even collaborated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., himself.

Barbara Jordan (1936 – 1996): As a Congressional Representative and a civil rights leader, Jordan’s career highlights boast a series of firsts. She was the first black person to win a seat in the Texas State Senate following Reconstruction; she became the first southern black woman to become a Congressional Representative; later, she was the first black woman to speak at the Democratic National Convention. To honor her fantastic career, Jordan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966): As a nurse and reproductive rights activist, Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States and laid the foundation for modern day Planned Parenthood. In spite of arrests and jail time, Sanger continued to educate people about birth control and encourage conversations about sexuality.

Patsy Minsk (1927 – 2002): This third generation Japanese-American became the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress. Over the course of her career, she served her home state of Hawaii and sought the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972.

Clara Barton (1821 – 1912): Barton worked as a teacher, patent clerk, and humanitarian, but she is best known as the nurse who founded the American Red Cross. During the American Civil War, she fought for permission to tend to soldiers on the front lines.

Harriet Tubman (C.1822 – 1913): After escaping a lifetime of slavery, Tubman made thirteen return trips on the Underground Railroad to usher her family and friends to freedom. She served as an abolitionist, a feminist fighting for women’s suffrage, and a Union spy during the American Civil War.

Frances Perkins (1880 – 1965): In 1933, Perkins was elected U.S. Secretary of labor, becoming the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Cabinet. During her tenure, she oversaw the implementation of the New Deal, fought against child labor, and encouraged measures that helped women join the work force. Perkins remained in office until 1945, the longest period anyone has held the position.

Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906): As a suffragist, feminist, and abolitionist, Anthony circulated anti-slavery petitions and was arrested for voting in her home state of New York. Anthony’s efforts led to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, winning women the right to vote.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962): This longest serving First Lady was a diplomat and activist in her own right. In addition to helping implement the New Deal, Roosevelt’s efforts encouraged women to join the work force and aimed to classify racist acts like lynchings as federal crimes. After WWII, Roosevelt became the first United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Elisabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902): Stanton fought for the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage with her friend and colleague, Susan B. Anthony. (That’s all the time I’m going to give Ms. Stanton, because she peppered her later writings with a lot of racist language. #themoreyouknow.)

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All images courtesy of Women On 20s.

The voting process consists of a primary phase followed by a final voting round. You can vote in the primary now through the Women on 20s website; over 100,000 people have already cast theirs. Frustrated that your number #1 candidate didn’t make the cut? Let them know; the campaign has inspired countless conversations about who deserves the spot. The New York Times already invited columnists to support candidates or suggest others that they deem worthy.

It may seem like a small notion, but as LeanIn.org editor Jessica Bennett notes, “You can’t be what you don’t see.” Putting a woman on paper currency acknowledges and honors their contributions to the country and the world. The more votes the campaign receives, the more traction it has. And the buck doesn’t stop in the United States; the campaign inspired women in other countries, like the United Arab Emirates, to hypothesize about which women they’d like to see on their money. So vote today; your choice may have more impact than you think.

The (In)Equity of Womanhood

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and, at every turn, social media hummed with that favorite buzzword, “equality.” But as I learn and grow as a feminist, I tend to favor “equity” over “equality.” When we talk about equality, we tend to talk about similar treatment across the boards. Equity acknowledges that not everyone is the same and actively working to fill in those gaps to even the playing field. Teacher Amy Sun penned an excellent article about how her experience as a classroom teacher impacted her feminist viewpoints. Equal pay, in particular, is a recurring topic. Women are paid, on average, 78 cents for every dollar that men make.

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Image courtesy of UNA Gender Crosstalk Initiative

Yet, as Audre Lorde so aptly reminds us, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate these differences.” Too frequently, cries of equality tend to homogenize differences between women.  It is important to note that women of color experience a larger gap and that it may be more acute depending on the state. If there is already variance within this pay gap inequality, will a broad “equal pay” initiative actually address these differences?

Here’s where equity comes into play. The concept of equity tends to make people uncomfortable. After all, this is the United States, the great melting pot, right? But this idea that everyone is born with an equal shot at success grossly ignores the country’s history of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Fighting for an equitable pay gap solution, for example, acknowledges that some women hold low paying jobs because they don’t have access better paying opportunities.

Salon writer Brittney Cooper revisited this subject recently as she explored rifts between white feminists and feminists of color. Cooper explains, equity and justice focus on meeting needs and not just giving them lip service. Under this framework, equity acknowledges that prejudices and disadvantage are deeply ingrained in the culture and works to counter their affects. No one’s getting a leg over anyone else; instead, it’s about systematically targeting societal failings so everyone can access the same opportunities. In the pay gap example, it’s worth wondering what impact helping women at the low income end of the pay scale could not only have on the affected population but on the wider community.

This week, the United Nations begins a session centered around Gender Equality. But when I heard a radio news piece on the session, the reporter used the term “equity.” I hope the General Assembly knows the difference between the two and works towards comprehensive solutions that help women rise.

Get J to Graduation

Most of Lady Collective’s posts generally fall into two distinct camps: critique or praise. We either celebrate awesome women doing cool things or call for change when society fails to deliver on false promises of equality and justice. But today, I offer you a mission, an opportunity to actually make a very tangible impact in one person’s life. In this particular instance, the person in question is my dear friend, Jannelle Page.

sistersJannelle, if you don’t know, is Lynnese’s sister. I feel like I’ve known her forever; back in the day, she took the bus up from NYC to visit us at Wheaton. When we came in to visit Lynnese, Jannelle always came, too. When we graduated, Jannelle and her mom, Cat, trekked up to celebrate with us. I remember that day as Cat proudly introduced us to the rest of their family; she beamed with pride as Lynnese received her diploma.

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But Jannelle’s road to college has been quite different. She originally planned to leave the city for school. But in 2009, her plans radically changed when Cat had a massive stroke. Surgeons did not expect her to make it, but she pulled through and is still with us today. However, she requires a tremendous amount of attention and care. Through it all, Jannelle managed to juggle caring for her mom, attending classes, doing homework and holding down a job. In spite all of these obstacles, she made it to the last hoop.

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Therein lies the problem. While Jannelle completed all the requirements for her degree, she still owes Hunter College an outstanding balance of $1,585 in order to get her bachelor’s degree. Between medical expenses and monthly bills, the financial burden seems a bit too much to bear. But that’s where you come in. If you’re like us, and you’ve resolved to donate a bottle of wine’s worth of cash a month, I cannot think of a better recipient. Jannelle has the biggest heart and a great deal of determination; she is also fiercely independent and rarely asks for help. With all the work she’s put in to her education, she most definitely deserves our support.

Sit Down/Stand Up

In the wake of the post-Oscars wave, there’s been a lot of talk about Patricia Arquette and her rousing acceptance speech. After receiving the award for Best Supporting Actress, Arquette thanked her family and friends and then went in on equal pay for women.

Patricia Arquette. Photo courtesy of ABC News

To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

Her words received a thunderous applause and animated shout-outs from Queen Meryl herself.

Backstage, Arquette had more to say to reporters.

It’s time for women. Equal means equal. The truth is the older women get, the less money they make. The highest percentage of children living in poverty are in female-headed households. It’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t. One of those superior court justices said two years ago in a law speech at a university that we don’t have equal rights for women in America and we don’t because when they wrote Constitution, they didn’t intend it for women. So the truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America right under the surface there are huge issues at play that really do affect women.

And then she kept going:

It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.

Many women of color and members of the queer community expressed their frustrations at the limiting nature of that final sentence. Can you be a person of color and a woman? Can you be a lesbian and a woman? Do trans women factor in at all? If you strip out the gay community and women of color, who’s left besides straight, white women? Arquette’s words prompted criticism on Twitter from the likes of Morgan Jenkins and Roxane Gay.

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Judging from her post-Oscars remarks, it appears that Arquette did not intend to marginalize queer or feminists of color. But when called on the carpet about her comments, Arquette Tweeted back:

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Yet, in this case, privilege is exactly the point. Francesca Ramsey curates a fantastic set of YouTube videos about privilege, racism and intersectional feminism. In the video posted below, Ramsey breaks down the fallacies and realities surrounding this touchy word:

“Privilege does not mean that you are rich, that you’ve had an easy life, that everything’s been handed to you and you’ve never had to struggle or work hard. All it means is that there are some things in life that you will not experience or ever have to think about just because of who you are.”

Yet Gay and Jenkins voiced their opinions in a way that could really benefit Arquette in the future. They’re not arguing against equal pay like Stacy Dash, who told rudely Arquette to bone up on her history and bogusly mentioned President Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act in 1963. (With no mention of Kennedy’s further speech upon signing or modern day realities of the very real pay gap, I don’t have the time to unpack how off-base this statement is.) Instead, they told Arquette that her comments made them feel marginalized, like they didn’t fit into her definition of womanhood.

While many supporters quickly came to Arquette’s defense, it’s important to view the criticism in a broader context. If we look back through history, white feminism tends to ignore other identities under the banner of “all women.” This legacy exists today and dismantling language that excludes racial identity and sexual orientation isn’t just about surface level politically correctness; it’s about recognizing that you can be both a victim of societal oppression and benefit from privilege simultaneously. “All women” is a lovely, idealistic goal, but it’s not the reality; Arquette may have intended her speech for all women, but her post-Oscars aside did not support her previous statement. As Ramsey explains, “It’s not about your intent; it’s about your impact. So when you get called out, make sure you listen, apologize, commit to changing your behavior and move forward.”

There’s a time to speak up and a time to listen; I hope in this case Arquette takes Ramsey’s advice and does both.

Still Waiting: Oscars 2015

When the Academy announced this year’s Oscar nominations, I felt the way I did about 2015’s Grammy nominations: unsurprised yet somewhat disappointed. But with friends in the film, theater and fashion industries, I felt compelled to watch the events unfold. Our group text fired back and forth commentary on outfits, interview questions and winner predictions.

 

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Ava Duvernay. Photo courtesy of Relevant Magazine

Perhaps my disappointment stems from wanting to hear more stories. After all, the collection of nominees represents the whitest Oscar group since 1998 and the fewest number of women directors, with women directed only 4.6% of major studio released films last year. Much like cracking into any cutthroat industry, a major barrier to women directors is studios’ attention to past experience. When hiring for a big budget film, a director’s box office record and past experience with major films figures prominently. Instead of taking a chance on new talent, studios frequently return to old favorites, maintaining the status quo and creating a catch-22 for women who want to move up. The notion that there are absolutely no women interested in directing a super sized blockbuster or a superhero film seems slightly improbable.

Women make up 52% of movie audiences, but it doesn’t mean that women directors must exclusively tell stories about women. Ava Duvernay is a great example; she wrote and directed Selma, a $20 million biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet in spite of being the first black woman director to receive a Golden Globe nomination, she did not receive an Oscar nomination. Organizations like the Alliance of Women Directors support and mentor up and coming directors, but when it comes to cracking the Academy or the executive board, the results are usually pretty safe. Studios may bizarrely justify their choices by saying women are less capable of managing and handling risk than men, but if they keep pulling from the same shallow pool of talent, who’s really afraid to leave their comfort zone?

NYFW F/W ’15

Working in Lincoln Center, I have the privilege of a bird’s eye view of fashion week. Most of the time, that’s just starting at the top of the tent from my window, but my morning commute gets more interesting every February and September. Out on the plaza, fashionistas preen and pose for fledgling bloggers and established industry media. New York’s streets are always a fashion show, but Fashion Week kicks it up an extra notch.

In addition to the press surrounding the collections, there’s a lot of talk about this fashion week’s “diversity.” It’s a term that’s thrown around a lot lately but too frequently gets appeased by tokenism; instead of casting the net wide, it’s common to cherry pick a handful of representatives to check a box and stay on trend.

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Winnie Harlow. Photo courtesy of Refinery29

As a black model with vitiligo, 20 year-old Winnie Harlow dealt with plenty of haters growing up. But after appearing as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model,  her flawless beauty caught the attention of Desigual and Diesel. She’s still working towards her ultimate goal: landing the cover of Vogue. If her showing in New York is any indication, it won’t be long until that dream becomes a reality.

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Jamie Brewer. Photo courtesy of Bustle

During Carrie Hammer’s show at Lightbox, Jamie Brewer became the first model with Down’s syndrome to hit the runway. The American Horror Story actress joined other high powered business women like Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant and Microsoft’s Director of Social Good Programs, Wendy Norman. Hammer figured that her line of sophisticated business wear would look best on real life lady bosses; I’d have to agree.

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Megan Silcott for Nina Perdomo. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News

Other shows featured models with prosthetic limbs, in wheelchairs and using walkers. Antonio Urzi of FTL Moda partnered with Fondazione Vertical, an Italian nonprofit supporting research on spinal cord injuries, to send a whole fleet of non-traditional models down the runway. Yet perhaps my favorite moment occurred during Nina Perdomo’s show. The Academy of Art designer featured Megan Silcott, an 18 year-old currently recovering from Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis. Three years ago, the disease left Silcott paralyzed from the neck down, but that didn’t stop Silcott from taking her turn on the catwalk. As she rounded the final turn, the next model seamlessly strode down to take her place.

Taken as a whole, I’d say these small changes are a good first step. So much of fashion is about imagination and the fantasy behind it. But if, according to an analysis of the S/S ’14 season, 79% of models are white, then what exactly does that say about this desired fantasy world? It smacks of the same flawed logic as those who argue that a hobbit, a storm trooper, or Annie can’t be anything but white: in an imaginary place, these limitations on appearance live only in a person’s mind.

Perhaps this homogeneity reflects what’s behind the runway: only 12 of the Council of Fashion Designers of America‘s 470 members are African-American. It seems premature to deem the entirety of this season as incredibly diverse; rather, small pockets of people embraced a broader swath of the population. At any rate, this focus on diversity stems from cultural demands reaching far outside the boundaries of fashion. From television and films to government and business, a growing number of people want to see a broader representation of society.

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FTL Moda/Antonio Urzi. Photo courtesy of MindBodyGreen

But it’s unclear as to whether or not the industry as a whole recognizes that it is, in fact, a tiny microcosm of society. With the expiration of its lease in Damrosch Park, Fashion Week must find a new home come September. If a New Yorker on the street can’t buy a ticket, the city says, its exclusivity violates the terms of using public land. Limited access leads to an insular environment and less opportunity for change, but some major players are speaking up. Say what you will about Kanye West, but his vision for Adidas stretches well beyond the fashion world’s narrow definition of beauty; a self-proclaimed “Robin Hood of fashion,” he wants clean lines and sleek style to be accessible to everyone. His show featured a fleet of models with wide ranging aesthetics, not as branding tactic but because his posse reflects his target audience: actual humans. For West and other like-minded designers, moving away from an army of seven foot tall beige 16 year-olds just makes sense. It’s not a trend; it’s a movement, and the resulting inclusion will never go out of style.