The fashion industry was brought face-to-face with its narrow standards of beauty this London Fashion Week, through a unique collaboration between the photographer Rankin, designer Steven Tai and the charity Changing Faces.
The Portrait Positive project, conceived by Stephen Bell, challenges perceptions of beauty through a series of striking images of 16 different women with visible facial and bodily differences.
Shot by Rankin and dressed in designs by Steven Tai, three of the women from the portrait series took to the catwalk in Steven Tai’s presentation at London Fashion Week on September 16th.
The Portrait Positive images have been collated into a book of the same name – proceeds from the sales of which will go to support Changing Faces’ work across the country. The Portrait Positive book will launch on Tuesday September 25th and will be available for purchase on the Portrait Positive website as well as selected stores, boutique and art spaces across the UK.
Changing Faces is the leading charity for 1.3 million children, young people and adults in the UK who have a medical condition, mark or scar that makes them look different. Approximately one in 111 people in the UK have a significant visible facial difference, despite being largely absent from representations in fashion and the media.
RANKIN said: “Living with a visible difference you are literally judged by your appearance and compared to what I think is a fake idea of what it is to be beautiful or even ‘normal’. The only way to shift this perception is to talk about it and face it head on. Our amazing subjects are dealing with these issues with grace, dignity and strength. It was an absolute honour to work with them and try to create a discussion around what it is to be beautiful. To me they are all unique.”
Becky Hewitt, CEO of Changing Faces said: “As a charity that supports people with visible differences, we are delighted to be part of a movement that challenges the way the fashion industry represents difference. We want to break down barriers and change the narrow view of beauty that exists in society, especially in the fashion industry. These amazing images by Rankin will help to address the stigma around ‘looking different’ and show that true beauty is about being proud to be yourself. We want to see brands, publications and designers work with real people of all appearances so that fashion is accessible to all.”
Three of the 16 women that took part in the shoot with Rankin shared their thoughts on being part of the Portrait Positive project;
‘The ethos of the Portrait Positive project is something I believe in. We need to challenge the fashion and beauty industry to be more inclusive of people who look visibly different. Confidence is when you accept who you are. The photoshoot with Rankin was fun and very exciting. Everyone looked great and there was such a positive buzz in the studio.’
‘It was my confidence rather than my scars per se that was weighing me down. I feel like this project is about giving permission to people to just be, and to look at ourselves in a positive light.’
Tulsi, Speaker and Pilates Specialist, Burns Survivor, London
‘Over the years I have learnt that being unique is something that should be embraced, not challenged, and being a part of Portrait Positive to bring that into a format that is accessible to everyone was an incredible experience. Society constructs concepts and rules about what makes a person ‘beautiful’, but that’s all it is—a construction, not a reality.’
Brenda, Children’s Entertainer and Business Owner, who has Alopecia, London
‘To be a part of a project involving visibly different models alongside fashion, photography and the arts is so refreshing. Hopefully it will open the eyes of people in many industries that diversity is important, especially for young people, to see it in the media. My personal goal is to try and inspire others to embrace their appearance, no matter what you look like. Fall in love with yourself using clothes and beauty to express yourself rather than hide away’
Catrin, Student,Motivational Speaker and Burns Survivor from North Wales
Changing Faces is the UK’s leading charity for everyone who has a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different. For over 25 years they have been providing advice and support, challenging discrimination, and campaigning for a world that respects difference.
At least 1.3 million children, young people and adults in the UK are estimated to have significant disfigurements, including 86,000 children of school age who have a visible difference.