Mod­el­ling gets real


Tat­toos, skin con­di­tions, love han­dles and nose rings.

It may sound like the crowd at a week­end farm­ers’ mar­ket, but it is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing the mix on cat­walks across South Africa.

At last week’s South African Fash­ion Week in Jo­han­nes­burg, the spot­light shone on the “flaw-some” trend of un­usual mod­els, many of whom were not typ­i­cally beau­ti­ful, tall and dan­ger­ously skinny.

But the in­creas­ingly wider in­ter­pre­ta­tion of beauty was not con­fined to this event, and South African de­sign­ers are said to be lead­ing the way in seek­ing “real” women for their clothes.

Kgothatso Dithebe, 22, known as Khoty on the run­way, said that when she started mod­el­ling she used to cover the birth­mark on her face and dye her hair black to look like the other girls, but this changed two years ago.

“I de­cided I’m go­ing to be my­self and I started ap­proach­ing agen­cies be­cause it’s been my dream to be a model,” she said.

“I was re­jected at first and most of the time I got lousy rea­sons. One of the agen­cies said I can’t com­pete with their girls, the other one said I would never get booked un­less I cov­ered my birth­mark.”

One fash­ion de­signer told her that au­di­ences would fo­cus on her in­stead of on the clothes.

“I de­cided to start post­ing pic­tures of my­self on so­cial me­dia and peo­ple would com­ment and say I’m beau­ti­ful,” Dithebe said.

“Through so­cial me­dia I was spot­ted by a guy called Andy and my first run­way was with Mercedes-Benz Fash­ion Week last year.”

Beauty deeper than skin

She said one of the peo­ple she looked up to was black Cana­dian model Win­nie Har­low, who has a rare con­di­tion, vi­tiligo, that re­sults in white, un­pig­mented patches of skin.

South African de­sign­ers Natasha Jaume and Ca­rina Louw, who trade un­der the la­bel Erre, said scars and other im­per­fec­tions were a def­i­ni­tion of beauty.

While the duo’s choice of mod­els var­ied, they said the brand cel­e­brated “the con­fi­dent side of be­ing fem­i­nine”. If a model had scars, es­pe­cially on her face, they were a sign of how she had sur­vived trauma and be­come stronger for it.

“Our de­signs are for women with curves. We cel­e­brate and en­hance fem­i­nine curves in­stead of as­pir­ing to the ‘skinny’ sil­hou­ette that di­min­ishes women power. We pre­fer more mus­cu­lar and curvy bod­ies as they ‘fill up’ our jack­ets and coats,” the de­sign­ers said in an e-mail.

Fash­ion Week di­rec­tor Lu­cilla Booyzen said: “The de­sign­ers choose their own mod­els and this is based on their mar­ket­ing strat­egy and who their con­sumers are.”

Booyzen, who founded Fash­ion Week in 1997, said South Africans had be­come “more in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic. There are more de­sign­ers, de­sign­ing for dif­fer­ent con­sumers and tar­get mar­kets, so the use of mod­els or char­ac­ters has changed from sea­son to sea­son. There is a global trend now to use every­day looks for the run­way.”

Con­sumer re­searcher Ni­cola Cooper said the trend to­wards “real” mod­els was in­flu­enced by so­cial me­dia, where all women were able to share their own unique beauty and it was in­creas­ingly ac­cept­able to be your­self.

“This trend is in em­brac­ing cur­va­ceous women, and women who were per­ceived as hav­ing flaws are now ‘flaw-some’,” she said.

Ice Model Man­age­ment di­rec­tor Jane Cel­liers said peo­ple re­lated to beauty in dif­fer­ent ways. “Shift­ing from the norm is not a new thing in the in­dus­try, it’s just that we’re see­ing it more now in South Africa,” she said.

“As an agency we go with what the clients want and clients to­day are look­ing for more street smarts than ‘the usual’.”

Kgothatso ‘Khoty’ Dithebe re­fuses to think of her birth­mark as a flaw.

Pic­ture: Alais­ter Rus­sell

A video of Thick­leey­once went vi­ral af­ter Fash­ion Week.

Pic­ture: Alais­ter Rus­sell

Kate Ep­s­ley-Jones spots her tat­toos on the cat­walk.

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