Diversifying fashion, one selfie at a time

Snap, crop, filter, hashtag, post. Basic steps to posting a selfie.

But in Ben Barry’s fashion theory and concepts class, taking a selfie has only two steps: snap and post.

As an assignment for class, Barry challenged his students to take a selfie and post it on Twitter or Instagram — without a filter or pose.

Students had to post their “honest selfies” on social media and caption their pictures with a statement about what they like about their bodies.

“It’s the panorama of the people you see on the street who actually buy clothes. These are the people who should be presented (in fashion)” – Barry

The selfie assignment is part of a bigger effort by Barry and the rest of the school of fashion. They are trying to chip away at how fashion has traditionally been marketed.

In the past couple of years the program has altered its curriculum to demonstrate to students the advantages of diversifying the industry.

While diversity of body image has been addressed through movements like the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty launched in 2004, diversity includes race, age, size, status, orientation and more.

Diversity is reflective of the things that make us individual.

However on runways, magazine spreads and billboards the fashion industry has pushed for the ideal to be the tall, slim, heterosexual white model.

“It’s the panorama of the people you see on the street who actually buy clothes. These are the people who should be presented,” Barry said. “It’s you and (me).”

Barry preaches diversity and equality in fashion for both ethical and monetary reasons.


In Barry’s 2012 study he showed 2,500 women, between the ages of 14 and 65 and ranging in size 0-18, an array of mock fashion advertisements. The ads featured models of differing size, race and age – all wearing the same Diane Von

First-year fashion design student Sarah Spooner is currently enrolled in Ben Barry’s fashion class.  (Kyla Dewar/Ryersonian Staff)

First-year fashion design student Sarah Spooner is currently enrolled in Ben Barry’s fashion class. (Kyla Dewar/Ryersonian Staff)

Furstenberg wrap dress.

His research revealed that when women saw models that reflected their characteristics, intention to purchase increased by 200 per cent.

“The way you feel about your body when you look at an ad is the way in which you feel about that brand,” Barry said. “If you see an ad and feel beautiful, you’re going to want to shop and celebrate your beauty.”

In her first year, fourth-year fashion student Carly Cumpson never linked the industry to an ideal woman of a certain height or ethnicity — until she heard Ben Barry speak at an event. “I never would’ve thought of these things,” she said. “Everyone should be thought of.”

Innovation and diversity is integrated into classes like fashion and society, history of fashion, introduction to fashion, and fashion theory and concepts.

The school’s hands-on approach is evident in lectures, as students train their diversity muscles through interactive assignments like “honest selfies” and through challenging projects aimed at condoning diversity and creativity in design.

This year’s Mass Exodus fashion show will also promote diversity in models, including a 70-year-old model walking the runway. Cumpson said that the typical age for Mass Exodus models is 18.

Global Advisory board member of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, Sharon Haywood, said she’s impressed with how forward thinking Barry and the Ryerson fashion program are.

“Ryerson is leaps and bounds ahead of other fashion schools,” Haywood said.

Earlier this school year Haywood spoke on a panel for Diversity Now, an event Barry started at Ryerson about three years ago.

“By opening up the conversation with fashion students, now (there’s a) real possibility to shape (the) fashion world into something that is more diverse, which is healthier for consumers and society,” Haywood said.

Although much of the industry still uses traditional aspirational marketing tactics, it isn’t losing any money, Barry said.

“It’s always easier not to change, especially if there’s not a problem. Because the industry is (still) making money, people consider (change) a risk,” he said. “I think change will happen when the next generation of leaders in fashion enter the industry. When students of Ryerson take the reins they will change the way in which we see fashion.”

Below is a photo gallery showcasing some of the “honest selfies” students in Barry’s class took and posted on Twitter:


This story also appeared in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feb. 11, 2015.

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