We all know our cultural beauty standards are pretty skewed. From the whitewashing of people of colour to the marginalization of those who don’t conform to a specific body type or shape, gender identity, or sexuality, it’s fair to say current beauty standards are far from realistic, or empowering.
But one new modelling agency is on a mission to change all that. Enter: Zandwagon. Co-founded by Kavyon Zand and Deborah Spencer in summer 2017, the agency is founded on a few core principles: moving away from conformity, embracing individuality, expanding ideas of beauty, and empowering its talent. And their signed models reflect that, encompassing a broad range of ages, ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities and body types and shapes.
The troubling nature of skewed beauty standards is so well-documented by now, it’s easy to forget there’s good work to be done in reclaiming them, and creating ones that embrace the true diversity of, yknow, actual communities.
There’s been debate recently on particularly toxic practices, like Photoshopping models to within an inch of their life, and brands charging consumers more for larger-sized garments, bringing to the fore just how far off-track we are in terms of healthy body image. But Zandwagon wants to help change this.
With the wonderful Insta bio, “Breaking beauty standards one booking at a time,” it’s clear they’re well on their way. Zand opened up to Teen Vogue about the inspiration behind the agency, and his own struggles. Being Persian-American, and queer, he knows personally what it means to fall foul of the fashion industry’s narrow idea of beauty, and shared that he’d been told to lose weight numerous times, and lost jobs because he looked “freaky.”
Another model of the Zandwagon stable, Jacenne, who identifies as genderqueer and is Korean-American, faced similar barriers in the more mainstream part of the industry. “Most people don’t like my tattoos, and if they see you’re Asian, they want you to belong to a certain conservative stereotype, like being able to speak Chinese.”
2018 we are scouting and bringing on the fiercest and most inspirational talent. Excited to welcome Mariana. ZW: “Do you identify with labels, if so which ones?” M: “They used to be very important to me when I was still figuring things out. I’ve grown more comfortable in my personhood in the last couple of years so labels have become less about describing how I feel and more what my experience in the world has been. I’ve had to navigate life as a person of color, Afro latino, a disabled woman, and as a lesbian.” #breakingbeauty #zandwagon #latinomodel #queermodel #personalstyle #effyourbeautystandards #amputee #afrolatino
But it’s all change at Zandwagon — they even encourage their models to do their own makeup, giving them full creative freedom to express themselves. And recently, Forbes covered their focus older talent — the over 50s. Think about that for a moment… can you name a model over 50 that isn’t Maye Musk?
It’s a powerful mission, and one Zand is committed to. “At the end of the day we’ve realized we can’t just create one ideal or what is healthy and what is beautiful. We have to be inclusive — beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. That’s what it comes to.”
It seems big brands may just be beginning to get the hint. Last year Asos launched an inclusive beauty campaign to launch their makeup line, showcasing models from across the age, race, and body type spectrum.
And yet, it’s not about the differences for their own sake — Zand is keen to emphasize, it’s the honesty and authenticity that’s at the heart of their mission; people having space to honestly be who they are, no matter how different, is the key. As Zand so eloquently states, “Everyone’s an individual. What it comes down to is being able to let that curtain down and show the world who you really are. That’s what’s truly relatable and inspiring. Come, be yourself, and tell your story.”