Imagine a world where model beauty is possible for everyone, at every size and age; not only the young, impossibly tall, and anorexic. Imagine a world where business is carried out with integrity and drive to positively shape the future. Such is the world envisioned by Ben Barry, founder of the Ben Barry Agency and author of Fashioning Reality: A New Generation of Entrepreneurship.
Part autobiography, part discussion of the fashion industry, part feminism and part introduction to a new model of entrepreneurship, Fashioning Reality is a discussion of Barry’s struggles and victories in altering the way the fashion industry views models and women… and how much further there is to go in altering our myths of beauty.
Who Is Ben Barry?
At age 14, Ben Barry started his agency as a favor to a friend who had taken a class on modeling but could not find work.
Within months, he was representing a lineup of teenaged models. And then he learned that a female friend who shared his fascination with models and the fashion world had been hospitalized with anorexia.
Overnight, he was forced to consider the real impact of his work on the people in his life – and, in seeing the problems of the modeling industry, begin to discover a solution.
Modeling and Feminist Principles – Is there a Solution?
The Ben Barry Agency’s website opens to a line of stylized female symbols from sizes 2 to 14. The text begins, “She hates her freckles. She wishes she were blonde. She’s afraid she’s fat. She feels ugly. You may not recognize her, but she’s your customer.”
Fashion industry insiders who mentored Ben Barry and helped him to learn the ins and outs of the fashion world were seeking models who matched a formula: tall, white, impossibly thin, symmetrical of features, and no unique personality.
Barry, on the other hand, held on to a definition of beauty that went beyond this confining – and dangerous – beauty standard.
“The woman who posed for what is regarded as the most beautiful and alluring female sculpture in Western history, the Venus de Milo, wouldn’t make it as a model today: ‘Not tall enough, too big in the hips,’” writes Barry. “We’re off track; it’s time to get back and get real.”
A winner of Teen People’s “Twenty Teens Who Will Change the World,” Barry is intent on choosing models for vibrancy and personality in addition to stereotypical good looks. From the start, he filled his agency’s roster with models of all ages, sizes, and races, as well as the standard supermodels. While majoring in business and women’s studies at the University of Toronto, he began exploring more empowering postures and angles than the traditional model photo shoot.
Although Barry’s new paradigm was popular with his models and with runway audiences, it was (and remains) difficult to convince fashion insiders that their “formula” approach is alienating customers and endangering many women’s health.
One of Ben Barry’s big successes is Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” which features women of all races, sizes and ages in smiling, natural poses – though he admits in Fashioning Reality that, from a feminist standpoint, the Dove ads are far from perfect.
New Entrepreneurship: The Balanced Contract
The final section of Barry’s book discusses the potential for viable businesses to act as a vehicle for social change. He includes some how-to pointers for principled business-builders and profiles of eight other young entrepreneurs with the same desire to change the world through business, and do good business by doing good for the world. “There’s more than one route to a bottom line.”