Celebrating imperfections

September 2014

Who decides what is ‘perfect‘, and what is not? Or one might say, what is beautiful and what is ugly? How can anyone decide on something that is so subjective? And yet somebody does. Our lovely intern Sara Hesikova investigates.

First of all, it is important to ask – what is imperfection? In The Oxford English Dictionary imperfection is defined as a fault, blemish, or undesirable feature, or also as the state of being faulty or incomplete.

The word perfect on the other hand, is defined as having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be or free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless in one word.

Every one of us has an idea of what is beautiful. Therefore we can identify what is ugly and see physical ‘imperfections‘, that don’t fit into the ideal of ‘perfect beauty‘. This ideal can vary with each individual but mostly it is influenced by the time, the part of the world and the culture we live in.

Fashion also has a big say in this matter. Especially in the Western culture the idea of perfection is forced upon us, sometimes silently, sometimes loud and clear, often by the fashion industry. From magazines to glossy adverts, from blogs to Instagram and Pinterest. Even if you’re not a dedicated follower of fashion, there’s no escape from.

Uniform ‘perfection‘ does get boring – and that’s when imperfection steps in and makes everything far more interesting. ‘Flaws’ could be seen as something different, something out-of-the-box, which, in turn, is something that we desperately crave and need.

The society along with the fashion industry have started to recognise that. Now many of even the most perfect people have those flaws.  Of course, by these perfect people mean models that are on the pages of those fashion magazines and adverts that sometimes make us feel inadequate. But if they have flaws that they themselves and the society are willing to embrace, shouldn’t we, you and me, start embracing our own physical imperfections?

This celebration of imperfection wasn’t born yesterday. One of the most popular supermodels Cindy Crawford has been gracing the pages and covers of magazines and catwalks all over the world with her “beauty mark“ since the late 1980s. The mole above her lip became her trademark ,even though at the beginning of her career it was retouched from some of her modelling pictures, and she even considered removing it because of the teasing she received from her peers and her sister. And yet her ‘imperfection‘ made her unique in the industry and made women with similar ‘flaws‘ relate to her; furthermore, she became their idol.

Some imperfections are even considered beautiful or sexy nowadays, but would have not been considered attractive in the past. A good example would be a gap between the front teeth, also called diastema. A lot of famous models, singers or actors and actresses including Lara Stone, Madonna, Vanessa Paradis, Lea Seydoux or Elijah Wood can be proud of having this beautiful flaw. In some African countries like Nigeria or Ghana for example, it is regarded as a sign of fertility and very appealing on a woman.

And what about freckles, which are today considered as attractive and ‘cute’ but were perceived as flaws in the history until the view changed during the 1970s?

Some even consider pale skin as a flaw because of the society’s emphasis on bronze tanned skin, seen on models such as Gisele Bündchen, Alessandra Ambrosio or Adriana Lima – even though both in Ancient Greece and Rome and in the Middle Ages in Europe, fair skin complemented by blonde or gold-red hair was the beauty ideal.

Medical conditions like albinism and vitiligo, both of which have to do with skin depigmentation, are also starting to be accepted even celebrated by the fashion industry. Vitiligo causes loss of pigment on parts of the body creating white patches spreading over time, whereas albinism causes an absence of any pigmentation at all from the moment you are born.

Albinism is much more and better known about which allowed African-American Albino models, such as Shaun Ross who walked his first runway show in 2008 followed by Diandra Forrest who started her career in 2009, to enter the world of modelling and become icons. In the past and in different cultures, albinos were believed to have magical powers. Or, in other regions were believed to be cursed.

Vitiligo, on the other hand, became a talking point only recently when Cheri Lindsay’s Dermablend Professional’s Camo Confession campaign video was published, where she removes her makeup, shows off her white patches and talks about her condition. Another pioneer is a model and an America’s Next Top Model contestant from cycle 21, Chantelle Young-Brown. Because of her unique looks that have no parallel in the industry, she might actually be one of the few ‘next top models’ coming out of the competition and actually make it as a successful model.

One can not be perfect in this world, so we might as well stop trying. Perhaps it’s time to first accept and then celebrate whatever flaws we were given – and perhaps stop calling them as flaws at all?


Words SARA HESIKOVA (Sara studies Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion)

Illustration MARIE EL-AHMAR