By Lindsay Danas Cohen

At the most recent New York City Fashion Week, I excitedly took in the scene as CEOs, website founders, political commentators, and entertainment moguls paraded before me in stylish ensembles.  These accomplished women – all of varying body types, races, backgrounds, and capabilities – were not merely strutting to their seats in the audience.  They were walking the runway as the glamorous models in the well-produced Carrie Hammer fashion show.

Carrie (for full disclosure, she’s also my friend and former roommate!) began designing apparel after realizing a void in women’s business fashion. Meant to flatter and empower, her clothes are made for nascent and established professionals who want to step beyond the world of Ann Taylor pantsuits. The tagline, “Role Models, Not Runway Models,” underscores all aspects of her business.

I left Carrie’s well-attended premiere fashion show impressed and heartened by the positive response that the role models (not runway models) garnered from the audience.  Genuine rounds of applause and looks of admiration were awarded to the beautiful and real-bodied women as each hit the top of the runway to pose for photos.  Carrie’s high-energy show, buoyed by her empowering motto, garnered press coverage from a wide array of outlets from the Huffington Post, to Fox TV, to the Katie Couric Show.   I was thrilled to see that not only was my friend receiving attention for her dedicated work, but that a show whose focus was clothing for female professionals was being lauded for its feminist focus.

But the more coverage Carrie gained and the more news outlets clamored to report on her show, the more clear it was that Carrie’s focus on real women is (unfortunately) a very real anomaly.

Much of the media attention was focused on one model in particular – Danielle, a clinical psychologist and media commentator.   Accomplished, attractive, bubbly Danielle has another notable trait: she happens to spend her life in a wheelchair.  She closed out the Carrie Hammer show by confidently and stylishly rolling past iPhone wielding onlookers, her blonde hair fluttering behind her. It seems, however, that the intense media focus on Danielle may have begun to eclipse the broader significance of Carrie Hammer’s role models campaign.  While it is undoubtedly important to highlight Carrie’s inclusion of a successful and physically challenged woman in her show, it is vital to note that about twenty other highly inspirational women also walked alongside Danielle.  The take-home message from Carrie’s show was that all women are equally deserving of society’s respect and attention, not just a select few who meet certain criteria at any given point in time.

In addition to reporters’ targeted focus on Danielle, many news stories spoke of Carrie being part of a fashion-industry “trend” of highlighting females with physical differences or curves as part of the backlash against the damaging model industry. And while I certainly hope that Carrie is just one of many designers embracing a broader definition of beauty, the word “trend” connotes something fleeting and ephemeral.

Is a fashion designer’s promotion of a positive body image really considered a trend?  Is it a transient notion for Carrie to be targeting and identifying with her target audience of professional independent women?

I realize it may seem outlandish to bear criticism against the media outlets who are promulgating the great work of a dear friend, and that the attention brought to Carrie and the inspirational women who participated in her show can only be a positive.  However, it is important to note that Carrie’s credo of spotlighting “role models” and not runway models is neither a publicity stunt nor a passing phase on her road to stardom.

We all, like Carrie, need to wholeheartedly engage with the concept of praising the female role models we encounter daily, not solely those who are extraordinary in some outward manner or who meet some convenient criteria.   Hopefully, Carrie’s next show will garner the same amount of press, but her story will be delivered in a way that truly respects and mirrors the broad-reaching goal of her message.

Who are your role models?

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