Fashion Week is well underway in New York City as top designers show off their Spring 2014 collections. Yet, while the latest styles may be fashion-forward, the industry's continued lack of diversity on the runway is not.
Host Melissa Harris-Perry and her Sunday panel talked about the homogeneity of catwalk models as well as the scrutiny models endure over the pressure to be thin.
"I'm shocked that we're still talking about this," said Vanessa Bush, editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine.
The numbers tell the tale. During the Fall-Winter 2013 season shows earlier this year, 82.7% of models were white, 9.1% were Asian, 6% were Black, 2% were Latina, and .3% other.
Former supermodel Bethann Hardison sent letters this past Thursday to the major fashion councils noting why things need to change.
"No matter the intention, the result is racism....Whether it's the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society."
Hardison and others have been fighting for more diversity for years. Yet there was skepticism at the table over a sustained fight.
"It's when we speak about it, is when they toss one or two of us in the show. And then after that it gets quiet," said J. Alexander, a model and runway coach.
Fresh off the Fashion Week catwalk, supermodel Toccara Jones—considered in the industry to be "plus-size"—took it one step further.
"If we don't see us then how are we supposed to know that we can aspire to do?" Jones asked. "We need the exposure. We need to be seen so that we know that we can grow. That it is attainable. And just putting one here and one there is not going to do it and it frustrates me."
Body image and weight are two other ever-present issues on the runway.
"I say I'm a plus sized model because that's what the call me. That's what I'm labeled as," said Jones.
The consensus at the table was that the fashion industry needs to evolve when it comes to the issue of weight.
"We need to remember when we book the models in for the shows, not only are we doing it for the buyers; we're doing it for the way that women see themselves around the world," said plus-size supermodel Emme.
"There really needs to be a reality check. If you look at what the predominant majority says they're very comfortable especially our readers that they're thick, they're curvy, they embrace it. They have not a problem with it," said Bush.
Check out the rest of the discussion below.