Model Behavior is an A Plus series featuring fashion models who promote body positivity, and work to create inclusivity and diversity within the industry by expanding our definition of conventional beauty.
The long-held consensus that youth equals beauty is becoming old-hat.
Enter Nicola Griffin, who began modeling when she was 53 years old.
After White Hot Hair noticed Griffin's silver locks while she was at the bank, she became their poster woman. Then, she made history as the oldest model to appear in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition in an ad for Swimsuits for All. Now, she's proving that real women are always sexy in a lingerie shoot for SLiNK magazine.
Griffin's presence fills a void that women of all ages and sizes have had to live with and believe was "normal" for decades. Though models for London Fashion Week have to show documentation proving they're over 16 and the Council of Fashion Designers of America recommends no girls under 16 be cast in catwalk shows, many couture designers, such as Prada and Balenciaga, continue to use underage girls on the runway.
"Well, that's how it's always been — young girls in all the magazines. They're all very young, very tall, very thin," Griffin told A Plus in a phone interview. "Older women, curvy women have never had a chance."
But consumers want to see models that look like them — models of all shapes, sizes and ages.
This was proven in a 2011 a paper titled Waif Goodbye! Average-Size Models Promote Body Positivity and Appeal to Consumers by Dr Philippa Diedrichs and Christina Lee.
After showing female consumers a series of advertisements — one with a size eight model, the other with a size 12 model — they interviewed them about their feelings and likely purchasing decisions. Those aged 18 to 25 felt despondent about the size eight picture and were, in fact, more likely to buy something advertised by the size 12 model.
In regard to the notion of an ideal body type or age, Griffin told A Plus, "We're all different, aren't we? All different shapes, sizes, and ages. Women are beautiful just the way we are."
"If you’re 5 foot tall and a size 16, you can look spectacular. You don’t have to be that size you see in the magazine."
While the large fashion houses may be slow to change with the times, Griffin has experienced firsthand how the industry has evolved and increased diversity.
"Women in their fifties and sixties are so used to being ignored and pushed aside in the fashion industry … but things are changing now. The industry is no longer just about the slim 18-year-olds anymore, and that's been wonderful. I feel very honored to be a part of this changing tide in the industry."
Griffin felt "a bit intimidated and shy" before her bikini and lingerie photoshoots, but she told A Plus, "It is quite liberating to do something like that. I did feel liberated and sexy after the shoot."
Griffin hopes to inspire and encourage other women her age to flaunt their fabulous selves, too. "If they look at a picture of me and think, 'Well, she's 56, and her body's not perfect ... If she can do that, I can do that,' that's great."
She also hopes other women will see her recent photoshoots as a call to action. "I think it comes down to confidence, not spending three months or six months to get 'bikini perfect,' " she said. "I didn't spend weeks on a diet or getting ready, I just put it on. I think the message is the way you are now today is absolutely fine."
“Life is too short to spend five months getting your stomach a little flatter. Be brave and be confident … and be yourself.”
Griffin — and the millions of women just like her — are living proof that sexiness shines from the inside out. Real beauty comes from confidence, not size or age.
"I think the reason I felt sexy after doing the lingerie and the swimsuit was not my body, but because I felt more confident. It was all in the mind," she said. "Once women who aren't very confident get their head around that, they will feel brave enough to do anything."
Despite the fashion industry's shortcomings, Griffin does believe it's headed in the right direction and will encourage the latest generation of women in more ways than ever before.
"I think the more they look in magazines and see a variety of women, the more confidence they will get and feel good about themselves," she told A Plus, "And they will learn to actually love their own bodies the way they are … We need the young girls to know that it's just fine being the size and shape you are."