As part of our “Get Wet” month, we asked model Renee Bhagwandeen to break down what it was really like for her during Miami Swim Week. Here, she discusses diversity in a notoriously homogenous fashion space, and remarks on what changes she’s seen over the years.
Swim Week, Swim Week, Swim Week! Oh my! It’s summer 2019, now known as “Hot Girl Summer,” and thrown in the mix is the legendary Miami Beach Swim Week. For those not familiar, “Swim Week” is the annual swimwear fashion shows used to present the trends of the season. As you can imagine, sunny South Beach [where the show takes place] is taken over by swaths of the most beautiful women running wild to castings, fittings, and fashion shows.
As a model, I usually dread this time of year because of the pressure to be in perfect shape and fit the beauty norms of the season. Last year, I actually opted out of the shows because I hated how women of color were treated and excluded. This year, however, I was truly shook by the overall different vibe of the castings. First, I was used to being super booked and busy in past years because I’m of mixed race and ambiguous. So when designers only choose one ethnically diverse model for their show, I was often the girl the picked. This year was much, much different because I just wasn’t getting booked as much.
When I assessed the situation, I realized that I might not be getting as many shows because the majority of designers were not only using more Black models, but they were choosing women of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life. That’s not to say everyone changed, of course—a lot of the bigger shows were still stuck in their ways and showcased a lineup of only 5’10″ blondes—but many of them made me proud to be a part of the shows. In the castings, all women that wanted to be in the runway were invited to audition and, sure enough, all were given a fair chance to be cast for shows.
Even though this meant I would not be booked for all the shows, I looked around and saw an opportunity for all the people that wanted to be there. I saw pregnant women, women who use wheelchairs, women over the age of 25 (like me), trans women—ones who have been through hell and were there to show the world that beauty isn’t cookie-cutter, but in all of us. My heart was so filled with joy that I probably cried with at least four or five of them over the week.
I remember a time just last year where only one variety of beauty was displayed. But this year, everyone had a chance to put on a bikini and strut their stuff down the catwalk. I was completely elated to share the spotlight with women who have never gotten a chance in history before and for that, I believe I was truly blessed!
The modeling industry still has a lot to learn about diversity, but I am excited by the direction we are moving in. The majority of the shows still only want to pick one type of beauty, but women everywhere are standing up and demanding to be included as they should! Shout-out to all the designers that celebrated beauties of all kinds this season, not just the blonde-haired blue-eyed ones and not just fashion models. All women are beautiful, and all women deserve to be proud of what they were given by the creator.
Photos Courtesy of Renee Bhagwandeen at the Bananhot America & Nessy Swim Runway Show