Challenging Beauty Standards, One Shirt At a Time

It is 2019, and women no longer care to see the idealistic, flawless, photoshopped models that litter their Instagram feeds. In recent years, the fashion industry has finally begun taking steps toward inclusivity in advertising. Now, major clothing brands are promoting diversity by featuring models of different sizes and skin tones, challenging society’s idea of beauty by ridding their ads of retouching, and embracing the “flaws” that make us all unique.

Mariah Harrison is an entrepreneur, blogger, fashionista, model, creative advertising major, and recent graduate of VCU who is on a mission to put an end to body-shaming, inspire confidence in women, and help others celebrate their unique beauty.

“I think body positivity is more than just loving your body shape or weight. I wore a zip up jacket almost everyday of 7th grade because I was so embarrassed of the razor burn on my armpits, and I hated going to the beach or wearing a bikini for the same reason. At only 12 years old, I had to suffer having painful red bumps all over my body just to maintain my body hair to societal standards.”

A few years later, Mariah began modeling and participating in beauty pageants as an outlet to express her love of fashion, and began experiencing first-hand a lack of inclusivity.

“I was always picked last when designers were choosing models because myself and a bunch of other girls did not have the tall petite figures that most designers wanted.”

Nonetheless, Mariah was passionate about modeling, and was uplifted by mentors who assured her that there was a place for everyone in modeling, whether that be commercial, lifestyle, high-fashion, or runway. Mariah’s junior year of high school, Aerie began their no retouching campaign, where they made the commitment to stop retouching their photos, and begin featuring more diverse models.

“When Aerie started their campaign, it was like they were saying ‘come as you are’. They were encouraging the fashion industry to stop portraying women as this picture-perfect photoshopped model, and start portraying them as real.”

-Mariah Harrison

Harrison, Mariah. Mia’s Apparel, April 15, 2018, https://www.instagram.com/p/BhmSHpsn84e/

Mariah was taught that there was a place for everyone in modeling, but actually seeing a fuller model on an advertisement for a major fashion brand made it more real.

“I was beginning my experience with pageants and modeling at the time, and it was comforting to see girls who looked like me in the Aerie magazine.”

Mariah was inspired by Aerie’s campaign, and wanted to find her own niche in the body positivity movement. She began advocating for self-love, continued modeling, and decided to pursue a major in advertising so she could use that platform to spread her mission.

“Aerie’s no retouch campaign is the entire reason I got into advertising. I loved the message. I loved how they recognized a problem with the lack of diversity in the modeling industry and how critical the effects of the industry were on young people and the pressure to be perfect.”

In July 2017, during a casual social media cleanse, Mariah began spending her free time creating single-line drawings of the important women in her life to honor them.



Harrison, Mariah. Mia’s Apparel, March 16, 2018, https://www.instagram.com/p/BgzERYPHvLJ/

“Shortly after I began my single-line drawings, I had a person comment on how pretty one of my designs were. It was one that I had messed up on a hundred times, but when looking at the finished result, they couldn’t even notice the minor flaws. That is when I realized that my drawings were pretty telling of human insecurity. People tend to focus on their imperfections and flaws, but other people never notice those minor details. Rather, people see their beauty as a whole.”


Harrison, Mariah. Mia’s Apparel, March 11, 2018, https://www.instagram.com/p/BgMe6bUDpdl/

Mariah continued making single-line drawings, and posted them on one of her social media accounts. After a few months, friends and strangers alike began suggesting that Mariah put her art on shirts and sell them. Mariah looked into the possibility of creating her own business, and in March of 2018, Mia’s Apparel was born.


Harrison, Mariah. Mia’s Apparel, April 18, 2018, https://www.instagram.com/p/BhuJwN6H1cW/

“Today, I could care less if I go out into the world with hairy armpits or a bumpy bikini line. I don’t care that I’m not that tall, lean figure because I still found my place in modeling. Everything I was insecure about and cared about in middle school and even high school just faded away once I learned to love myself and realized that my opinion is the only one that matters.”

Mariah’s vision for ‘Mia’s Apparel’ is to create a new inclusive beauty standard that celebrates all shapes, sizes, and quirks of beauty. She runs an Instagram account for her business where she advertises her clothing and shares her passion for body positivity, and sells her products both at art shows, and online, on Etsy.

Mia’s Apparel Instagram

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