DUBAI // Expect nothing uniform about the models selected to sashay down the catwalk at an Al Quoz art gallery this Saturday.
The Fashion For All show, organised by advocacy and networking group Woman 2 Woman, hopes to buck up what they describe as increasingly bad body images of young people. As such, the 10 designers will dress 50 men and women who represent a wide array of shapes and sizes.
"Young people have to start appreciating who they are and the way they are," said participating Emirati fashion designer Nabila Obaid Ahli. "Children are increasingly becoming slaves to media stereotypes. This damages them forever."
The owner of the DNJO99 label said she first started tailoring her designs to suit Rubenesque figures two years ago, after noticing how low self-esteem triggered bad health choices.
"There is a lot of discrimination here," said Zareen Khan, a partner at Woman 2 Woman who is helping organise the show, "starting from your size to your age and we wanted to do away with that. In a metropolitan country like the Emirates, it is necessary to have shows that send out a responsible message."
Ms Khan said they had been careful about the message they were sending out with the show. "We do not encourage unhealthy eating or sedentary lifestyle. In fact, during our one month training with the models, we talked to them about exercise and how to look after themselves." Good health can be promoted outside of the banner of idealistic beauty, according to Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and managing director of Lighthouse Arabia, a community psychology clinic.
"It's not fat or thin, but we need to diversify the portfolio of what is considered healthy," she said. "Some people are bigger boned or bigger waisted but not necessarily unhealthy."
She said her clinic had seen a rise in the number of young patients seeking counselling for eating disorders including bulimia, binge eating and anorexia.
"The age at which these concerns are starting is getting younger and younger," she said. "
On the surface these issues appear to be about food and body issues, but these problems are really about low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, persistent negative thoughts about oneself, a lack of control over one's life, as well as relationship problems.
"There are few role models in popular culture that depict women in a positive light."
Dr Afridi said media and the fashion industry could avoid fuelling body image perceptions. "We live in a publicised world - whether its Facebook or other mediums - people everywhere around the world can see and comment on the way we look," she said.
"Kids at an early age are learning to invest in outward appearances to get the attention, the 'likes' and the positive comments on social media."
Among the models in Saturday's show will be Michelle Meehan, a 19-year-old from South Africa, who will be wearing a sari from designer house Crimson and Lilac, as well as one of Ms Ahli's gowns.
"Everyone expects models to be a certain way," said the university student. "Everyone has a certain expectation of how people should look, so this is such a pleasant change.
"That is why I am participating. Often bigger people get insulted or are criticised. Here, there are no such judgements."
Sarah Sillis will be showcasing her new hijab-based sportswear collection. "Clothes play an important part in boosting confidence," the Belgian designer explained.
"So if you have people out there designing for different body types then you won't have them aspiring to be something that is glorified and damaging."
Entrance to the Fashion For All event, which will take place in the gallery above Squisito in Al Quoz 3 at 7.30pm, is free.