While clothing has long served a functional purpose, it goes beyond utility and practicality. Fashion has evolved into one of the most prominent forms of self-expression and is an often overlooked art form. Nowadays, experimenting with clothes isn’t reserved for runways at the most elite fashion events; everyday people have been using fashion to highlight their personalities and identities.

If you take a quick scroll through social media platforms like TikTok, it won’t take much for you to see ‘outfit check’ videos or people sharing their unique takes on popular trends and looks. Maximalist fashion has seen a massive resurgence as well, empowering people to play with patterns and hues, pile on the accessories, or rock unconventional statement pieces rather than adhere to popular trends. The idea of the body as a canvas signifies how fashion can be used to express oneself and create a visual statement.

Artful exploration

Using the human body as a canvas offers a platform for artistic exploration. Designers can create a captivating visual impact, not just through clothing and designs, but through a model’s appearance, poses, movements, and more. The body becomes the basis for styling shapes, draping, colors, textures and more to curate a striking look. This is prominent in many avant-garde runways that showcase clothing as art pieces, not just for everyday wear.

Take the show for the spring 2024 couture collection from Maison Margiela, the fashion house renowned for its dramatic flair. It wasn’t just the larger-than-life fashion that caught eyes, but the unique gait of the models who shuffled and sauntered along the runway. Hair and makeup also played a massive role in pulling the show together; one of the most prominent features was the jaw-dropping, porcelain-like makeup crafted by makeup artist Pat McGrath, prompting many to try and recreate the iconic look. No human body is the same, which creates countless possibilities and versions of fashion looks and expands the potential of the body as a canvas.

Changing views

With the body playing a larger role in the fashion world, the industry also adapts to changing ideals and perceptions of appearance. For instance, the fashion world has been met with increasing pressure to include more diverse body types, like plus-sized models, in fashion shows, campaigns, ads, and even in-store mannequins—a stark change from the industry in the 1990s and early 2000s, which favored thinner models. Body representation in fashion has become more visible in recent years, with room for improvement.

Other aspects of the body have also been changing outside the industry. Health and wellness have become a huge focus, favoring sustainable measures instead of fad diets or restrictive methods for weight loss. The rise of weight loss medications like the glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) agonist semaglutide, better known as Ozempic or Wegovy, has also been impactful in conversations on the body. Using GLP-1 for weight loss has skyrocketed due to its ability to suppress appetite and food cravings as well as control blood sugar. Patients can lose an average of 15% body weight on the medication in a more healthy and sustainable manner to address weight issues. Perspectives and standards on the body have constantly been shifting with new innovations, trends, and information. Fashion is both a player in these changes while being equally impacted by them. People are perpetually reshaping their bodies and the discussions around them.

Self-expression, identity, and society

Despite changing body standards, there’s no doubt that fashion as a tool for self-expression and the body as a canvas won’t go away anytime soon. The body represents endless possibilities for people to showcase who they want to be to the rest of the world, and that desire to be unique and interesting drives many to experiment with clothing and establish their identity through fashion. The growth of ‘core’ fashion has boomed in recent years, exhibiting the many aesthetics people can align with based on their interests and personalities. It may be a byproduct of the desire to find a personal style beyond mainstream trends and looks.

Fashion has also been a way to signal a shared identity to others. Accessories like earrings or carabiners have often been used as a symbol of sexuality, which will be noticed by those who understand the symbol while looking unassuming to the unaware. Fashion has also become a platform for the political, offering a physical means to get a message across through certain slogans, prints, or even the act of wearing cultural outfits to certain events or occasions to make a statement that can’t be ignored. The body of the wearer emphasizes the message, with a person’s appearance and identity playing a role in the impact.

The body as a canvas in fashion creates a foundation to express oneself, create impactful art, and send a message. Though body standards and ideals may change with time, fashion has always been at the forefront of these shifts.