That’s why Heidi Klum is accused of “diversity washing”.

GNTM now relies on diversity: does Heidi Klum want to revolutionize the fashion industry or is it just “diversity washing”?Image: Geisler-Fotopress / Dave Bedrosian/Geisler-Fotopress


Franziska Schmid

“Everyone talks about wanting more diversity. They talk and talk and talk. But I, I’ll get it started,” says Heidi Klum, beaming and proud into the camera of the teaser for the current season “Germany’s Next Top Model”. This year’s edition of the casting show promises a new, changed concept and the end of outdated stereotypes in the modeling industry. 90-60-90, clear skin and white teeth are no longer an exclusion criterion for being successful in business.

Plus-size models like Ashley Graham or Winnie Harlow with their vitiligo disease show how it’s done. “GNTM” follows. In the first few minutes of the opening episode, all diversity categories that Heidi obviously classified as such are presented. The smallest candidate measures 1.54 meters, the largest 1.95 meters. The age range is from 18 to 68 years. Every dress size is represented and the migration backgrounds of the models are often a topic in the interviews.

Supermodel Winnie Harlow walked for Victoria's Secret after appearing on America's Next Topmodel.  She was diagnosed with the pigment disorder Vitiligo.

Supermodel Winnie Harlow walked for Victoria’s Secret after appearing on America’s Next Topmodel. She was diagnosed with the pigment disorder Vitiligo.picture: picture alliance / MATRIXPICTURES | MATRIX PICTURES

A look at fashion magazines or social networks shows that the fashion industry has changed in recent years. Victoria’s Secret already suspended the big catwalk show in 2019 due to repeated criticism of supermodels that were too thin and a lack of viewers. With Valentina Sampaio, Vogue has a transgender model on the cover for the first time.

So it seems only the logical consequence that “Germany’s Next Top Model” is also going through a change. But does model coach Heidi Klum really want to change the industry or is it just diversity washing in the end?

What is diversity washing?

Diversity washing originally comes from business. According to a study by the communications agency Lewis and the HeforShe movement, diversity in the workplace is particularly important to Generation Z, especially in terms of gender and origin. Diversity has thus become interesting for companies that address a young target group or want to acquire future employees.

Many global players therefore want to sell themselves as particularly diverse, even though the corporate structure does not reflect these values. For example, a women’s advancement program is advertised, even though only men hold management positions in the group. So the company is not really diverse, but only gives the impression.

The change at GNTM – real or just fake?

Watson summed up the fans’ criticism and asked former candidate Jasmin Jaegers and activist David Jakobs for their opinion on the subject.

Heidi Klum opens the first show of the new season with the words: “The demand for diversity is now greater than ever. Now I’m looking for new faces with a wide variety of heights, ages and personalities.” The selection of this year’s candidates seems to support their statements. So did Heidi meet the ravages of time and understand that the fashion industry needs to be revolutionized?

No, thinks a large part of the young target group, who let their displeasure run free at Tiktok. The accusation: Everything is a facade without any honest motivation to change anything. Evidence of this can be found in hundreds of videos on the platform. Clips with the title “Germany’s next top model moments that weren’t good for our development” collect clicks in the six-digit range.

The user ocemasch collects six-digit clicks with her criticism of GNTM.

The user ocemasch collects six-digit clicks with her criticism of GNTM. picture: screenshot tik tok / ocemasch

Among other things, the following statements by Heidi Klum can be seen: “I can only say without make-up (…) She has incredibly bad skin”, “He decided against Vanessa because the other girls looked better in their underwear”, “As soon as she has to laugh, you can see that her face is not quite as beautiful” and “Laura lets her stomach hang out completely.

What is behind Heidi’s change of heart?

Anyone who picks out any episode from the first 10 seasons of “GNTM” will quickly find that they are characterized by body shaming and objectification of young girls.

At that time, the 48-year-old still seemed to attach great importance to a “perfect” appearance, which was primarily determined by the industry. To put it in Heidi’s words: “If you really want to be on the catwalks of this world, then you have to be in top shape”.

The community is outraged: “If you want to be bullied, just go to ‘GNTM’,” comments a user. “It only destroys our society,” says another.

“Unfortunately, many well-known designers who had previously agreed have dropped out. The reason: the dimensions of our models.”

Heidi Klum at a press conference in front of the star of the current season

It is striking that the focus on diversity only experienced a particular boom in the last season, when Klum’s daughter Leni also appeared on the show for the first time. The 17-year-old would like to become a model herself, but is only 1.63 meters tall and is therefore actually too small for the industry.

“Now that Heidi’s daughter isn’t perfect herself, suddenly everything is allowed,” writes a user under the “GNTM” criticism videos on Tiktok. In fact, Romina 2021 was the first candidate to reach the final who is only 1.68 tall. No coincidence, say critics who accuse Heidi Klum of only wanting to soften the industry to open doors for her own daughter.

Heidi's daughter Leni on her show

Heidi’s daughter Leni on her show “Leni Klum x About You” as part of Fashion Week Berlin.Image: dpa central image / Britta Pedersen

But not only the fans are anything but enthusiastic about the diversity competition. The designers have also canceled their collaboration. So Heidi had to admit at a press conference: “Unfortunately, many well-known designers who had previously agreed have dropped out. The reason: the dimensions of our models.” In large parts, the fashion world does not seem to be ready to adapt the change in society on the catwalks.

Fans see discriminatory makeover in People Of Color – candidate disagrees

A situation in the current season “GNTM” caused a stir and a heated discussion about racism online. Candidate Jasmine received a wig based on the “model of Naomi Campbell” on the orders of Heidi Klum. However, the hair was so long that it was then shortened again.

On TV, it looks like Jasmin asked to be re-matched after Heidi left the set. Klum calls this behavior “disrespectful” and then sends Jasmin home without a photo because she ran badly on the decision walk. Criticism from fans concerns the lack of exposure to People Of Color’s hair.

Precisely because of the diversity approach, she finds it paradoxical that a blond, blue-eyed candidate is given a perm and “a black woman who is exposed to the pressure of the European ideal of beauty 24/7 anyway, throws a wig and who should be grateful for it.”

Jasmin, said participant in the current top model season, says to watson: “I can understand the criticism of the way Afro hair is used on the show. But I mean, we knew what we were getting into by participating.

Explaining her take on the subject, she said: “Sure, in my case it’s contradictory because I was complaining about the tips and yes, maybe they should have had a stylist who knows our skin and our hair texture. Im bottom line, it’s a TV show after all.

“GNTM” candidates with dramatic experiences

The candidate also noticed something else on “GNTM”: “I’ve already noticed that we should tell particularly dramatic experiences from our past in the interviews. After we all got to know each other, we noticed that almost everyone had blatant fates. Of course, people then asked themselves whether that had anything to do with our participation“, the 23-year-old points out. “But it wasn’t uncomfortable for me because I’m an open person. It wasn’t a problem for me.”

“Of course, people then asked themselves whether that had anything to do with our participation.”

Jasmin Jaegers on the fate of the candidates

The Düsseldorf native believes that the fact that Jasmine’s face, size and body measurements correspond to the classic model ideal may have brought her at a disadvantage this season. “I also spoke about this with another candidate who, like me, corresponds to the model look. We think that our type didn’t fit this year because we’re just not diverse enough.”

She would not participate again. “No,” she affirms. “I wouldn’t apply again. But it was still a great time and I’m grateful for the experience.”

GNTM as a platform for the queer community

Activist David Jakobs is committed to increasing the visibility of the queer community in public and made a guest appearance on GNTM last year. She told watson: “It is extremely important to me that people from the LGBTQIA+ community are regularly represented in the mainstream media, as this is the only way that the image of a diverse society can become the norm for the masses in the long term.”

“But I think it’s great when a show with such a reach creates more points of contact with various people for the masses.”

Activist David Jakobs

The same applies to people who fall off the grid for other reasons. “But even if there is still a long way to go in terms of acceptance of diverse people, diversity does not always have to be made a direct issue when someone like me performs somewhere,” says the trained hairdresser and make-up artist about her work as a stylist on the show.

“We belong to society just like everyone else. That’s why I think it’s all the more important that the people as a whole are in the foreground and that they are not reduced to their ‘otherness’ – after all, a person makes more than just a factor like them sexuality or body shape.”

David Jakobs was a stylist at GNTM and is part of the new series Queer Eye Germany on Netflix.

The Berliner finds the diversity efforts of “Germany’s Next Top Model” successful: “Of course you can see a lot of things positively or negatively with a format like “GNTM” and assume a certain superficiality.”

Nevertheless, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages for them:

“But I think it’s great when a show with such a reach creates more points of contact with various people for the broader range. Period. Instead of hacking around forever on things like depth of content, I simply decide to be grateful for the diversity is slowly becoming the norm and people like me will experience more and more acceptance in the future.”

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