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Start Date 23 May 2019
End Date 13 October 2019
Venue National Museum of Scotland
Location Edinburgh, UK
Curator Georgina Ripley
In response

Shirley van de Polder: Body Beautiful:
Diversity on the Catwalk: Touring

Shirley van de Polder is a PhD student at London College of Fashion, exploring free association and its potential to inform novel academic practice within the arts and humanities. Shirley previously completed the MA Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion and the RMa Art Studies and BA Theatre Studies at the University of Amsterdam. This contribution is an impression of the exhibition Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk, a review in prose.

Roads to Homes


Home is an abstract concept,

It means something different to everyone.


To some it’s a country, place or a specific location.

Where you can speak in your own language,

make jokes and use particular phrases and sayings.

Eat special foods, play games,

walk, drive, cycle, sail.

It’s where you grew up,

where you lost your baby teeth,

where your measurements scribbled in pencil can be found behind the wallpaper.

Where you moved in together,

where you had children,

where you said goodbye to a loved one.

Where your loved ones are close, or far away,

where your predecessors lived,

where you go to after work or coming back from holiday.


For others home is a particular experience or person, linked to feelings of happiness and security.

On that comfortable sofa with a good book,


the smell of cake,

Sunday Mass,

your cat, your partner,

yoga class,

morning walk,

Bridge club,

under the duvet,



Home means freedom, being able to be yourself. As rich as the concept of home is, the palette of people connected to it is more colourful.


For a large number of people being yourself does not mean home. Sometimes homes, just like family, cannot be chosen. And being yourself is not possible. In times of rapid development and a growing wave of inclusivity, exclusion is still (un)consciously and unnecessarily present. It is like living in isolation, or being in a house where the front door is always locked. Windows are smashed, walls vandalized. The television shows the same people who are not like you all day, every day. The shops and cafes are ‘open to all’, but you have never felt more like the odd one out walking in.


To create more homes, roads need to be built in order to reach the people. And this is the beauty of exhibition making and making fashion exhibitions in particular: there are so many different kinds of objects, stories available to bring places, memories, eras, people to life. The power of the senses and imagination makes exhibition visitors explore new things, inspires them, or brings back memories and evokes nostalgia.


Within the land of fashion, more and more homes are coming into being. The exhibition Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk at National Museums Scotland celebrated the growing representation of diversity in fashion in terms of age, race, size, gender and disability. This exhibition was special because the subjects of the exhibition are generally not represented in exhibitions of fashion and dress around the world. Even more striking is the collaboration with game changers and activists paving their way in the fashion world. It is one achievement to give these people a voice by making an exhibition about them, but it is another step forward for diversity and inclusivity to let people from these underrepresented homes do the talking in the exhibition. In Body Beautiful we saw them captured in ‘zines, move down the runway, heard their stories via interviews and documentaries, and saw garments that were worn, made by/for or inspired by people who are increasingly becoming seen and heard.


One of the opening sections featured garments made for and worn by Irish writer, academic and activist Sinead Burke. Burke was born with achondroplasia which makes her three feet and five inches tall. The garments were displayed on specially-crafted mannequins based on casts of Burke’s body. It would be a first to not only Burke but also other little people to walk into a fashion exhibition and see mannequins that could potentially trigger the thought: ‘Hey, that’s me’. Body Beautiful must have been a long-awaited exhibition for many people, however it does not only speak to those represented in the exhibition. Long after leaving the exhibition, thoughts on identity, diversity and inclusivity crossed my mind. The doors to many more houses were opened and it was an insightful and inspirational visit.


Body Beautiful raised awareness, inspired and reminded visitors of the challenges, beauty and importance of diversity. How beneficial it is for our look on life and the future of creativity to let as many voices speak, to connect and start building roads to homes.