"I am aiming to prove to students that all bodies are different, and should be accepted and represented," Tia Duffy tells PEOPLE

By Gabrielle Olya
Updated July 29, 2016 10:35 AM
Credit: Philippe Maurice

As a high school teacher, Tia Duffy saw firsthand how the types of images her students saw portrayed on TV, in movies and in magazines affected their sense of self-worth.

She created the Be Body Aware educational campaign – which consists of 50 photo shoots taking place around the world – to make those images more inclusive.

“The aim is to change imagery in media, and what we consider the ‘perfect body,’ ” Duffy, 27, tells PEOPLE. “Each shoot features women and men of different shapes, sizes, colors, heights and gender identities. I am aiming to prove to students that all bodies are different, and should be accepted and represented in the media.”

As a model herself, Duffy has experienced discrimination within the fashion industry because her body doesn’t fit a certain mold.

“After years of being told I was not thin enough to straight-size model or big enough to plus-size model, I started this campaign to show that no matter what, we should all be represented in media,” she says.

For one shoot, styled by Tiffany Rose Miles and Jasmine Makela with make up by Gelareh Kamazani, Duffy posed with gender-neutral model Julia Stead.

“I am a person who identifies as gender-queer, and I mix elements of my femininity and masculinity to match who I am on the inside,” says Stead. “I want to be accepted in the fashion industry for my beauty and self-expression, without feeling limited and having to stick to one side of the gender binary.”

Despite their external differences, Duffy sees a lot of similarities in her and Stead’s struggles to meet the fashion and media industry’s expectations.

“I guess the irony of the shoot is we are both considered to be ‘in-betweenies’ or ‘outcasts’ in the industry, whether it be in-between genders or sizes,” she says. “We carried out this editorial to show that we can in fact both carry off a high-fashion editorial.”

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Duffy, who splits her time between New York and Toronto, hopes that her campaign will have a positive impact on young men and women.

“The main message behind Be Body Aware is to create imagery in fashion and media that show that these things can in fact be done, and the message to the fashion industry is there are so many of us who feel unrepresented,” she says. “We also hope to inspire younger teenagers to accept themselves as they are, without feeling the pressure from the media to change.”