Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Modeling Is for White Girls

Models Wanted:
Looking For: Tall Women, lithe, not too muscular, not too bulky
Natural looking
Ambiguous Ethnicity a Plus
NOT Dark, NOT Black
If you fit the criteria we want to meet you in Paris, Milan, London, and all the other Fashion Capitals of the World.
--The Management

If you saw the above ad posted on a bulletin board, or run in the newspaper it's safe to say most of us Black women would be offended. We'd be ready to write somebody a letter, call Al Sharpton and see when we could stage the next protest, until this injustice was undone. But because the discrimination in the modeling world is not as blatant as the above ad we don't say anything at all. We ooh and ahh over the fashions on bodies that don't look like us from designers that may or may not want anything to do with us.

According to Carole White, former agent for supermodel Naomi Campbell, Paris and Milan don't want black girls on their runway. I find this funny as in 2008 it was Vogue Italia -- which is run out of Milan -- had their all Black issue where every model from the cover and in between every page was of African descent if not African. I remember the Today show doing an entire segment on the "historic publication" and the initiation of the conversation of why it's taken so long for Black beauty to be seen and celebrated in a major fashion publication. (Vogue Italia has since reprised the all Black issue for their May 2011 edition)

But just as quickly as the conversation started it stalled.

Three years after that historic issue -- and its follow up -- Black models still find it difficult to get work.

This year's Fashion Week was the "whitest" in three years. And to top it off Black models staged a protest over the hiring of a white fashion director at Essence; the premiere fashion publication for Black women in the United States. In a move toward cultural and ethnic diversity Black women have moved from first in the pack to the last behind the more ethnically unidentifiable.

How many seasons of America's Next Top Model have we seen Tyra tell the lone Asian girl, the lone Indian girl, or the lone Latina that they need to make their ethnicity work for them the same way she makes her forehead Fierce (finger wag implied). How many seasons of Project Runway do we see both aspiring Black models and Black fashion designers passed over for the average "Becky" in khakis and a polo?

These are the images projected in mainstream television shows many Black women and women of various ethnic backgrounds tune into night after night, week after week, season after season. We don't demand a change from our remote control. We don't demand a change from the stores that we choose to shop in, and we don't demand a change from the high end designers we long to have hanging in our closets. Therefore if we don't demand such change do we really have the right to get mad when someone like Satoshi Kanazawa writes a scientific article about Black women being objectively the least attractive women in the world. If we don't demand a change by changing our habits do we really have the right to be taken aback when a documentarian shows us that we are not above color.

If in the Black community many of us still believe that light is right we can't expect that an entire industry built on a standard of beauty that is not innately our own is going to suddenly except the tall brown skin girl with a wide nose, shapely hips, and a backside that sometimes doubles as a table. If in our own community we can't accept and love all of ourselves no matter what shade or hue how can we expect an entire industry to do so?

Paris and Milan don't want Black girls, hell even New York doesn't want Black girls but upon occasion they'll take a Naomi Campbell, an Alek Wek, maybe even a Selita Ebanks the exceptions; not the rule. For an industry as established as fashion it is past time that Black women be considered mainstream and not that last call to an assistant saying "Make sure you get me a Black girl, you know how the critics get."

A few weeks ago I read an article about the necessity of Black awards shows such as the BET Awards or the NAACP awards. I think a separate show to celebrate Black artistry is still necessary as it is still widely accepted as being okay if Blacks are not celebrated in the mainstream. Take this year's Academy Awards. There was not a person of color nominated in any category. Halle Berry's brief appearance to honor Lena Horne was touching but it seemed more of a "Let's do this tribute to get the Blacks off our backs" than anything truly sincere. Now we are seeing the same separation in fashion the way we have seen it for decades in music, film, and television. Ebony Fashion Fair and Rip the Runway are doing what Mercedes Benz fashion in New York doesn't; giving shine to Black models and designers.

Instead of Black models vying for attention from Calvin Klein, Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Versace, and Galliano they are now making there own way with designers like Tracy Reese and Michael Knight.

Sticking with our own and purposefully segregating ourselves within an industry that is supposed to be for all women may not be the best of plans, but who will celebrate us if we don't. Who will sing our songs if we don't? Who will tell us we're beautiful if we don't?

Paris and Milan may not want us. New York and London may not want us. Essence may not even want us any more, but there is a place for Blacks in fashion just as there is a place for Blacks in music, film and television. We don't need to make the powers that be see there is beauty in Blackness. We need to see it ourselves; the same way we saw the power of Hattie McDaniel or the harmony of Lena Horne. If we can see ourselves with beauty in our eyes it won't matter what others see, and then maybe just maybe, our celebration of ourselves will soon turn into a celebration of us by all.

Just as our music, our traditions, the way we speak and dress, and even tweet -- yes tweet -- is mainstream at some point so to will be our beauty. We just have to celebrate ourselves, get over our own internal hurts, and caste systems that keep us separated from ourselves and in turn the world over. If Black women can do that -- the competitive edge be damned -- than we won't need to worry about Paris and Milan wanting us, maybe just maybe for once Paris and Milan will have to worry about Black women wanting them.

Black women in fashion:
Do you think the "white out" on runways will ever be more balanced?
Do Black people need to change their point of view on beauty before we can worry about the rest of the world?
Is slavery to blame?
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