Ayo Sal, Put Some Coloreds on the…Runway – Racism in the Modeling Industry

I recently watched a short documentary called “The Colour of Beauty“, about the limitations that Black women are faced with when attempting to break into the fashion industry. That’s right, people; contrary to what Tyra and Top Model may have you believe, women of color are still having a difficult time with being valued in terms of our own beauty, especially on the runway. Italian Vogue may choose to cover Black models now and again, but French Vogue hosts models in blackface. I know, surprising. It turns out, the runway is dominated by white women — the “standard” of beauty.

The documentary was a short, and followed and then-aspiring model called Renee Thompson, beautiful, in her struggles and opinions in breaking through and becoming a top model. Renee, at the time of the documentary, is in her mid-twenties, from Toronto, and has traveled the world modeling but had not done anything major based on a few things: she was too shapely/curvy, she wasn’t the right “type” of Black girl, and there isn’t enough room in the industry for new Black models to break through. Seriously.

While, as a woman, I have opinions on the modeling industry (and separate opinions on ideas of integration), it is important that women of color are represented in healthy regards in positive aspects. Statistics shown in the film, taken from a 2008 survey about models in NY Fashion week were that: 6% are Black, 6% are Asian, 1% are Latina, and 87% are white.

Surprising to me is all the white people included in the film completely acknowledged the lack of Black women represented. Even possibly without realizing their positions of privilege, they explained the whys and hows as: “The girls that are really just being featured in everything, they just have unique features for African Americans. You know, the very skinny nose, the very elegant faces. They really look like white girls that were painted Black. That’s beauty to the industry’s perspective.”
Another person, a casting director, said that he is looking for a Black model but that she has to be “a white girl dipped in chocolate.”

Ain’t that some shit?

I personally do not want to be a model. I don’t mind that I personally don’t fit into certain standards of beauty; I’ll set my own standards, thank you. Isn’t it interesting, though, how society fetishizes white celebrities with exotic (read: non-white, African) features, but Rihanna, hailed by some as a fashion icon, is referred to as the ultimate niggabitch. I guess.