Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Color of Beauty

This short documentary was posted on Racialicious and follows the hopeful path of model Rene Thompson. Through following Rene the documentary manages to out some of the institutionalized racism of the fashion industry.

A lot of times with topics like fashion and models I generally feel like talking about exclusion can be kind of obvious - i mean in the way that it doesn't just suck for plus sized models it also sucks for the girls whose teeth aren't all capped or whose shoulders or hips are 1.5 inches too narrow or too broad. Basically exclusion is the name of the game and its unproductive to hold models as the goal for girls because, well, how productive can you be in a career plan that ends in your 20s.
However, I think that when you exclude women of color to the extent that we do these days it sets a firm and extremely messed up standard for what beauty is. And that standard of beauty is impressed upon the zillions of little girls who don't see anyone like them being desired. As they say in the documentary, designers are interested in black models if they look like white models who are dipped in chocolate.

According to a 2008 survey about models in New York fashion week: 6% are Black 6% are Asian 1% are Latina 87% are White

These are just a few selections of the rockin' babes who are managing to make it happen.

The thing that's so odd about these standards is that I believe they'll find many of us really desire some consistent variety. As I wrote about in my post on Kristen McMenamy, seeing someone who looked different and who I could identify with was a really big thing for me as a teen. I sort of feel the same when I see black models and older models and models of different sizes and anyone with unconventional faces. Its the whole reason that "real women" Dove Soap Ad campaign was working- women don't always want to buy stuff from small featured 15 year olds who seem like someone that was mean to you at summer camp. I believe as designers try to branch out to wider markets they are going to be forced to deal with what we as consumers want - as well as consumers in other countries. As one magazine editor in the film says "When you look at the emerging markets in the fashion industry, it’s China, Brazil, India. If we keep sending all white models down the runway, that isn’t going to speak to the consumers in those markets. And any designer who continues to do that runs the risk of being irrelevant. "

You should really go read the post and comments at Racialicious cause they're all pretty much PhDs on this stuff. I do have one thing though that I've wondered from watching this and the occasional America's Next Top Model episode. Race and class are so incredibly tied together in our culture and there is definitely a right and wrong way to present yourself as a model. Along with having to be "flawless" as many of the models and agents here note, it seems that black models also probably have to work harder to appear to be upper class- even if they actually are. And yet, the odd thing is that so many models are 14 year old village girls from Poland. In that case being poor and clueless is clearly valued higher in fashion -because they are white - its in fact framed as being fairly romantic to many people. However, being poor and clueless is pretty much a kiss of death for many models of color.

Last Note: Here is a breakdown of which NY show had how many models of color for Fall '09.

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