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Runways fail to represent half the world’s population

Jezebel contributor Dodai writes many articles about the lack of black models on the runways of Milan, New York, Paris and London. After reading most of her posts on the topic, I completely agree with her arguments and admire the fact that she scans the archives of and counts how many models are not Caucasian. But Dodai avoids the bigger picture: her posts continuously focus solely on black models when ALL ethnicities (except Caucasians) are underrepresented on runways across the globe. I have written about this before, specifically focusing on the lack of ethnicity in fashion advertising.

Any fashion enthusiast can recite the names of the known black models off the top of their heads: that’s how scarce they are. Other ethnicities, even more scarce. Vogue Italia’s July All-Black issue not only sold out and was reprinted, but it caused an “outcry” amongst members of the fashion community and fashion enthusiasts and sparked up the debate about the lack of black models in the industry. Franca Sozzani, Vogue Italia’s editor, did a fantastic job with this issue because it does not remind me of the sameness found in the pages of Wintour’s American Vogue.

But, if we continue to focus solely on black models, the industry will avoid representing other ethnicities like Indians, Middle-Eastern, Asians, etc and will start trying to include diversity by only including black models alongside the majority of Caucasians. “Yeah but we had seven black models on the runway this time.” That’s not enough diversity. Adding five more black models to your line-up does not equal diversity when you have a total of 49 models in a 20-minute show. Black models would represent 14% of the runway while the Caucasian models have the majority with 86%. Diversify – there are tons of different countries in the world where you can find beautiful, well-toned women that just so happen to be 5’8” and up. Read this article to see Iman’s summary of Black models portrayed as caricatures.

Although most models are shipped in from Brazil and Eastern European countries where being 6’0” tall and skinny seems to be the country’s mission statement, they are still Caucasian-esque (in the case of Brazilian models, most of the famous ones, i.e. Gisele and Alessandra are of European descent).

People are attracted to exotic things and people; it’s basically a fact – where do you take a lavish vacation? North America? Not likely. Exotic women are beautiful, see the issue of Vogue India for example. The dark skinned model that graces the cover and the editorial is stunning (picture below). Why oh why is Anna not embracing this? There are too many models that look like they came off the last ship from Mars and landed on the runways of major fashion weeks and invaded the covers of Vogue, Bazaar and various other magazines. I hate it. The alien look is cool but we need to start embracing what half the world is, not blue eyed and blond. It’s noticeable that when ethnic models strut their long legs on the runway or pose for the camera, they just so happen to be some of the most beautiful people (I am not hating on Caucasian models at all (Tasha Tilberg anyone?) – I just want to encourage diversity).

I worked at a modeling agency for two years where our goal was to increase the visibility of ethnic models. Our roster had girls from all over – India, Syria, Vietnam, Ghana, and so on. Even the Caucasian girls we recruited did not fit the conventional look; they all had something unique that made them breathtakingly beautiful. Sadly, we seemed to be the only agency fighting for diversity. This past May during Ottawa Fashion Week; models from all races graced the runway. The correspondent at Flare magazine took notice and was pleased and surprised at the multicultural runway. Canada is a highly diverse and multicultural community, especially in larger metropolitan areas like Ottawa and that’s where we should start.

The question is, this has been an on going issue, right up there with other issues the modeling industry has been dealing with like drugs, sexual abuse, age and anorexia. This issue, however, doesn’t “physically” hurt anyone but it is, to me, considered a form of racism. Take for example the skin lightening creams women in the Eastern world use in order to rid themselves of their dark skin so they can look like the conventional Western woman. The fact that we are taught that women with light skin and lighter features is beautiful has an affect on women worldwide don’t you think? Even in India, where many of the world’s most beautiful women reside, considers the lighter skinned Bollywood stars as the most beautiful. Why? Because that’s what we see everywhere. Dark women are beautiful, again, check out the Vogue India model below, she’s dark and stunning.

So why is this issue getting into mainstream media now? Is it because Naomi Campbell refuses to retire from the runway because she’s afraid no black models will be walking on them anymore if she does? Is it the release of Vogue Italia’s all-Black issue? Who knows, but know this, ethnic models have always been underrepresented on the runways of major fashion weeks and even at the smaller ones (Montreal, Toronto). As frustrating as Naomi’s antics are, you can’t help but appreciate the fact that she, along with Iman, is one of the only ethnic models to be considered a “supermodel.” That is an accomplishment. Although I will continue to work at changing the way the fashion industry looks at ethnic models, I know that it will not be an easy process and can only hope that one day; they will all be represented equally, whether Black, Indian, Middle-Eastern, or Latino.

P.S. Have you noticed that all the models that grace the cover of Vogue Italia are lighter skinned black women? Think about that.

From left: Liya Kebede, Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn, and Naomi Campbell


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