Cultural Confinement on the Catwalk

By Desmari Miller


Currently in the modeling industry, it is rare to see people that stray from the idealistic image of being skinny or pale-toned, and it seems that the root of these issues is embedded in the modeling industry itself.


The scarcity of Black, Indigenous, or any people of color (BIPOC) who participate in high-fashion shoots or walk the runway stems from the standard of quality of these big industry teams. There seems to be a lack of representation at every level, with the most visible being the minimal effort for diversity.


Conflict occurs when the makeup crew is predominantly white or when teams have stylists that only focus their skills on one type of hair. BIPOC models have been surrounded by people who are not in a position with enough training or knowledge to help. For example, Anok Yai, a South Sudanese model, was the second Black model to open a Prada show; the first was in 1997. Yai believed having this success granted her the same treatment from agencies as her more fair-skinned co-workers.


In reality, Yai discusses how these racial encounters became more casual as she rose to the top. She preaches that Black models should not be held responsible for giving professionals the crash course on how to take care of their hair or skin, and it should be expected as the bare minimum. In an interview with Oprah magazine, she communicates how these licensed members should be doing their research and educating themselves, since it is their profession. These models feel they should not have to devote themselves to businesses that do not address nor acknowledge them and their needs.


Source by Sydney Hargrove

Magazines have been perpetuating social norms for decades. The stereotypical expectation is a cover featuring thin, fair-skinned women.


More recently, larger industries such as Wilhelmina and Ford Models have stepped up to the plate in efforts of reacting to their models’ concerns by taking initiative. One of Ford's models explained that she felt the industry was becoming more inclusive, but she chose to stay anonymous because she felt that the Black Lives Matter movement held influence in these changes. To some, their changes seem performative because in the past, agencies have been known to choose a handful of lighter-skinned BIPOC and a very small number of darker-skinned girls to be the spectacle of credible photoshoots.


“Personally, I feel that colorism in the modeling industry is very prevalent especially towards darker-skinned models, since having a pale complexion is the beauty standard in the modeling industry,” said junior Rachel Cantave.


In 2019, a study was done on the people who happened to earn a spot on the cover pages of magazines. Prior to 2012, all the ladies of color featured on the cover had been predominantly lighter-toned, until the face of Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong'o was featured on four different issues. Nyong’o’s appearances on the covers has single-handedly accounted for the dark skin representation; there were no more dark skinned women on the front cover except for her.


Nyong’o has been labeled as one of magazines’ favorite stars to feature on their covers, but it is this reliance on her face that makes her a token. With 10 front cover appearances since 2012, it can be seen as admiration, but in the magazine's eyes, she is viewed as no more than a means to diversification since no other woman of color has had that many front cover appearances. This approach can be seen as tokenism, since certain magazines have shown that having one darker skinned model immediately satisfies their “need” for diversification, essentially viewing it as a chore or an extra step instead of conventional practice.


“...magazines have had a reputation of not addressing colorist rumors in order to avoid accusations and portray their brand in an admirable narrative...”

Rather than listening to the suggestions of BIPOCs in the industry, magazines have had a reputation of not addressing colorist rumors in order to avoid accusations and portray their brand in an admirable narrative. So many darker-skinned models have been overlooked in preference for lighter tones. It may be shocking to realize that out of all the POC who had the privilege to grace the cover, only a couple have been of darker complexion. Out of the 262 female cover models from the last 19 years of issues of Vogue, only three were darker skinned.


In addition, growing up and seeing role models or celebrities who look nothing like them can promote an absence of self-worth among children. Instead of just simply looking up to these people, a child may feel the need to go the extra mile to actually look like this celebrity or actor in order to be seen as “pretty” or “respected.”


“I remember running into my mom’s arms, crying because some kids made fun of my slanted eyes... I felt like an outcast. I barely felt represented on TV and I think that contributed to me having identity issues,” said junior Ethan Pineda.


If the industry begins to truly take steps in the right direction and diversity is considered a norm, future generations may continue to be able to grow up in a world that uplifts and supports them. Their individuality, which steers away from today's beauty standards, can be viewed as an attribute that raises their confidence instead of becoming the heart of their insecurities.