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My Experiences with Systemic Racism and Colorism in the Modeling Industry

· Racism In Modeling

I don’t think I need to preface this post with why I’m writing about my experiences with colorism and racism as a model but in case you’re reading this at some point in the far future and as a society we’ve completely lost context of the events of 2020, I’ll provide a brief summary:

Over the past few weeks we have experienced the largest and longest civil rights movement in history to date. We’ve held massive protests in 50 States and over 18 countries calling to action local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to reform their policies and oversight regarding racial profiling and police brutality as a result of the violent murder of a black man named George Floyd and several others who have died at the hands of law enforcement.

Since, the protests have broadened the discussion about race in relation to every aspect of American society.

As a mixed-race black woman, I’ve experienced my fair share of discrimination, colorism, texturism, exoticism, and fetishization. In the modeling industry, those experiences are only amplified.

In the beginning of my career I quickly learned how colorism and fetishization benefited me in my pursuits into modeling. As a fair-skinned young girl, the messaging of “how good you have it” is all around you. Agencies don’t hide that they prefer to have a fair-skinned/light-skinned model over a darker skinned model. No one ever had to explicitly tell me that being light-skinned was more desirable by clients, agents and photographers. The message is deeply ingrained in all of the advertisements, composite cards, portfolios of every creative decision maker throughout the industry.

After 20 plus years of being in the industry my experiences with all aspects of racism are far too many to detail in a blog post and honestly for my mental health and for others I don’t think it does much to repeat or relive any of those experiences. However, I do believe the way to change how we categorize models is by evolving our beliefs about beauty, what sells and who gets to take credit for influencing beauty and fashion culture.

We’ve crafted ideas about what kind of life a person lives by how light their skin is and the type of hair texture they have and used that as an indicator for how to treat anyone else who falls into that particular “look”.

What is “modeling” without the “aesthetic”?

We’ve created these lanes which indicate “if you’re a model”, “if you have the right ‘look’ to model”, and so on but these lanes aka indicators are deeply tied to racial characteristics such a skin complexion, hair texture, facial features and body types that are exclusively dominate Eurocentric aesthetics.

Instead I believe we should be reevaluating qualifications of what makes a “model” a “model” through aesthetic indicators that are aspirational and relatable to potential consumers, yet add value to a brands overall image such as: skin quality, hair quality, healthy body image that is indicative of living within the societal expectations in which the brand is selling, cultural cohesiveness within the cultural context of the society in which the brand is selling and is representative of various lifestyles and subcultures that exist within society.

I never talk about a problem without thinking and creating ideas of how to fix them. As my career has evolved and I don’t need the agency system to be successful, I’ve begun working on projects that can improve the modeling experience as well as the industry. Two ways in which I’ve begun to do that is through MyProductModel and the StarterModelGuide.

As the fashion industry has become more and more democratized, there’s an increase demand in a diverse range of models, photographers, makeup artists, etc. Our team works directly with entrepreneurial level e-commerce businesses to help them create visual marketing material that reflects their customer base.

With gatekeepers to the modeling industry loosing power, there are more women and men of color there’s more opportunity than ever. The Starter Model Guide is for both aspiring and working models for whom the traditional agency system is not working. Through a series of ebooks and courses, the Starter Model Guide helps models navigate the industry on their own terms.

I believe having these discussions is a start but change only happens when we start creating things in the world that reflect the change we want to see.

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