Unfortunately, race has been a recurring issue in the modeling industry since its start, either showing under representation of a race or misrepresentation of a race. The under representation has occurred by the lack of non-white models in ads and on runways (such as these designers’ “all-white” fashion shows). Misrepresentation occurs when models wear a stereotypical outfit that is tied with their ethnic origin (like this model depicted as an ‘African entertainer’).
Chanel Iman, a model who is three fourths African American and one fourth Korean, believes diversity is a major issue in her industry. During her interview with Net-A-Porter’s The Edit, she revealed, “a few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘We already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore’. When someone tells you, “We don’t want you because we already have one of your kind,” it’s really sad.”
Why would modeling agencies think they only need one black girl? And what about other races, like Asian and Hispanic?
It seems to me that the big bosses running these agencies have a 1960s, narrow perception regarding race. They have a specific image in their head of what they envision for their runway show or advertisement, and base their casting decisions off one picture of the model.
Apparently black models don’t sell, according to advertisers. Fashion photographer Steven Meisel says he often gets negative feedback from clients when he proposes models of color for big jobs: “I’ve asked my advertising clients so many times, ‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say no.”
Seeing each race depicted on a chart is extremely eye-opening. It reinforces the idea that the fashion industry still has a long journey to equality.
Vogue responded to the ‘lack of diversity’ feedback by creating an “all black issue”, when really it just segregates the black models from the white even more.
Iman, who appeared in the issue, said, “It doesn’t help us; it just puts us into a category”.
I’ve noticed seeing non-white examples of beauty in magazines, such as Jennifer Lopez representing the Latino community, that serve as a ‘how-to’ for hair, makeup, and clothing. Magazines must understand their audience is culturally diverse, and models serve as role models to that audience, which includes many different ages, genders, races, ethnicities, etc.
Gucci’s casting agent, Barbara Nicoli, blames different culture’s body shapes for the lack of casting non-white models.
Ms. Nicoli said that “different races have different body shapes, which can be difficult when casting a fashion show. It’s also true that, for example, Caucasians have a specific body type, black girls have a specific body shape, and Asian girls have a specific body shape. So I guess there are some collections where it’s more perfect for an Asian body shape because they are more flat and less sexy, in a way. Asians, they are not curvy, so to put an Asian [who’s] very flat [with a] baby body shape in a show where normally the designer knows they love sexy, beautiful, curvy girls, it’s a bit of nonsense.”
I don’t agree with Nicoli’s remark against different ethnicities body shapes. The purpose of modeling is to show off the product that the brand is trying to sell; so does the size of a model’s chest or the width of their hips really make the clothes appear different? From a consumers point-of-view, I’d much rather see different body shapes to empower women of all shapes and sizes to want to wear the clothes/accessories/footwear the brand is selling. The fashion industry desperately needs to break away from the idea of “the perfect model” in order to cater to its vast audience.
While I believe the modeling world is tremendously lacking diversity, some bloggers and designers think there has been an improvement in casting diverse models,.
“The last two seasons, I’ve seen more young women of color, a greater variety of ladies than I’ve seen in years,” said New York designer Tracy Reese as part of a Glamour live panel on the state of runway diversity. “There are a lot of new faces that are very promising.”
Although, Reese thinks certain brands are doing much better than others. She said that “If I broke it down by agency, I’m sure there would be some agencies that are doing a lot better than others. But I’ve definitely seen improvement.”
After looking at both sides of the story, I think this issue should continue to be addressed and action should be taken. By making an effort to include diverse models in more fashion advertisements and runway shows, the modeling industry will be much more respected.
Luckily, the Diversity Coalition, led by fashion activist Bethann Hardison, has started a worldwide movement that encourages models of all races to be treated equally. The Coalition lists various ‘Guidelines on Racial Diversity’ to its website, including:
- Encourage the industry to be inclusive of racial diversity when preparing casting of models for their company needs.
- Ask model agencies to include and send models of color when casting. Do not assume agents will automatically do so. It’s good for them to hear the interest and important to see what models of color are available.
I applaud Hardison and her team for taking a stand against stereotypes in the fashion industry, and taking action to end discrimination. I’m curious to see how the Spring shows unfold, and if casting directors will finally open their eyes to the diverse world of fashion.