Recently, Jezebel put out their annual report on the racial diversity among models at New York Fashion Week. The findings were not surprising, with Caucasian models being an overwhelming majority of the models.
We are well aware of the harmful messages that modeling and fashion sends out about body image. However, I feel there is little attention paid to whiteness as a beauty ideal and the impact this has on young girls and women of color and their feelings about body image.
If lighter/white-skinned models are the preferred “type” for fashion, what does that mean for models of color?
Jezebel made an interesting point by calling out the fact that there are often only a couple spots open for ethnically diverse models, making it a much more difficult industry to succeed in for women of color.
Women of color are often competing against each other for these highly coveted spots. What’s the deal with that? This industry, and media as well, are pitting women of color against each other, even further limiting the options available to them.
This may also lead to them altering their bodies to appeal to the preferences of whiteness by lightening their skin, getting colored contact lenses, straightening or coloring their hair, or even going as far as getting cosmetic surgery.
Just looking at the numbers, it is indicative that whiteness is something to be coveted by society. This preference for whiteness goes beyond modeling and fashion, and becomes prevalent in the everyday lives of young girls of color.
When I was younger, I could not find an Asian-American Barbie to save my life, unless it was the special edition “Oriental” Barbie. When role-playing Disney Princesses with my other friends as a child, I wasn’t allowed to be any of the princesses because I didn’t look like any of them; my eyes were too small and my hair was too dark.
This way of “othering” highlighted all of the ways I was different and needed to change in order to be accepted by larger society. Things are a little different now but not by much, as the numbers in the report tell us. Women of color need to be represented in a healthy, non-stereotypical way for young girls of color to feel good about their bodies and about themselves.
In my ideal world, young girls of color would be able to turn the TV on or open up a fashion magazine and see someone who looks like them. We need to encourage—no, demand—the media to show body-positive, racially diverse, and non-sexualized representations of women. Are you with me?