This week I've begun the first feature in a series focused on modeling from the margins. Traditionally, fashion has been dominated by European ideals of beauty: Amazonian blonde supermodels, waif thin exports from Eastern Europe, and the vulnerable innocence of the Doll Faces are just a few of the types of models that dominate the runways and magazines. If you were to look at magazines as a portrayal of our society, you would assume that people of colour do not even exist, except perhaps, as props in exotic backdrops.
In the past few years there has been a rise in the number of models of African descent stomping out their presence on couture runways, gracing our glossies with their beauty, and staking their claims on lucrative ad campaigns. A lot has changed, but is this enough?
It's one thing to not exist in the media.
It's another thing to exist in the media only as a stereotype. Which is more harmful?
As you view the editorials posted today, keep a few questions in the back of your mind. How are people of African descent being represented in the fashion world? What kind of jobs are they getting? What magazines are they in? Are they getting solo editorials or only composite editorials? Are they getting couture editorials? Beauty editorials? Are their sets elaborate, meaning the cost of production is much higher, thus attracting the top models, or are they two dimensional shoots in a studio, filling up the pages before the "real" editorials? Can you tell who the intended audience is? Is there a difference between editorials intended for an American audience than a European one? And what about magazines intended for the African-American community? How are these editorials different from those in European magazines?
Fashion is more than just pretty pictures; it tells us what to value. Image becomes a visual short-hand to convey a message. What message are you picking up?