I’m beautiful and I don’t look anything like you
By Selina Renfrow
Before I begin this post today I want to say a few things straight up.
I’m 25, 5’6 and 115 lbs. I have no illusions of ever being a successful model. I’ve been lucky to have fun modeling for local creative people for the last 7 years. I will never be successful for many reasons. I’m old at this point and short. Pre-baby I was thin enough but almost too thin. Post-baby I’m a little bit softer around the edges – nothing really to complain about – but far from perfect.
The above factors play a huge role in determining my success in modeling. However, if I was few inches taller and more fit, would I find success? Maybe. Fashion is a fickle industry.
In the Saturday Style section of the Globe and Mail the cover story was “Diversity is beautiful. So why the whitewash in fashion?“
In the article (by Trisse Loxley), a recent study by Michael Lewis of Cardiff University’s school of psychology, revealed that “people whose genetic backgrounds are more diverse are, on average, perceived as more attractive.” Yet, as every fashion watcher knows, the runways and magazines are mainly Caucasian. This is an issue that has been debated heavily in recent years as the rest of the world becomes more diverse while the fashion industry does not.
The article laments the lack of diversity and the lack of creative professionals to take that leap and begin the change. While there are a handful of successful non-Caucasian models, many are considered token and it really is a handful. In addition to the cover story there is a shorter story about a recently made short documentary called The Colour of Beauty (you can watch it online). The film follows Jamaican born-Toronto raised-New York resident Renee Thompson on go-sees and meetings with her New York and Toronto agent as she makes her last ditch attempt at becoming a top model. Tall and thin with a itty-bitty booty, Renee is almost 25 and while having been in the industry for 10 years, she knows that now is the time she has to make it.
Speaking with her two agents, Renee, a casting director, Jeanne Beker and Lisa Tant (editor of Flare), the film explores why black models aren’t successful. The blame is cast in every direction from marketing – black doesn’t sell; to casting – black models aren’t asked for by clients or agents don’t have black models; to the physical attributes of ethnic models – black girls have womanly curves, bigger lips, wider noses. As the New York fashion week casting director puts it, clients want a black model that looks like “a white girl dipped in chocolate.”
Renee is very ambitious and is not willing to give up. She is frustrated that she can’t get in to the big fashion weeks – and going by the response of the casting director, it has to do her hips. With her short, cropped hair, small breasts – it’s her booty that prevents her from being cast – boy thin is in apparently. Personally, I think Renee would have more success as an actor – a move many models make – she has a great personality to match her stunning face.
To me it seems like designers/clients want Caucasian models because they are a blank slate. Everyone is different yes, but get 50 white girls in a row wearing a collection of clothes that have a similar theme you’re gonna have a hard time telling them apart. Throw your token black model into the mix and that girl is going to stand out. For designers, shows are about the clothes, not the model. They want to sell clothes. A model like androgynous, ethnically diverse Omahyra Mota you’re going to pay more attention to her face than you are to the clothes she’s wearing. She’s so unique and different, that you have to look at her face, her body, not really the clothes she’s wearing.
What if a designer decides they want to do their show with 50 black models? Just like having 50 white girls, having a long line up of ethnically diverse models may have the same effect – emphasizing the focus on the clothes, less on the girl. Problem is, most agencies don’t have that many ethnically diverse models. Do agencies need to scout and sign more ethnic models? Yes. If clients are presented with a plethora of ethnic models to choose from then maybe will see more diversity on the runway. Do clients need to choose models to better reflect the current population? Yes. By not just choosing one colour, but accurately representing what is out there, you can open up different markets that were traditionally closed.
Elmer Olsen of Elmer Olsen Models in Toronto argues that fashion isn’t about reflecting reality – it’s about fantasy – thus the other major fashion debate why runways are filled with size zero while the streets are filled with ten and up. That’s a whole other blog post – one that I have opinions on (of course). But for me, I don’t see why diversity isn’t part of the fantasy.
While there are modeling standards – young, thin and tall (5’7″ and up, size 4 and smaller), models are also picked out for their uniqueness. Daria Werbowy is the most recognizable Canadian supermodel, Kate Moss is shorter than most yet is one of the most successful. Agyness Deyn rocks her own style and Gisele Bundchen is the highest paid. None of these women look the same. The world is full of ethnically diverse beautiful women, let us appreciate their beauty.