By Jeremy Bamidele
The Council of Fashion Designers of America, issued a statement declaring, “the most powerful message is one of diversity.” Yet, year after year the amount of black models showcased in editorials continues to remain alarmingly low. So why should it matter that black models are absent in editorials and on the runways? The answer is simple; fashion shapes the public’s desires. It both creates and feeds a need to live beyond one’s current station. It serves as a model for the “good life,” and designates who is and by absence who is not able to achieve it.
The absence of black models is not covert, it’s glaringly obvious. We do not live in a purely white society, so why is it that the overwhelming percentage of models that grace the runways and editorials in magazines are white? Who is to blame for the inconsistency? Agencies simply react to the demand needs of designers who serve as their primary source of income, not editorials. Since the beginning of the Obama administration the percentage of black models being booked for major advertisements has slowly, but steadily increased, thereby incentivizing agencies to retain more black models. Yet, this increase in the amount of black models held by agencies has not translated into more black models in editorials; in fact, the amount of black models in editorials has actually declined since Obama’s inauguration. So the question then becomes what is motivating fashion editors to exclude black models from the pages of their magazines? Is the public which they serve against seeing black models in editorials, are the editors simply racist, or is there another more covert reasoning?
It has been said by many within the fashion industry that black models don’t sell. Yet, Vogue Italy’s Black Issue, featuring only Black models on the cover and in its editorials is the only issue of Vogue to ever be issued a reprint to satisfy demands after selling out the first run. Furthermore, Blacks exhibit some of the largest consumption rates when it comes to fashion and beauty merchandise of any race. This fact makes it difficult to argue that Black models are absent due to a lack of demand on the behalf of fashion consumers many of whom are black and would love to see themselves represented in the advertisements for the products they purchase. While seeing a reflection of one’s own race within the pages of fashion magazines leads to aspiration for the lifestyle, what does realizing the absence of the reflection of one’s race in fashion magazines incite?
In 2010 Margaret Beale Spencer re-created the groundbreaking black doll vs. white doll test of the 1940’s. Her results showed a large bias by both white and black children towards lighter skinned dolls, declaring them not only more beautiful but also associated them with having more positive characteristics. These results are especially disconcerting as psychologist have proven that biases developed early on in life typically persist through adulthood. Furthermore, these biases are likely to be denied when confronted by those who have them. Fashion and advertising is not only affecting Black adults, leading to skin whitening and dangerous and painful hair treatments, but also affecting Black children. Who infer from their absence in fashion editorials and advertisements that the good life can only be obtained if they themselves become white or as close to it as possible.
Jeremy Bamidele is a nationally syndicated journalist and adjunct faculty at Rancho Santiago Community College District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.