Black model in the fashion industry: Lack of Representation and Racism
Note from BW of Brazil: I can say it. And this should be considered a good thing. Black folks are holding down positions and having representation in a number of areas in comparison to the late 90s early 2000s when I started learning about the situation of o povo negro (the black people) in Brazil. This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed. Just recently in another piece, I spoke on having to do a double take at a magazine stand recently when I saw more than a few black faces in magazine stands in São Paulo. Again, this is not to overstate the fact. The faces one finds on probably 98% of Brazil’s magazine covers on a monthly basis are usually white. So, to see about 5 covers featuring black faces all at the same time is something that catches your attention.
No doubt, there have been some changes and black folks themselves are beginning to recognize these changes. The fashion industry is where you can some of the most blatant examples of racial exclusion. The overwhelming whiteness of the magazine covers is perhaps matched or surpassed on the modeling runways. This is the case even when there are events in which you would expect to see more black faces. Although this is generally still the case, in the past decade or so, we have some glimmers of light peeking out from the other side of the tunnel. For example, we’ve seen more black Miss Brasil winners in the past few years than we had seen in the previous sixty. A recent study also found that there have been more blacks being featured in Brazilian advertisements. So, there has been some progress. But the only reason can even say that is because black Brazilians have been almost completely shut out of these fields for so long which makes even a few small steps look like full miles.
But, even so, as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In today’s story, we hear from a few black models on how they perceive the changes that have happened in the modeling industry over the past few years as well as the things that haven’t changed that much. Check it out…
What’s it like being a black model in the fashion industry?
Tayane Nicaccio of Galera CH talked to some models about the lack of representativeness and racism in Brazilian and international fashion.
Courtesy of Capricho
Hi girls! How are you all doing? This is Tayane. Today I came to address a very important subject: black models in the fashion industry. Although we are in the 21st century, some people insist on thinking in the same way. That is, they prefer to live in a bubble. Many people believe that there is no racism (or that they’re not racist just because they have black friends), privilégio branco (white privilege), sexualization of the black body and various other factors.
In fashion, it is very important that consumers see themselves in that brand. What do I mean? What I mean is that every brand must diversify its models so that everyone can identify with the company’s catalogs. That’s why I talked to 5 models who told me what they think and believe about black people in society and in the fashion world. These were the questions I asked:
1. Do you think blacks consume?
2. Why is there still such difficulty with brands putting black models on the catwalk?
3. How does the fashion industry view black models?
4. Have you ever felt discriminated against or been cut from a job because of being black?
1. Elen Santiago, model and aspiring actress, 7 year career
“It’s undeniable that blacks represent 54% of the population of this country and this has an impacting consumption power. Proof of this is that a survey conducted by the Instituto Locomotiva revealed that the black population moves around 1.7 trillion reais a year of their own income. While all of this money warms the market, most of these consumers are not represented. If we go back in time and look at the present moment, I would say that I see a change. We see more blacks taking up spaces, but I consider this change small, with tortoise steps, especially in the fashion industry, because representação branca (white representation) is the majority. We were a slave country, the abolition of slavery is only 131 years old and these wounds are still alive in our society, preserving structural racism and these remnants also permeate the fashion industry. That’s why there is such a difficulty in maintaining an egalitarian fashion.
The representation is still low and few blacks are in prominent places. I think an illusion has been created that now there are a lot of blacks and that everything is wonderful! I recognize that we now have a much greater power of speech with the advances of social networks and this was positive, because it generated pressure on this industry and the whole society. We now occupy places previously denied to us. But, remembering again that we are the majority of the population, has this account been closed? I, as a model, see it all the time: mostly white producers, photographers, clients. And it’s not because there are no black professionals in fashion. The question is, why does fashion, most of the time, not cede space to us in these prominent places? Why is it also so convenient to use our culture, our way of dressing, our customs, and not put our people on to represent them? Another question that comes to mind: Is this change genuine or is negro está na moda (black in fashion)? We will see more black people in advertising campaigns, on catwalks and in other spheres, when these places, in fact, are also led by our professionals.
Discrimination, for me, really came when I decided to assume my identity as a black woman with cabelos crespos (kinky/curly hair). The clients were used to a black woman with “traços finos” (fine features) and cabelos “lisos” (“straight” hair). Cabelo crespo was a hindrance to many jobs. I remember some clients asking me to straighten my hair. In some jobs, I wore a wig. It was a difficult time until I was able to re-position myself in the market with my new profile. In Europe, a client recently cut me off from work because I had no way of appearing in a wig to shoot classic and sexy style clothes. For them, sexy and classic clothes need to have meninas de cabelo liso (girls with straight hair). For a long time, I had an acceptable profile. I lived in a fine line of what it is to be black. I heard from some clients for a long time that I was a beautiful black woman who had “fine features” and a wonderful skin color. The fact is: quanto mais clara for a pele do negro (the lighter the black’s skin) and the closer the features resemble those of a white, the less prejudice he will suffer. This is called colorism, which is discrimination by skin color.
If the person is recognized as black or of African descent, the tone of his skin will be decisive in the treatment that society will give him. And I confess that for a long time I had this place of privilege. I had the “fine features” and my hair was “straight” and even though it was black, my skin tone was lighter, so it fulfilled this requirement to fill the black quota in a job. Of course, I recognize my talent and my professionalism, and that too was taken into account. However, if I went to an audition and there was a negra retinta (dark-skinned black woman) with the same professional skills, to compete for a single spot… I always hear: now there are black people on magazine covers, on catwalks, in campaigns! Yes, there really are and we can’t deny it. Now, were these blacks chosen on the basis of colorism? What percentage of black people with phenotypic aspects like cabelos crespos, broad or round nose and other physical aspects are really part of this? So, I think a lot of things must be considered to really talk about genuine change.”
2. Ana Flávia, 24, 2 year career in Brazil and 6 months international
“Being, in a way, inserted in the middle of fashion, my view (I may be mistaken) is that it’s a luxury market. Only those who have (great majority) have the financial conditions to do so are the classe média alta (upper middle class). My point of view, sorry for the sincerity, is that there is still a veiled racism, but at the same time a certain growth of black models in the leveled fashion market.”
3. Anne Barreto, 25, 5 year career”
“Yes and they consume a lot. Certainly this difficulty in inserting blacks into fashion is due to the structural racism of not associating blacks with beauty and wealth. I believe this is changing, but we still have a long way to go. The fashion industry still faces black models with strangeness, but I believe that with greater acceptance every day. I did a job where I was the only black girl among 4 white girls. They all had crowns on their heads and I was the only one wearing a hat. In one moment, the stylist put the crown on me and the owner appeared with a sarcastic smile saying that the crown was not for me and that I would always be wearing a hat. I took a deep breath, gave a sarcastic smile and said, ‘Since I was born a true queen, I don’t need a crown, because I was born with it.’ I realized how in this work they made a point of trying to show me that I was inferior there, little did they know of my great self-esteem and that surprised them. Thank goodness, this was one of the few situations of wide-open racism I have ever experienced, but it has helped me a lot to know how to position myself and defend myself.”
4. Camila Simões, 21, 4 year career
“We are the biggest consumers in this country. Besides being the majority, last year alone we moved 1.7 trillion reais. But, in view of the research done, we are represented imagetically in a percentage of 10%. Yes! That’s it. Hard to believe this absurd reality. Clearly there is a mismatch in the Brazilian market and this is past time to change. Sometimes they see us as a mode of historical reparation, sometimes as an object, sometimes as bold beings who are not ashamed to show off, sexualizing our bodies and sometimes treating us normally. This varies according to the job, the professionals and the models, you can’t generalize. About feeling discriminated against, it may have happened, but in a simple and delicate way! Racism in fashion is not that obvious, one case or another may happen in isolation, but racists here are clever and cynical enough to keep everything shrunken, so in a general way, no. Not to say that unpleasant events haven’t happened to me, they have already occurred, but in different environments. It’s not just at work. Racism occupies every possible space, what changes is our way of dealing with all this madness, wherever it may be. My mother taught me that you have to be prepared for everything in this life, especially as a black woman.”
5. Natasha Soares
“We are 54% of the population, this idea that blacks don’t consume is the biggest nonsense ever thought up. We are a powerhouse in Brazilian society and even not appearing in the backstages, we are also the basis of fashion. The difficulty we still have in the fashion world is being seen as a bargaining chip and not as models. In 2019, with so many brands and people screaming diversity, it’s still bizarre to have to establish a parade quota and these quotas are not always met. As long as there’s no black on the catwalk, it’ll always be an obligation or a bargaining chip. Discrimination is not open and this is the worst type to deal with, because the presence of a black person at some point in the history of the brand is already used as a justification for it not to bear its weaknesses in relation to inclusion and this is a vicious cycle, especially in relation to blacks in the market.”
I hope that, somehow, this article has aroused in you the discussion of some important points about diversity in the world of fashion and racism that’s clearly inserted, in an evident way, in our daily lives. Things may be changing, but people are still racist. It’s up to us to build a different future where all of us will fit in. For outdated people and brands: we got our eyes on you!
With information from Capricho