I recently watched a short documentary called “The Colour of Beauty“, about the limitations that Black women are faced with when attempting to break into the fashion industry. That’s right, people; contrary to what Tyra and Top Model may have you believe, women of color are still having a difficult time with being valued in terms of our own beauty, especially on the runway. Italian Vogue may choose to cover Black models now and again, but French Vogue hosts models in blackface. I know, surprising. It turns out, the runway is dominated by white women — the “standard” of beauty.

The documentary was a short, and followed and then-aspiring model called Renee Thompson, beautiful, in her struggles and opinions in breaking through and becoming a top model. Renee, at the time of the documentary, is in her mid-twenties, from Toronto, and has traveled the world modeling but had not done anything major based on a few things: she was too shapely/curvy, she wasn’t the right “type” of Black girl, and there isn’t enough room in the industry for new Black models to break through. Seriously.

While, as a woman, I have opinions on the modeling industry (and separate opinions on ideas of integration), it is important that women of color are represented in healthy regards in positive aspects. Statistics shown in the film, taken from a 2008 survey about models in NY Fashion week were that: 6% are Black, 6% are Asian, 1% are Latina, and 87% are white.

Surprising to me is all the white people included in the film completely acknowledged the lack of Black women represented. Even possibly without realizing their positions of privilege, they explained the whys and hows as: “The girls that are really just being featured in everything, they just have unique features for African Americans. You know, the very skinny nose, the very elegant faces. They really look like white girls that were painted Black. That’s beauty to the industry’s perspective.”
Another person, a casting director, said that he is looking for a Black model but that she has to be “a white girl dipped in chocolate.”

Ain’t that some shit?

I personally do not want to be a model. I don’t mind that I personally don’t fit into certain standards of beauty; I’ll set my own standards, thank you. Isn’t it interesting, though, how society fetishizes white celebrities with exotic (read: non-white, African) features, but Rihanna, hailed by some as a fashion icon, is referred to as the ultimate niggabitch. I guess.

  • I just finished watching this film.  I did okay until the discussion about Renee being thick around the hips and booty came up.  That’s when my whole attitude shifted because she’s not wide hipped and her booty is not that kind of big.  She also raises a good point about the Black Vogue issue, once it came out the whole issue kind of fell back off to the way side. 

    I don’t even read fashion magazines anymore because the models are not realistic looking women to me.  I feel for the WOCs who want to work the run way etc, because I truly suspect that some of those sistas are fly and they pose more of a threat than anyone dares to admit.

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree. As a matter of fact, Renee is the slim woman featured in the black and white photo above. Renee is a very slender woman and I’m gonna be real — I can see how she, on the other hand, could be ostracized from within the Black community for not being “thick enough.” Crazy.

  • Versace

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Without major brainwashing with shock therapy you are never going to force people with political correctness to like something they do not find attractive. On this one there can be no racism charge with accompanying Affirmative Action.   Standards of beauty are not fabricated, so no you are not ugly because of some plot to hold you down because of your skin color. You are ugly it isn’t a scam created by someone else to fool you that they do not find you attractive – they simply do not.

  • Anonymous

    It isn’t about forcing people with political correctness more than it is making them aware of the reflection and impact of the images fed to us by mainstream society – both historically and presently – and the reasons for that. There are reasons why white models are the primary image for “beauty” and it isn’t just a matter of perception. 
    Also, the standard of beauty is a concept that was created. A concept that people of color have had to fight against for some time now (see: “Black is Beautiful” movement – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_is_beautiful). The people who established the hierarchy and set the standard of beauty don’t have to fight to be at the top of it. 

  •  As a african american fashion designer all i use are women of color it makes me  happy to see my sisters grace the runway . because to me   women of color are the most beautiful women in the world.. And i must say i love your article 

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this on facebook! We also need to support fashions made by designers of color. I will check out your page!