Monday, June 23, 2008

Black Vogue

Vogue asks, "Is fashion racist?" A better question: Should we look to fashion for justice? Reading about the new "black issue" of Italian Vogue, all I could think was, ugh. Why ugh and not, how brave? For one thing, imagine an all-white version of Essence. Seems unlikely? 'Letting' black women into Vogue is a way for Vogue to say, we define fashion, and if we say you count, you count, but if not, you don't. Next, it's telling that the editor of Italian Vogue remarks, proudly, "'Mine is not a magazine that can be accused of not using black girls.'" Um, "girls"? Aren't models women? OK, not all, but Liya Kebede, the model offered as an example of a "black girl" used by the magazine, was born in 1978. What's telling is not that a black woman is called a "girl," but that in 2008 it is only in the fashion industry that this would happen; Kebede is a "girl" not because she is dark-skinned, but because she is a model. But more to the point: following the "black" issue will be what, exactly? What could it possibly mean to write, as Cathy Horyn does, that "Racial prejudice in the fashion industry has long persisted because of tokenism and lookism." What sort of hiring process for models would not entail "lookism"? If a "black" issue is a temporary move away from hiring models on the basis of their looks, how are black women supposed to see this issue as a step in the right direction?

We are supposed to celebrate models who represent 'real' women, but time after time, the 'plus-size' models are a) not all that large, and b) conventionally-attractive, curvy, pin-up-ready blondes. We are supposed to be delighted whenever a non-white model makes an appearance, but only those who 'count' as minorities but look plenty white have any success. Regardless of blondness and skinniness, no one under 5'8" has a shot at this profession, which must be generally accepted as just, since even the diversity-celebrating, emaciation-shunning America's Next Top Model has a height requirement, and no one (well, nearly no one) ever suggests this is unreasonable. Excluding black or overweight women is tragic; excluding the petite, well, life isn't fair. Same goes for women who look 'ethnic' but do not fit into a neat box of 'the black one,' 'the Asian one,' or 'the Latina.' Once the tokens have made their appearances (or not, as the case may be these days), it's back to Slavic blondes, with no room to spare for those who neither appease nor generically please.

The list could go on--what about the middle-aged? the undeniably plain-looking? --but the obvious answer to all of this is, as long as some women could work as models and others could not, all attempts at affirmative action, whether on account of race or weight, will feel like tokens, or will serve as reminders that one can be 'too' black to be a black model, too fat to be a plus-sized model, and so on. I say, how about an end to attempts at making fashion appear equitable, an end to the hypocrisy, and let magazines and designers render themselves useless by printing images of the same girls over and over again. Eventually someone will wake up and realize, look at all these new people being born, look at all these people happily coupling off, and notice how few of the women pursued by men and envied by their fellow women in any way resemble models. Then it won't matter that models all look like one another and not like regular women, that is, if modeling still exists as a viable career.

1 comment:

Gabrielle said...

It is fabulous that the July issue is the all black issue, black models need just as much coverage as everyone else! Although Vogue is not the major arbiter of equality, but at least it is a step in the right direction. There defiantly needs to be more “Bianca’s” recognized in the industry.
I’m currently working with Toyota and I’m really hyped when it comes to spreading the word about the new interactive If Looks Could Kill webisodes. They follow an aspiring fashion assistant who is a prime example of a woman whos’ got it going on. I’m talking the dream job, man who’s got all the ladies drooling, and the spice to keep it all together. Think James Bond meets Sanaa Lathan in Something New.
You’ll have to see what I’m talking about. I can’t wait to read your thoughts on the first episode so we can chit-chat abut what’s really going on. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself being reeled in like bait. That will make two of us!
I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds by directly contacting you. After viewing your blog and seeing how hip to the game you are when it comes to what’s hot and current, I figured this would be something that would catch your interest.
Looking forward to the girl talk!
Gabrielle Thorn
ILCK Ambassador