Monday, May 17, 2010

The Colour of Beauty

Last night I went to see a short documentary called The Colour of Beauty at the Museum of Vancouver. It was about a black model's struggle in to make it in an industry that considers white girls the standard of beauty. The film was good, but I kept wondering why such a smart, articulate, engaging young woman cared so much about being a model. I guess it speaks to the brainwashing that young girls receive that says modelling is glamorous and something to aspire to.

The film was followed by a panel discussion featuring a fashion journalist, the owner of a modelling agency, a former model and a media educator. This being Vancouver, three of the four were Asian, and that breakdown was reflected in the audience as well. The journalist made a comment that the fashion industry is more diverse today than it was twenty years ago, but I'm not sure he's right. I think fashion goes through brief seasons where diversity is front and centre, usually as a response to a major outcry about whitewashed runways, and then quickly returns to the status quo. We've seen the same thing with plus size models in the last year or so. There's a token effort to offer up a few example of girls of colour, but it doesn't seem to create lasting change. And of course everyone can point fingers of blame at each other - magazines don't feature models of colour because agencies don't promote them because designers don't book them because consumers don't buy from them... And around and around we go.

The film featured some startling figures: in 2008, runways featured 6% black models, 6% Asian models, 1%(!) Latina models and 87% white models. Just looking through websites that feature magazine spreads, like, I think there appears to be a greater demand for Asian models due to the importance of the Asian markets and the fact that many magazines have Korean, Japanese, Chinese, etc. versions. But runways and major campaign advertising obviously have a long way to go before they represent the diverse public they claim to serve. For example, India is one of the biggest emerging economies, and how many Indian models can you name? I know decisions are driven by dollars and the argument is that everyone around the world wants to buy from white models, but how do we know that this is true if we never try anything else?

Anyway, if you want to check out the movie you can watch it on the NFB website through the link above.

Let me know what you think.

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