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Black Face In Fashion


April 2012, Lie Sang Bong at Seoul Fashion Week

Written by Laura Van Kleef

Blackface has been something circulating the modeling and fashion industry for many years, but has only recently been scrutinized – mainly on social media and other online platforms. For those who aren’t aware, Blackface is “the makeup used by a nonblack performer playing a black role” according to Google, as there is yet to be an official definition on Blackface from any credible dictionary sources. The result of Blackface is usually offensive to the audience in the coming years; but a look into the past of Blackface was disregarded as a comical approach in media production, and a form of artistry in the fashion industry.

I, as a white woman, can see the faults in Blackface for a slew of reasons; most brought to my attention by peers of color. I first learned what Blackface was on Twitter, where many POC were understandably enraged. There are countless beautiful POC to use in these certain ad campaigns and media productions, but the casting directors seem to learn towards the usual Eurocentric beauty standards, those of a white woman typically. Eurocentric beauty standards are incorporated highly into the everyday media we all see, and these features revolve around the typical white European (Caucasian) woman in the U.S. They’re the “go-to” standard most hair stylists, makeup artists, and producers thrive for in the differentiating industries – as characterized before our very eyes.  The ideal is to have Eurocentric features such as slim noses, thinner faces, and straight hair to represent a more ‘beautiful’ look, in a sense, paired with dark makeup meant for POC.

POC have a harder time getting jobs in the industry with the demand of the Eurocentric beauty standards/features, and we’re only making it harder by continuing this trend. Without the POC incorporated into the modeling and production world, we are slowly erasing them and tuning minds to the long lived, yet again, European standards. POC are rightfully enraged by this, which is exactly what we need. We, even those who aren’t of color, need to stand united and start pushing towards more POC in the varying industries.

I myself as a model, have witnessed the erasure of POC heritage and lineage first handedly in multiple castings; working with different producers and model bookings for ‘Ethnic’ concepts. I put Ethnic in quotations due to the complete erasure of the actual heritage of POC. Just recently on my casting site, I had seen a casting for “African Fashion” which I was excited to finally see being represented in the modeling world! I kept reading and saw “Caucasian model needed”. I was a bit confused so I spoke to my manager and she had confirmed this happens frequently. I was upset as I had already seen countless photos online of the erasure of African peoples in the industry, and I was even more shocked to see it firsthand. I immediately felt like I should be part of the voice to change this, and let our very own African men and women portray their culture the way they want, in their own skin – I mean who else could do it better than someone of the actual ethnicity?

Sadly, Blackface is very widespread in the fashion industry, ranging from small projects from new photographers and designers, to name brand companies with broad audiences, such as Vogue. Vogue has been known to participate in the publication of Blackface, the most recent being March 2014. The issue was Vogue Italia, including a publication titled “Abracadabra”. The feature was shot by Steven Meisel, with model Saskia de Brauw in a slew of photos with her skin darkened (Blackface) midst posing in ethnic wears such as wrappings, headdresses, tribal patterns, etc. There was a series of images where the Dutch model had her normal skin color, white, but was still culture appropriating with the infusion of our infamous Eurocentric beauty standards by wearing traditional African tribal markings.  These images are turning into a complete mockery of the heritage of POC.

Using your voice to enhance the discussion on Blackface and tied Eurocentric beauty standards, will help the POC in our communities and production worlds voice perceived and taken seriously for a change. Contrasting, if you are someone in the production and media or fashion and modeling world and witness Blackface or are asked to participate in it, I strongly encourage you speak out against it and inform the casting producer or stylist you’re working with. We all have a say in what were comfortable with and what we’re not comfortable with, and have the choice to give back the Ethnic reigns to our own peers of color.

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