The following post is kind of an Op-ed piece about a subject I care a lot about and that I had the opportunity to learn more about recently. Some of my coursework entails researching a free subject relevant to my degree. As I do with all my free assignments, I try to link it up to the fashion industry. One of the topics that I find not only interesting, but kind of shocking in 2015, is the lack of racial diversity among models, whether it’s on the catwalk or in advertisement.
I started thinking about this more and more after Alexander Wang did his much talked about line-up for Balenciaga FW15. Not only did a black girl open the show, but two other models of colour promptly followed. It then turned a tad problematic for me. The following models were mostly Caucasian-looking, before Non-Caucasian models entered the scene in the end. While it’s great that he chose to use the show to highlight a serious issue in fashion, if he wanted to make a statement, why not cast the girls as a fair mix of models throughout the entire show? Would this still be classified as discrimination or a problematic attempt to make a statement and lead the way for change?
I researched the statistical relation between Caucasian-looking and Non-Caucasian-looking models featured in fashion advertising. I chose to focus on the UK only and used population statistics from 2011 and British (published) magazines from 2015. I found that while in the entire UK, only 13% of the population were not White-British, well over 50% of the population in London had other ethnic origins. This percentage has presumably increased by now. In my magazine sample selection of 15 magazines ranging from i-D, AnOther, Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle and Dazed & Confused, over 90% of the models in advertising were Caucasian-looking. This is clearly an unfair representation of a multi-cultural nation.
The advertisement above is from DKNY’s spring campaign, and it was perhaps the most diverse of them all and “helped” the percentage of Non-Caucasian models go up. In nearly all the different shots from this campaign, half or more of the models were models of colour. I did observe that newcomer Binx Walton (second from right) is in a majority of the advertisements in general featuring models of colour, so one can assume that the actual number of individual Non-Caucasian models is lower than 9.2%. When she comes from a minority group and appears so frequently, it opens for the question of whether or not it is a very small percentage of Non-Caucasian models actually being booked, but the selected few are booked over and over again making it appear as though there is this great racial diversity when there really isn’t. Not individually anyway.
Why does this matter?
I think a lot of small things in society that we might not think about, or notice, matters in the big picture. There are lots of reasons why Caucasian models are still getting over 90% of the advertisement bookings. One of them is that people like myself, Caucasian, read these magazines and don’t really think about who is being portrayed. If you look at it through someone else’s eyes – surely you would notice right away that your skin colour is hardly represented. I think for young girls it is crucial to be able to relate to what is put out there as an “ideal”. Not because I think standardized beauty ideals should be goals in any way, shape or form. But because as a society, these ideals are part of preventing those that do not completely fit in the “box” the same opportunities that others may have. Lack of racial diversity in beauty and fashion advertisement is a small piece in a much bigger puzzle that reinforces discrimination.
Today, there is a bigger focus on diversity, not just racial but different types of beauty is being celebrated. Individuality matters. I strongly hope this will continue next year, and the year after but it will take time. I’d love to hear your opinions on this matter. What do you think is currently happening, and do you have any thoughts on how to progress?