RELATIONSHIPS IN THE MODELING INDUSTRY: BEAUTY IS COMPLEXION DEEP
More and more women are coming forward about their unfair treatment in the modeling industry. Most people could care less until they are slapped in the face with biased behavior from photographers, agents, designers, and magazines. That is the moment, you begin to realize, if you are attractive, cute, pretty or beautiful it doesn't matter if you are not the right complexion in the modeling world.
Last summer, I was asked to represent Jocelyn Thedford before she went on to a modeling agency. Jocelyn needed to build her portfolio before moving forward into the fashion industry. Even though I have a photography studio, I had other obligations at the time and would not be available to photograph her until the fall. Therefore, we reached out to photographers in Louisville, Kentucky.
Email after email we received the same response from Louisville based photographers. No reply or was suggested to ask another photographer. However, the photographers we asked were advertising that they were, in fact, seeking models or posting ads - if a model needed photos for a portfolio to contact them. At first, we thought it was odd but we didn't think anything of it until we realized all the models photographed by the majority of photographers in Louisville - their IG accounts look the same. We did more research to see if it was just our imagination. So we started looking at hosted portrait pages on Instagram such as Girls Photography @potraits_today, and pages with similar request and content. All of the Instagram pages have the same type of women and all the women featured had the same skin color. Now, an assessment would not be fair unless we took a look at portrait pages that did not feature the underrepresented. What we realized is segregation still exist and it includes the digital world. How is it 2019, men and women are educated and more aware of integration but unaware they are being unconsciously biased. Which is a form of bigotry? There are many people who are conscious of their behavior and many people who are not and probably put the blame or point a finger at others about unfair representation. When someone's actions are in question - the person doing the questioning will never get an honest nor direct answer but one will always receive an excuse. I do believe everyone is entitled to their own preference but we all should be honest and own up to what or who we prefer, in order to know where the lines are divided and time won't be wasted.
Discrimination on the Runway
Leomie Anderson shares her modeling experience with BET's columnist Janell M. Hickman. Leomie along with other models express the discrimination towards models from different racial and cultural backgrounds in the fashion industry.
LEOMIE ANDERSON's Interview with BET
Scouted at the age of 14, Leomie was suspicious when a modeling agent approached her in South London. “I just thought he was a pedophile or something, so I just ran away,” she laughs. “The next day he came back, saying, ‘No, don’t run. I have a business card. Give it to your mom.’ But I still never went in. Three months later, someone from the same agency scouted me again, so I figured, why not?”
Fashion seemed to be in Leomie’s future. She wanted to be a fashion journalist prior to modeling. “It’s kind of funny now because I have my own platform now — a brand — and that’s exactly what I wanted to do when I was younger. Your dreams can come true, just not necessarily the way you envisioned them.”
She credits growing up in London for allowing her to be herself. “I experimented with my looks, music taste, fashion taste, everything — it’s a great city for that. [Living there] definitely made me more naive to how the world was, I didn’t know about racism until I entered the fashion industry.”
Being one of three Black children in her primary school, she knew that she was different, in a way. It wasn't until she was older that she realized how colorism also played a factor.
“I’d notice that light-skin girls were more favored than dark-skin girls. And I came about during a time where it was common for agents to say to you, ‘You’re the one Black girl that’s going to get through this season. All the other Black girls are your competition. There’s only room for one Black girl.’ That was something we were taught to accept. Looking back, I realize how bad it was that they allowed that kind of prejudice and ignorance to thrive at such a young age.”
“During my first fashion week, I realized that being darker really does mean you’ll get less work.
“I WAS TOLD, ‘Don’t go into a casting after another Black girl, because they might get you guys confused.’ It was something that was so normalized to me because I’ve been doing this since I was so young. But I started realizing, 'This doesn’t feel right.' I don’t have a problem with these girls, so why should I have to avoid her or not be photographed with another Black girl? During my first fashion week [at 17], I realized that being darker really does mean you’ll get less work.”
Leomie reveals that many of her most uncomfortable experiences happened in Milan, “a place where not a lot Black girls like to go to because of the treatment you receive there."
"Obviously now, things are a little bit better now. But, that’s probably only because they know if they say something they will get called out on social media. I don’t think the mentality is that much different [than it was].”
In one instance, Leomie waited three or four hours, and when she finally met with the casting director she was told, “Sorry, we don’t want any African people.” Shocked, she asked what they meant by that, considering she is of Jamaican descent. Their explanation? “Maybe if you came last season when we were looking for African models, but this season we don’t want any Black people.” She couldn’t even figure out how to react to the blatant racism. One of her agents even told her to “toughen up and learn how to take things on the chin.”
“I thought to myself, why is it that I have to accept this? Why is it that I have to take the high road? If a white model was being insulted, they’d say, ‘No, that’s disgusting.’ But for Black models, we’re just taught to get used to it. Racism seems like something they just want us [Black girls] to tolerate. As I got older, I realized I can’t just be silent in this. My silence is me being complacent in this — I didn’t want girls younger than me to experience that, so that’s why I decided to speak out more about these instance”
“You’re the one Black girl that’s going to get through this season. All the other Black girls are your competition”
IG: Leomie Anderson
THIS INSPIRED LEOMIE to create “The Black Model Survival Kit” to help others navigate the backstage landscape. “It can be such a stressful environment for Black models when e sit in a hair and makeup chair we never know what we are going to receive. You might not get someone who has shades for our skin.
“The reason I created the video was because of an experience I had backstage. A makeup artist had all her foundations lined up, maybe 30 of them, but just one brown shade. She was literally trying to mix it with a white girl shade, and I said, ‘That is not going to make the melanin appear.’ Luckily, I had my makeup bag with me, so instead of me getting angry, I said, ‘OK, cool. This is what I use for my concealer, this is what I use for my color correct…’ and I basically took her through the steps of how to do my makeup.”
Hair is an equally chaotic experience. “Even though we [Black models] have things like wigs and weaves, they [white stylists] are still trying to catch up. They don’t get that putting water in Black hair will have the reverse reaction — it’s not going to slick it back.” At 17, she even confronted a stylist about using a water-based gel on her hair while in Milan, and he called her a bitch, saying, “I can end your career in two minutes.”
If anything, she’s learned how to get her point across while still being diplomatic. “I try to represent our interest as Black models and Black women, however I know, that you can’t bring up designers' names or pinpoint certain individuals. Those are the things that can get you blacklisted in the industry. You don’t want brands to feel like, ‘Oh, if something goes wrong Leomie is going to go ham on Twitter.’ I do realize that people are looking at me almost as a spokeswoman for Black models and the way they are treated. Other girls will come up to me like, ‘Hey, I know you are doing this interview on Monday... make sure you talk about X, Y, Z.'
“That’s just the role I’ve taken within the industry. It’s not something that I asked for, but it’s something that I feel I can do. I am a good public speaker, and I’m passionate about these issues. I try to speak on everyone’s behalf to make it better.”
To read the full story, BLACK LIKE ME: BLACK MODELS & DISCRIMINATION, click on BET