Town meetings have been called, articles have been written and movies have been produced about the lack of diversity in modeling, while little to no but attention is given to the look of the actual models of color that are cast.
After every season of Fashion Week, we can count on one hand the number of black models that walk in top designers’ runway shows. In fact, according to Jezebel, 8.4% of the models that walked in Spring 2010 New York Fashion Week were black. Look for African-American models and that number dwindles to nearly zero.
Most of the models walking in fashion shows or featured in high fashion editorials tend to be “exotic” in terms of ethnicity and appearance. Supermodel Joan Smalls is Puerto Rican; Chanel Iman is African-American and Korean; Jourdan Dunn is Jamaican; Ajak Deng is Sudanese; Arlenis Sosa is Dominican; Sessilee Lopez is Dominican and Portuguese.
Tyra Banks is one of the last African-American models that received notoriety from top fashion brands and publications. And her first major editorial in Vogue was way back in 1992. The former supermodel even voiced her opinion on this issue: “My goal is to show the industry that you don’t have to be from Africa and be exotic to be beautiful. You can be a ’round-the-way girl from Brooklyn or Arkansas,” Tyra said.
Does the fashion industry have an exotic fashion fetish? Why do black women have to be exoticized to be considered beautiful? What message does the rise of the exotic model send to African-American models, and black women in general?