Monday, April 15, 2013

Race and Fashion

In a fashion editorial entitled “African Queen,” a model poses in tribal print, headdresses, and bangle bracelets up her arm. What is the problem here? The model, Ondria Hardin, is a young white girl who they made “black” through the use of makeup.

This editorial, along with many others, displays the fashion industry tendency to exploit ethic diversity.[1] Designers, photographers, and stylists use the idea of race as a prop or a fashion statement. For instance, in a 2013 fashion show Dolce and Gabbana used a Mammy or African slave type figure as earrings and as a print on a dress. 

First, the use of the Mammy figure is completely racist since this figure is a representation of slavery. One could argue that D&G mocks the history of slavery by reducing it to a print on a dress. If the use of the Mammy figure wasn’t bad enough, in that same fashion there were 85 looks and none of them were modeled by a black model. As Wilson explains in her article, when it comes to the lack of black models, “We can’t decide whether it’s better there weren’t any considering the collections questionably racist embellishments or if the lack of diversity makes it even worse.”[2] The use of questionable black figurines and prints displays the way race is exploited and used as a fashion statement.
 Race and minorities are also used in fashion as a type of popular prop. Most recently, this is seen in the swimsuit edition Sports Illustrated where they used many different natives as props for the models.[3] Throughout these natives are depicted as at service of the white model and it causes the white model to always be at the center. These pictures also feed into the stereotypes of each county: A Chinese man pushing a boat down a river, men from Spain as matadors. 

These types of editorials use other racial groups as props exploit rather than promote ethnic diversity. This exploitation of race demands for a makeover. How do you all feel about race being used as a prop or fashion statement? Did you even notice that these types of exploitations were occurring?



  1. To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever noticed these types of exploitation occurring before this class. I can't believe D&G both used the Mammy figure and did not employ a black model. As far as the Sports Illustrated shoot goes, it is a shame that they played directly into so many standing stereotypes. And, I agree with you that these types of editorials only impede further diversity in fashion rather than foster it.

  2. All of these images just continue to employ almost this feel of white supremacy, and what's so sad is that I'm not sure they even realize it. Not using a black model for the "African Queen" is just stupid. The Mammy thing is atrocious. The Sport Illustrated picture I think is what really gets me. Having the native man standing there actually rowing the white woman through the water, just seems to be too much of an insult to actually be fostering diversity.

  3. My mind is blown after seeing the top two photos! There is no reason why D&G could not have used a black model instead of spending the time and effort to make the white model look black. Black women are just as beautiful as white women, so I have no idea why this even happened. Also, the sports illustrated picture is pathetic because under no circumstances should people, no matter what race, be used as a prop. These photos are just a perfect example that there really is no end to Civil Rights, discrimination is still apart of every day life and especially in the media.

  4. Honestly, I am not surprised by any of the things you mentioned in this post. Sadly, this kind of thing happens all of the time, and has been throughout all of our lives. Just the other day, I saw a clip of Selena Gomez performing at the MTV Movie awards. She was dressed in Indian attire, and her song had elements of traditional Indian music running throughout. Her, nor any of her backup dancers, appeared to be ethnically Indian. Yet no one questioned her performance. How many of us dressed up as Jasmine or Esmeralda when we were little for Halloween? People pretend to be of different ethnicity all of the time. Why is it okay for children and animated characters to exploit ethnicity, but not okay when fashion labels do it?

  5. I agree with Alex. I really think this a broader societal issue. The fashion industry wouldn't be doing this if it didn't work for them sometimes. I think the real problem is that we selectively critique these images instead of drawing a clear line that shouldn't be crossed. I also am not really sure why a photo in Vogue with a model posing with matadors is somehow worse than pictures of tourists doing the same thing. We are prone to cultural simplification and stereotypes; focusing on the fashion industry is just a way of distancing the problem from ourselves and maintaining a facade of political correctness.

  6. In my opinion, the use of the ethnicity in fashion is not a problem. When the models are only white women, it becomes a problem. The fashion industry today lacks diversity-- whether it is racially or body size. This would not be an issue if there were more women of color being displayed. To use race as a prop is okay depending on the manner in which it is used. The last picture with the Asian guy would have been different if the Asian guy was not looking at the white woman like he coveted and praised her every move; therefore, reinforcing a stereotype of white women from slavery. It the way that race is used that we should be careful of, not necessarily it's use in general.

  7. The world of fashion is absolutely non-representative of the American demographic, especially in high fashion print ads and shows like those mentioned above. For the first photo, the fact that the editorial used a white girl and went through all the time and effort to make her appear black is actually ludicrous. This shouldn't have even been a question in the mind of this magazine...If you aer going to portray an African queen, perhaps you should find an African American, somebody who you know, resembles an AFRICAN queen. It does surprise me that a magazine would take that time and money and put it into making a white girl appear black, but I guess crazier things have been done in the fashion world.

    The D&G fashion show, is, however, not surprising. I honestly think that this was an act of ignorance and stupidity...I don't think that they thought through their actions nor realized the repercussions that could result.

    The Sports Illustrated ad is not surprising, but definitely concerning. Using race as a prop such as they did, is again, instilling this white supremacy that still exists in America today. Again, the way the Chinese man gazes at the model plays right into the racialized sexual tension that is still prevalent in society today. While the race of models in a campaign may not need to be equal and completely representative in every case, the way that race is portrayed is very important. If white models are continually being placed on a figurative and symbolic pedestal, how do we expect society to make any progress on our race relations and feelings of hierarchy?

    I think that the combination of the last two images proves the problems of the fashion industry in general. The unspoken rules of the industry are strict and non-inclusive. Race, height, weight, look, hair color...everything is important and factored in when choosing models for a job. Unfortunately, these companies produce what the public is demanding. While they have set the precedent for their ad campaigns, it is clearly working for the American consumer. The only way that this is going to change is when consumers demand that it does, which would take a united force.