“We wanted to show the world that whatever she can do, I can do the exact same thing.”
The modelling industry has come a long way when it comes to diversity, but it still has miles to go..
In 1921 Paris, there was Josephine Baker she was the first black burlesquer dancer/performer, her audience consisted of rich white folks. She had set a standard for others to follow and opened the door for other black women. She was adored, praised and lusted after by both men and women. At the time Paris was more open to different races, there were black models who graced the runways in 1940’s and 1950’s. Although we saw a change in the fashion industry and how accepting there were of different races in Paris, yet young black women were still subjected to racism etc.
This shows that beauty was and still is subjected when it comes to women of colour. A black women could be considered completely beautiful, have flawless skin, great bone structure but if her skin was too dark and she didn’t fit the European standard of beauty, making it unacceptable. Black women had and continue to break down barriers within the fashion industry, from British icon Donyale Luna becoming the first black model to feature on the cover of UK Vogue in 1966. To Beverly Johnson becoming the first black model to feature on the cover of US Vogue in 1974, and Tyra Banks being on the cover of the best selling Sports Illustrated issue in 1997. There has been many first before and after these models and black women will continue to fight for a spot within the industry.
African model Deddeh Howard relocated to Los Angeles for her career. It wasn’t an easy process for her to break into the modelling world. Several agencies would not hire her because “They already had enough black models on their rosters” as if one or two black models was enough to represent all the black models in the world. Being constantly told no, and compared to one or two other black models that designers and agencies already had on their roster. Because of this, Deddeh created a campaign called Black Mirrors Project in hopes to draw awareness to the lack of diversity in the modelling and fashion industry. Where she reacted some of today’s biggest ad campaigns to show that black women are capable of selling just like white women. For each photo she reacted, the pose, the outfits, make-up, facial expressions and stances. The campaign wasn’t meant to discredit the white women who appeared in the original ads. But it was more to illustrate that models of colour are just as beautiful and just as capable as models who are white. It’s time for people of colour to be represent in the media in a positive light, hopefully with the exposure of Deddeh’s black mirror project. Agencies and designer use more than one black model within their campaigns and on the runway etc. But more importantly it is crucial that black models are seen as beautiful models and not just beautiful “black models”.