Throwback Thursday: Institutionalized Racism Unnoticed

The world of fashion and beauty is incredibly tough and biased – cutthroat and highly opinionated. Models seem to conform to a strict set of guidelines that are set by the industry; rarely do outsiders make it big. From their often-unrealistic notions of what the ideal body type is, it is not difficult to see that the industry is in serious need of expanding their vision.

Roughly 20% of models are women of color. For this, designers should be also held accountable, as they choose who models their shows. According to Annie Walshaw, a model booker, designers have a certain ‘look’ in mind when they hire models. The implications of this are disconcerting: white models are considered dainty and pretty, whilst darker models are exotic and ‘edgy’ (only able to pull of certain looks – most likely tribal). It seems hard to believe that this still occurs today.

Instead of highlighting these issues, however, the media, and Hollywood, only seem to play into the beauty industry’s hands. Very rarely do we even see a leading lady of color.

That is why when Lupita Nyong’o – though not playing a leading lady – emerged, many were overjoyed to find that the media immediately fell in love with the girl-who-seems-to-do-no-wrong. An amazing actress (her performance in 12 years a Slave proving it), smart, and statuesque, it’s no mystery why they did. Lupita Nyong’o, a grounded and elegant lady, who is able to pull off any designer’s look, certainly has a wonderful way with words.

The most impressing thing about her – more so than her Oscar – has to be her acceptance speech for Best Breakthrough Performance at the Essence Magazine awards. Instead of launching into a typical acceptance speech, she spoke about her experience with beauty, being dark-skinned, in response to a letter she received from a young girl.

The beauty industry is not accommodating to those of a darker skin tone, with many companies encouraging the idea that ‘lighter is better’. Few makeup and skin companies even have a decent selection of products for dark skin. Instead, they advertise harmful skin-bleaching products. This in itself is refined racism; together with the media, they collectively brainwash people into thinking that they need to look a certain way – that it’s the only way to be beautiful and appreciated.

However, her message was an even deeper one, one that undermines a lot of what the beauty industry has to say:

“What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul… And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation for your beauty, but also get to the deeper business of feeling beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.”

People come in all colors and sizes, and the beauty sector needs to wake up and realize that they need to become representative. Color is not ugly, but rather, it is marvelously beautiful.

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