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The Need for More Diversity in the Modeling World

By Corinne Dorsey


In recent months, more light has been shed on the lack of diversity and inclusivity in nearly every industry from tech to beauty. This sentiment does not exclude the modeling industry, as more models step forward to share their personal experiences with the lack of diversity overall. From issues associated with the lack of casting to insufficient hairstylists for people of color, the modeling industry needs to step up their level of diversity in all aspects.


The issue of race has been a recurring issue in the modeling industry since its start due to the under-representation of race and the exploitation of race. The under-representation within the industry has occurred due to the lack of non-white models on runways and ads. Although designers are making a point to include at least one person of color within their shows, a recent study conducted in Fashion Week Fall 2020 clearly shows the fluctuation in overall diversity compared to the spring 2020 shows.


The statistics, although a step down from the Spring 2020 Runway shows, still made a huge shift from the once oversaturated narrative of only skinny, white, and tall models ruling the runways. Runways are now able to showcase models of a different color, age, gender, weight, and transgender/non-binary distinctions.


Yet, the issue of diversity doesn't stop on the runway. As photographers, creative directors, hair stylists, and makeup artists also play a large role in implementing the lack of diversity in front and behind the scenes. The lack of proper representation behind the scenes causes major issues of exploitation in the modeling industry. From non-POC models wearing stereotypical outfits or hairstyles with historical and cultural background, these issues often occur due to the lack of diversity during the processes that occur before models hit the runaway.

Photo from Fashion Institute of Technology Controversial runway show


Mainstream problems in the modeling industry, like H&M’s monkey ad controversy, Gucci’s blackface sweater incident, and the Fashion Institute of Technology fashion show that dared to send its models down the runway in oversized lips and monkey ears, are only limited examples of the recurring exploitation.


The issues associated with the lack of diversity are far greater than the incidents that are openly exposed in the media. Models of color often deal with the inadequate prep from makeup artists and hairstylists due to the non-POC creatives rarely being hired in these roles.


Eva Apio, an outspoken model represented by Storm Management, often speaks about her experience with the lack of diversity behind the scenes in the modeling industry. In a recent twitter post, the model spoke up about her experience with makeup artists and hairstylists that often are not equipped to work with people of color. Eva depicted an image of herself preparing for a shoot where the hired makeup artists didn't have the correct shade to match her complexion. Whether it's the lack of foundation shade range or the inadequate understanding of different hair textures, the issues regarding the lack of diversity continue to extend.


Charley Magazine also interviewed Sianna Renee, an LA-based model under Fenton Model Management, who discussed her experience with the lack of diversity in the modeling industry. Sianna recalls walking into modeling castings and feeling like an outcast because she was only surrounded by white women, a feeling that many black models like Tyra Banks and Nyadak "Duckie" Thot have emphasized in their careers.


“We talk about diversity in fashion and beauty, we often don't talk about what that means behind the scenes: stylists, photographers, makeup artists… I'm often the only black woman on set,” Thot told Allure Magazine.


Renee recognized that many brands open castings to all models, but rarely cast black models merely to save their reputation in the industry. Sianna emphasizes that all POC models want a fair chance, not only chances based on complexion.


“We're asking you to give us a fair shot, we're trying to tell you to get the best people, not just your favorite color. Again, I said they need to choose the best fit, not just base it on the pigment of my skin like who is the better model in this scenario,” said Renee.


Due to the lack of castings for people of color, on sets products that cater to different complexions and hair types are often limited.

Marc Jacobs Fall 2020


“The biggest drop came in New York where racial diversity dipped from 46.8 percent a season ago to 43.6 percent. Milan and Paris’ drops were less dramatic (Milan went from 36.8 percent to 36.6 percent; Paris went from 39.9 percent to 39.3 percent),” stated in a report on The Fashion Spot.


Renee said, “We don't need to bring our own foundation color, we don't need to bring our own sponges and our own brushes to do our hair...We want to be exactly equal, which means, have I ever seen a white woman be told to do her own hair? No. Have I ever seen a white woman be told ‘I don't have your foundation color?’ No.”


The issue of the lack of diversity on more than just the runway is a deep-rooted issue that can only change by hiring more POC hairstylists and makeup artists.


In 2020, the modeling industry must begin to push diversity in front and behind the scenes to promote more equal opportunity for everyone.


Much of what is presented in the modeling industry is toxic and limiting to the POC community. It is time for a change.


It is time that this prominent industry in beauty and fashion begins to appreciate the importance of true diversity. While there is some presence of models of color in the industry, the key to inclusivity in modeling lies in the hands of the decision makers and content creators. Limited exposure is not enough, but an authentic understanding of the need for representation is needed.


Corinne Dorsey is an editorial writer with a focus on black womanhood, culture, and fashion writing.

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