“I’m not going to spend my life being a colour”
– Michael Jackson’s Black or White (1991)
+ Illustrations by Sarah Harvey
Easier said than done? Reality is that in most cases, it does matter if you’re black or white or anything in between. The amount of melanin present in your skin is (for some) inversely related to how well you’re going to be treated. The higher the melanin count, the closer you are to the flight attendant assuming you’re flying coach instead of business. Historically, colonialism and its influence over the rest of the world established the dichotomy of white and dark skin perception. The former being superior and beautiful while the latter is considered inferior and unattractive. Feeding off from this socially constructed notion of beauty, a race to achieve whiteness began. Today, we can see subtle traces of it trickling down to social medialike Snapchat – they were criticised for ‘whitewashing’ their filters. And the not so subtle traces of in-your-face racism that comes across through the cosmetic and
Fashion and Diversity
The fashion industry got diversity wrong several times. If we only look at the recent past, one of the major instances that catch our attention is Vogue USA’s ‘Diversity’ issue shoot with Karlie Kloss, where she’s dressed up as a geisha. But then we also have whistleblowers like James Scully, a catwalk casting director who took to Instagram to call out the wrongdoings of brands and casting agencies during Paris Fashion week earlier this year. He accused Lanvin of sending out a mandate to its agents, saying ‘that they do not want to be presented with women of colour.’ Something that the brand denied.
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So true to my promise at #bofvoices that I would be a voice for any models, agents or all who see things wrong with this business I'm disappointed to come to Paris and hear that the usual suspects are up to the same tricks. I was very disturbed to hear from a number of girls this morning that yesterday at the Balenciaga casting Madia & Rami (serial abusers) held a casting in which they made over 150 girls wait in a stairwell told them they would have to stay over 3 hours to be seen and not to leave. In their usual fashion they shut the door went to lunch and turned off the lights, to the stairs leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see. Not only was this sadistic and cruel it was dangerous and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatized. Most of the girls have asked to have their options for Balenciaga cancelled as well as Hermes and Ellie Saab who they also cast for because they refuse to be treated like animals. Balenciaga part of Kering it is a public company and these houses need to know what the people they hire are doing on their behalf before a well deserved law suit comes their way. On top of that I have heard from several agents, some of whom are black that they have received mandate from Lanvin that they do not want to be presented with women of color. And another big house is trying to sneak 15 year olds into paris! It's inconceivable to me that people have no regard for human decency or the lives and feelings of these girls, especially when too too many of these models are under the age of 18 and clearly not equipped to be here but god forbid well sacrifice anything or anyone for an exclusive right? If this behavior continues it's gonna be a long cold week in paris. Please keep sharing your stories with me and I will continue to to share them for you. It seems to be the only way we can force change and give the power back to you models and agents where it rightfully belongs. And I encourage any and all to share this post #watchthisspace
Whereas in India, what we found most surprising was that though there are dark female models that do well commercially, the same doesn’t apply to their male counterparts. We struggled to find an Indian dark skin coloured male model. When the modelling agencies were questioned about it, they said that, “There’s no demand for them.” No demand for featuring people who represent more than half of the nations skin tone? Probably the reason why we now have fairness creams for men available in the market!
Colourism: Fair & Unlovely in India
Beauty companies and advertisement agencies in India milk our insecurities of dark/dusky skin to the fullest. They create ads that depict fairness as a prerequisite to achieve success in any sphere of your life. Single and looking to get married? Apply Fair & Lovely and prince charming will waltz right through the door. Nervous about your job interview? Fair & Lovely to the rescue again – forget about prepping for the interview!
Who would’ve guessed that a lighter complexion is the answer to all your problems? In 2016 the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that they found mercury in five skin lightening products that are manufactured by L’Oreal India. Despite that, there is a huge demand for these creams.
So why do these ads even get made? Are people really unhappy with their natural skin colour? “It’s sad because my maid uses Fair & Lovely and she is lighter than I am.She has a complex about her skin colour,” says model Nidhi Sunil. “And you know, they really buy into it, because, they are not educated and they don’t know any better.The brands and the media have the power to have a positive influence on literally, well, almost a billion people and they use it to create havoc.It sucks!” But it’s not just the uneducated folks who are taken in by this. Literate men and women also seem to fancy these notions of ‘fairness’, because to some extent, it’s treated as social capital.
Racism, purely based on the colour of a person’s skin is a global phenomenon. Even Instagram and Snapchat have been criticised for their filters that ‘whitewash’ pictures. No amount of wealth or fame can protect you from it. Case and point: Indian Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, starring in an American television show, Quantico, revealed that when she was travelling to New york, she was a victim of racial bias. As she went to use the washroom, the air hostess told her that it was only reserved for first-class passengers, never occurring to her that Priyanka could be one of them (and she was). History and sociology tells us how racism began, but what stands out is how colourism exists within certain races. “I’ve lost count of the number of times when visiting a college for a talk, a young girl would invariably ask me how I am so confident despite being dark,” says Indian Bollywood actress Nandita Das. “It’s a question that comes up often, mostly with teenagers. It’s heartbreaking to know that of all things you have to face today, the colour of your skin can make you feel less worthy.”
Last modified: October 16, 2018