When It Comes To Diversity, The Fashion and Beauty Industry Are The Absolute Worst
Including the sexy magazines that can’t stand dark-skinned models with puffy hair
As a child — I endured the casual comments from family friends who couldn’t help expressing how much I looked like my mother with the exception of her lighter skin — which I unfortunately didn’t inherit. This practice of exaggerating how my dark-skin didn’t measure up continued with my boarding school mates — who once compared my looks to one of the popular girls — and concluded that even though we looked alike — she was prettier.
We did sort of resemble each other — but she wasn’t prettier. She was just light-skinned. That same rhetoric was responsible for the infatuation and fascination assigned to the biracial students who almost always won beauty competitions and anything else that required the adulation of their prized features.
Interestingly enough — I never pressured myself into sourcing ways to solve the issue of my dark skin — the way other Nigerian women have resolved to do — at the risk of their health. Skin bleaching was a dirty secret when I was growing up — because even though it was glaringly obvious that Mrs. Kalu was indulging in potent solutions that couldn’t quite penetrate her knuckles, elbows or feet — we had to act as if her new complexion wasn’t weird as fuck.
My mother did an excellent job boosting my ego — and as a result there was hardly a time when I stared at the mirror and imagined how much more desirable I would be if the gods had been a little more miserly with the strokes of deep chocolate.
However — when I moved to the States to pursue my college degree — I was greeted with hard truths of what it means to be a “regular Black girl” — during an era when such a disposition was guaranteed to get you nowhere — especially in industries that catered to fashion and entertainment.
The nineties were a rough era for Black women that didn’t evoke the sentiments of Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams, Nia Long or Jada Pinkett.
Music videos by some of the best R&B bands like Boyz II Men, Dru Hill, Jodeci, etc, always featured women who were selected for looking “kinda Black” without the restrictions that apply. They had to have the curly-bouncy hair, green or light gray eyes, narrow noses, nicely curled lips and a skin tone that made the male squad feel manly enough in their much darker hues.
The fashion industry was the biggest surprise — as virtually every magazine cover celebrated the gross appeal of “heroin chic” and “grunge” with images of pale-skinned templates that looked half-dead — with messy hair, eyes caked with dark eyeliner and impossibly thin limbs sprawled all over the page.
Supermodel — Naomi Campbell has reached iconic status due to the fact that in the more than two decades of her illustrious career — there really hasn’t been much competition — to thwart her reign as the “Black model” of “every moment.” Tyra Banks came close but even she isn’t as active or revered as Campbell — who despite her infamous temper and high demands — has managed to maintain the momentum that none of her dark-skinned counterparts can replicate.
African models like Alek Wek and Ataui Deng who hail from Sudan — were embraced based on the gorgeous peculiarity of their existence in an industry that will be faithful to the standard default — no matter how often they choose to deviate from the norm — in a quest to be “trendy” or fashionably exploratory.
The truth is that the realm of fashion and beauty from a global standpoint is still the absolute worst when it comes to fairly recognizing the varied versions of expressiveness and viability.
The unrelenting message that is dispelled through ad campaigns from major brands has been consistent and damaging for Black women who are just now beginning to experience a slight shift in their favor. The nineties were cruel — but the systematic refusal to appreciate the healthy appeal of dark-skinned beauties is still a major disease without a cure.
Magazines like Sports Illustrated, GQ, FHM, and Maxim — that are in the business of celebrating the scorching hotness of women — have demonstrated their bias towards Black women who are too dark or too ethnic to secure enough slots to endorse their attractiveness. If you do a search of all the women that have graced the covers of these publications — the results are overwhelmingly White women — and once you scan the pages — it doesn’t get much better.
The models that walk the annual Victoria Secret Fashion Show are mostly White with a a couple of models of color added as a security measure to help deflect the threat of non-diversity — which the current climate mandates. And this overtly transparent way to safely indulge in the bad habit of exclusivity with sporadic episodes of inclusivity — actually does very little to encourage much-needed progress.
And so this is when the tools of social media actually do more good than harm. The positive images of dark-skinned women — who are content enough to show off their beauty as proof of their supreme confidence is a righteous act of defiance that makes Instagram worth the daily indulgence.
Chewing Gum creator and actress Michaela Cole is the dopest Black woman alive at the moment — due to her tendency to use her unique heritage as a canvas of self-love with splashes of prideful homage to features that are still not regarded with the respect and acceptability they deserve. Cole — who is British-Ghanaian doesn’t sugarcoat the fuckery of the industry she chose to play in — and her honesty extends to the way she’s regarded by Black men — particularly the ones who try too hard to avoid courting women who match her looks.
As Fashion Week commences — fashion editors who have done a very poor job recruiting Black cover girls — unless they’re names are — Lupita, Beyonce or Rihanna — will once again perch on the front row and take in runways filled with mostly White models. The lack of diversity at these shows and in the industry-at-large has gotten so bad that model Iman and former model and activist Bethann Hardison both collaborated on an initiative to in an effort to eradicate the madness.
In the meantime — the fight continues through the sturdy work of well-positioned influencers — who are using their privilege for the purpose of advancing the visibility of a woefully neglected population.
Historic entries like Black Panther from director Ryan Coogler that boasts an all-Black cast — including women who are deliciously dark-skinned — is definitely a step in the right direction. Awkward Black Girl — Issa Rae — is elevating the landscape of television with her HBO hit series — Insecure — by showcasing the relatable ups and downs of life that a young Black woman shares with her best friend — Molly — played by Yvonne Orji. Both Rae and Orji couldn’t have achieved this feat fifteen years ago — but the mantle of diversity has ushered in the “trend of flexibility” that hopefully will evolve into something tangible.
Rihanna’s new beauty line — Fenty Beauty is poised to become the unbeatable force in a market that is only now trying to capitalize on the swell of consumers that have been waiting long enough to access their “true match.”
As the word keeps spreading — the goal is to arm future generations of dark-skinned girls with the ammunition they need to be whatever they want to be with no reservations. There should be no doubt of the heights that can be reached or the roles they can embody as seductive assassins in blockbusters — or sought-after supermodels who are able to give Naomi Campbell a run for her money.
It’s time to make “diversity” a way of life — rather than the “break from tradition” that has a shelf life.
And the time starts now.