Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Too-White Christmas

Debbie says:

In the epilogue to Atul Gawande’s book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, he gives five “suggestions for becoming a positive deviant.” I liked them all, but the one that struck me was “count something.” He says, “If you count something you find interesting, you will learn something interesting.”

Over at Jezebel, “intern Maria” counted something I find interesting:

black models, Asian models and models of any color but white in the December issues of the major women’s fashion magazines. She writes, “Surprise! There were no women of color in ANY fashion spread (not counting the ‘shopping’ sections, since spreads are what matters in terms of ‘big time modeling’). The products I noticed did use a lot of non-celebrity women of color were mostly skin companies (Aveeno, Olay, Johnson and Johnson) and lower price-point companies like Payless Shoes and I.N.C. However, there were also a lot of (non-celeb) Asian women in Rock and Republic and Lord and Taylor ads. Bigger corporate companies like The Gap also threw in a few black and Asian models/celebs into the mix.

The magazines counted were W, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Marie Claire, Allure, Glamour, Lucky, Elle and Cosmopolitan.

Why am I interested in Maria’s count? Two reasons:

1) The women in the fashion ads get paid. I don’t know the ins and outs of the industry the way Jezebel does, but it seems very likely that the all-white fashion spreads are also the highest-paying gigs, and I can guarantee that the low-end advertisers like Payless Shoes also represent the lowest-paying gigs. So the lion’s share of the money is gong to white women.
2) Because we are such visual creatures, where we see ourselves is an enormous factor in where we can imagine ourselves. A woman of color who never sees people like her in high-fashion clothes has to work hard to imagine herself in those clothes. This is exactly the same reason to have people of different sizes and shapes in the high fashion visuals.

Jezebel ends the blog entry (after statistics and good further links) with a couple of questions:

So, what have we learned? Black, Asian and models of color are still not “fashionable.” But advertisers use black and Asian models, because they know not to fuck with buying power — Bethann Hardison talked about this at the NYPL conference. Still – -can you think of another billion dollar industry in which blatant racism is tolerated? And what is a black or Asian woman who loves fashion and fashion magazines to do with this information?

Jezebel knows the obvious answers as well as anyone: write letters, write blog entries, make noise, … and keep counting.

Thanks to Racialicious for the link.

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2 Responses to “Too-White Christmas”

  1. Lisa Hirsch Says:

    You left out one interest point: five or ten years ago there were a number of prominent high-fashion models who were women of color. Are they no longer in the business?

    I’m curious about a couple of other things: what does she mean by “fashion spread”? Is it a fashion story commissioned by the magazine, or an extended advertisement paid for by a designer (Calvin Klein, say)? There’s also the readership question: where do Asian and African-American women go to read about fashion and clothing?

    I note, lastly, that Jezebel counted in white-owned and dominated magazines. It would be interesting to count the ads in Ebony, for example.

  2. Mary Anne Says:

    There are several glossy S. Asian-American fashion magazines, but I’m honestly not sure who reads them — I’m pretty sure my sisters (who are into fashion), read the regular mags and just re-slot their own images into the place of the white models. I know I do.

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