AFROPOLITAINE EP 9 – Belle Dame
Today in Afropolitaine La Web Série episode 9, we sadly tackle the recurrent theme of the stereotypical and restrictive approach of modelling agencies, when targeting aspiring black models. Yes, we did have to go there. We are tired of this one-way view of black beauty, that only allows specific eroded beauty standards to be walking the walk on the catwalk. (That’s a lot of walking right there!)
Firstly, let’s take a moment to salute, the show creators Aline and Soraya Milla for paving the way for other creators to voice real-life situations. Championing black actors, changing the conversation and contributing to altering the vibration, Afro-descendants were thirsty for! Oh, yes, they did!! That is the definition of Black Girl Magic right there!
For anybody new to the program, Afropolitaine La Web Série is the Avant-Garde “Afro-French touch” show you don’t want to miss out on. Navigating the life and turmoils of two sisters originally from Africa, born and raised in Paris, France. Yvoire assimilates Frenchness to the core whilst Janis’ unapologetically pro-black attitude means they often come to blows… Well not exactly, let me just say their fundamentally opposed views of life makes their endearing personalities easy to identify with. Trust me, you are either Team Janis or Team Yvoire. You ought to let me know! Also, the series finale is set for next Thursday 3rd December, so stay tuned for a bonus: Your girl stars in it 🙂
Now let’s get back to business…
…This is a rather peculiar theme, as this issue is often encountered by many models and actresses cataloguing it on socials and real life.
Indeed, black models in the selection process seem to often be categorised by having to possess certain traits. As a matter of fact, beauty (obviously), a dark complexion and most importantly (wait for it…) a bald hair cut.
What grinds my gears, is the supposed “compulsory’ requirement of this hairstyle, that seems to be the essential go-to style, if not the only attribute to even dream of being considered. Alas, this infamous short-haired style comes across as the secret ingredient to be ticking all boxes, when it comes down to succeeding in these auditions.
Models will be “required” to either be bald or ensure they get the hair cut sorted to have a chance to win to secure the bag. Similarly to Yvoire in this very episode. Quite unfair and bittersweet for Yvoire, who had to give up her hair to make her agency happy.
I just want to make something crystal clear. I do not have anything against short-haired models/celebrities/ ordinary women per se.
I do heart a good old pixie cut JodiTurner Smith style or a short-haired natural Lupita Nyong’o’s style. I actually took the leap of faith myself a few years back, and your girl was so …
Alright now, settle down!
However, the issue is that a bald head seems to be the ultimate requirement the fashion world has to champion black females in the industry. Wouldn’t you agree? It looks as if black females can only win if and only if they have no hair, in this industry. But why is that? Truthfully, we encounter more and more black models, even though it’s tough for them to get gigs instead of their white counterparts. Still, most of them will have this hair cut in the cover of big magazines or on runways when we see them.
Check out, Adut Akech Bior, Anok Yai, or even the most famous Alek Wek. Again, there’s nothing wrong with short hair, but why does it feel like this is the sole requirement for black models when other women don’t have such restrictions? White and mixed-raced women are exempt from this rule as pointed out by Janis, in the episode’s prelude Bonuses Gossip Columns IG stories/posts. (Go check them out they are hilarious by the way ;))
Let’s get back on track now!
One has to question why? Why is there such rule (written or unwritten) to require black models’ to have no hair? Removing it all reveals so much about these so-called agencies and the fashion industry as a whole. It most definitely, has to do with obsolete beauty standards pertained by the society we live in. Who actually sets these standards? Does beauty only exist in certain parts of the world? Why should there be a unique way for a woman, to be considered beautiful due to her skin colour? Can you guys, smell this distinctive pungent white privilege Eau de parfum scent?
Historically speaking shaving off a group of specific women’s head was pretty symbolic. (Hint to hint) I can help but wonder, whether that’s what they are trying to achieve with us?
Now women choosing to shave their whole heads off is a choice. I truly respect it, but not when it’s imposed to them to qualify to be part of a particular industry unless that’s their true style. I just don’t think Fashion houses should use this as a qualification. And it doesn’t necessarily rhyme with politics. It can solely be for aesthetic reasons, to feel sexy and merely fancy having no hair.
Why so many codes?
Especially since black women’s hair meant something in the past and still does in reality. Many places in Africa used braids patterns to communicate with each other, the “afro-revolution” pertaining to the civil rights movement, meant black people were proud to show off their curls in the USA, as a protest to the oppressing USA government/society and acceptation of self, and more recently the “unapologetically black” trend of black people going back to the roots so to speak, and yet again championing and learning to love their curls, fighting pre-conceived ideas of beauty standards. This whole process is a journey through reconnecting with ourselves and getting rid of toxicity such as trying to meet Western beauty standards we would automatically be disqualified from. Are they trying to control and silence us by removing hair, something so meaningful to us?
Although I disagree with this direction, I absolutely appreciate that actors sometimes have to completely change their appearances to play characters to perfection. This is entirely different, as this is not just for a type of women or men in its own right. This “bald-head trend”, is both discriminatory and limiting, since it is directed to a certain kind of women. Period.
The fashion and beauty industries intertwined and codes tend to change over time. Nowadays, “Plus-Size” models are gaining more credit, taken more seriously and acquiring deals they would have never been able to 20 years ago. Anyone who grew up in the ’90s will remember that “fat shaming” was actually a trend. (I am guilty of watching Friends and Moesha in which they profusely normalised it. Honestly, 2020 me feels somewhat uncomfortable when these scenes come up… ).
Nonetheless, today we live in a more open-minded society where trans models star in major campaigns. Black women earn more front cover magazines gigs. So I can’t help but wonder why these industries seem to be out of touch with black women still?
I want to talk about white privilege for starters, which encourages the oblivious way these women are targeted and what constitutes a beautiful black woman for the fashion industry.
But I beg to differ, a dark-skinned woman can be pretty with short, long or no hair. Period! Maybe people spearheading these conglomerates should “Pull Up for A Change” to allow more diversity in their boards and companies to avoid such bad strategies. We could reverse roles, and try and see if all or most white models had short hair what would it look like, would it be acceptable too? Is it just ignorance or fear of not being able to deal with black women’s beauty care? Do they simply not care? (There she goes again…)
On the other hand, one could also argue that those top paid dark-skinned models include Naomi Campbell and Alek Wek. Two different styles and two beauty queens. So why is it that, this versatility is not palpable on the catwalk? Why is it that dark-skinned beauties rime with no hair in Fashion? Do these people think black women have no hair, unlike other women or is it that they have to have no hair to be considered beautiful? Could it only be, because they ignore how to embrace the versatility black women have to offer? (Amen to that!)
I heard so many stories about black models and actresses, while backstage had to apply their own makeup or do their own hair. Simply because makeup artists/ hairstylists had no clue what to do with an afro or were out of foundation matching their skins. Do they think the “unkept” look for black women is appropriate for catwalks or movie sets? (They must be having a laugh!)
What exactly does it say about these agencies or the Fashion world, to only allow dark-skinned models with such hair cuts? Do they believe black women can only be beautiful or marketable with no hair? I feel there is a bit of fetichism involved, the idea of black women beauty and what constitute aesthetics. The normalising of “bare looks” with practically no makeup applied to their faces or the leopard skin attires, screams stereotypical idea of “savage beauty” ever so present in these industries.
They want the “African” (or what they understand it to be…) in black women to reveal itself. The only way to do this is with minimal or outrageous makeup styles coupled with a baldy. What makes black women beautiful (all complexions considered) is the versatility of their hairstyles: weaves, wigs, short hair, bald head, twists, afros, braids, long permed hair etc… All of these styles make out the black women of today. In fact, one black woman can be so many women at a time thanks to the different hairstyles she wears.
The fashion world has yet to grasp this fact…
During slavery, black women had to wear head-wraps to hide their crown from the white man’s gaze, from which white women were jealous. This also brings me to more recent times with the normalisation of hair discrimination across the globe at work, school, and on the catwalk. It’s considered unprofessional. Black women have to fight to exist and be themselves in a world predominantly oblivious to their magic. It’s like black hair scares enormously to the point they need to segregate us by suppressing it altogether.
Yet, I do have hope. That with all these lockdowns in place, in the wake of Black Lives Matter and police brutality worldwide, industry officials will start to understand the asset black people can become. After all, black women are the most educated group in America. My generation children of immigrants born outside of the motherland are the most educated ever. Consequently, a better education means better livelihood and disposable income to spend on these fashion and beauty brands. So they can win, but neglecting to understand black models will eventually precipitate the loss of a prominent and promising target market. Looking for brands to identify and look up to is essential for marketing purposes.
However, we are generationally unapologetically black. In other words, we are not looking for any validation and for any understanding per se. We will choose brands that are pro-black and “put their money when their mouth is”. We are the generation who “buys-black” and is happy to visit and even settle back to Africa. They simply have nothing on us anymore. The only way is forward, with knowledge and recognising the industry’s privilege affecting black women. Resorting to implicate them in more senior and senior roles, throughout the chain of command to eradicate this “bald-headed trend”, just like others have been in the past.
Perhaps, companies must seriously put panels or interviews in place with models and black people in the industry for more insight. We all saw the difference with British Vogue when Edward Enninful took over as Editor-In-Chief. Black- Lives Matter’s impact on magazines storylines, in general, implicates more black people stories and models. Nevertheless, more recently, those efforts have started to stagnate as protests diminished.
We still have a long way to go, but we can make the difference in making ourselves more visible and taking ownership just like French TV show Afropolitaine La Web Série this year, starring two beautiful black girls educated and well spoken breaking stereotypes and normalising blackness on TV, or actress Zendaya casting only black models in Tommy Hilfiger’s show in the USA in march 2019 and Tyler Perry acquiring his very own production company in Atlanta, competing with big Hollywood Studios, Nofi Stores and page educating afro-descendants about all things African past and present, championing blackness as a whole and owning the ability to tell our own stories.
And last but not least, the “returnees” trend sparked by Ghana’s Year Of The Return along with cross-cultural collaborations between Africans and the Diaspora, (a theme i will explore in more depth in my next blog post) can only give help with the realisation that we are living in Africa 3.0 era. As Senegalese-American singer Akon vividly asserts : Africa is now, and we (the Diaspora) are running late, as we have to invest now to avoid missing out on opportunities (Capital Xtra, London, 2019).
The property business is how we can build generational wealth indeed, that’s what differentiates us from others by making us sustainable.
This is the way forward.
“Character is like pregnancy. It cannot be hidden forever”.
— African Proverb
Bald-headed black women in the modelling industry, another tool for predominantly white societies to suppress the essence of blackness through pre-conceived codes? – inspired by Afropolitaine la Web Série Episode 9Tweet