A sea change in the fashion and beauty industry is long, long overdue.
In what was certainly not an April Fools' joke, fashion magazine Cosmopolitan drew widespread scrutiny on April 1 for an article released earlier this year titled "21 Beauty Trends That Need to Die in 2015." The side-by-side images were supposed to highlight trends that should be "in" or "out" for the new year. But, as Mic noted, "Only one mixed-race woman, Nicole Richie, was in the 'Hello, Gorgeous!' column, while three black women and one Latina were in the 'R.I.P.' column."
Cosmo apologized for the blunder, but this was no isolated incident. The fashion industry has had a troubling history in dealing with race. Here are some unfortunate trends that simply must go.
1. Using blackface instead of hiring black models.
Hiring black models for photo shoots and runway shows can't possibly be so difficult that industry bosses must resort to using blackface, which has a deeply problematic history. As the Grio reported, "Blackface minstrelsy first became nationally popular in the late 1820s when white male performers ... mocked black behavior, playing racial stereotypes for laughs."
Nevertheless, magazines such as Numéro and fashion designers like Claudio Cutugno have resorted to the practice, rightfully drawing the ire of critics who argued that the publications either ignored or revealed their cluelessness about why blackface is offensive.
2. Lightening the skin of women of color.
When women of color appear in beauty magazines, photo editors often lighten their skin tone. The practice implies that whiter skin is more beautiful, a notion that's reinforced by the lack of diversity in fashion. For example, Gabourey Sidibe's Elle cover was the subject of scrutiny in 2010, because she appeared much lighter than she actually is.
In fairness, any combination of factors (lighting, makeup and surroundings, to name a few) can change the way a person's skin appears in a photo. But, importantly, the pushback encourages publications to examine best practices when showcasing the beauty of women of color — like using their actual shades of skin.
3. Photo shoots that play on racist stereotypes.
Often in fashion, what's old inevitably becomes new again. Unfortunately, the same could be said for how imagery plays on old racial stereotypes.
For example, critics of LeBron James' 2008 Vogue cover decried that he was positioned as "beastly and intense" next to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, as Complex noted, with some seeing a "generalized depiction of a dangerous black male and an angelic white woman." In effect, the cover may have reinforced stereotypes about black manhood and criminality.
4. Giving white people credit for fashion trends they didn't create.
Black and brown Americans have been wearing braided hair for years, but three white women — Kendall Jenner, Kristen Stewart and Cara Delevingne — suddenly made braids a "bold" fashion trend. One particularly offbeat piece in the Los Angeles Times last September detailed braids as an emerging fall trend, but as Jezebel noted, managed to not mention a single black woman.
5. People of color being followed while they shop in retail stores.
As Mic wrote in September, shopping while black is "yet another instance of guilty until proven innocent. Store clerks may pretend to be at your service, constantly asking whether you're finding everything OK while you browse the store. However, while good customer service is always appreciated, often these questions function as a way for store personnel to keep an eye on black men as they shop, under the assumption that they'll shoplift."
6. Appropriating ethnic and ethnoreligious attire to make fashion statements.
The disrespectful use of burqas or Native American headdresses are both examples of cultural appropriation. Victoria's Secret notably apologized in 2012 when runway model Karlie Kloss strutted down the runway at the company's annual fashion show in a headdress and turquoise jewelry — designs ripped directly from Native American cultural artifacts.
As the website Native Appropriations noted, the runway show was part of a bigger issue: "Besides the daily harm of these ongoing microaggressions for Native folks, the sexualization of Native women continues to be an ignored and continuing epidemic."
7. #WhiteGirlsRock and #WhiteOutDay
On the heels of the controversial Cosmopolitan article, the hashtag #BlackGirlsRock re-emerged for an April 5 TV special, founded by a nonprofit of the same name. Many people used the hashtag to share various messages and images to celebrate the positive contributions, creativity and beauty of black women and girls — especially because such praise isn't often visible in mainstream institutions, including the fashion industry.
But then came challenges that the hashtag was racist and exclusionary, along with the counter that #WhiteGirlsRock. Beverly Bond, the founder of Black Girls Rock!, took on the issue in an op-ed for the Root in 2013, when the issue initially emerged: "It's insulting and quite nervy for a social media mob to ... attempt to belittle a movement that uplifts and celebrates our lives and legacies..."
8. Products that deem white skin "normal."
From "flesh-colored" bandages to "nude" heels, many consumer products and fashion staples center white skin as "normal." This practice essentially erases various other shades of skin, including those of the darker variety, and implies that they're aberrant or flawed.
Brands such as Dove, BuzzFeed recently noted, have consistently come under fire for labeling products this way, with many consumers of color charging that the idea of white skin as the standard sustains the racist idea that darker skin isn't beautiful.
9. Runways with little to no racial diversity.
As Mic's Liz Plank recently noted in a video for Mic's video series Flip the Script, diverse models continue to be rare in the fashion industry, including at major events such as New York Fashion Week. According to Jezebel, model diversity at NYFW has remained stagnant over the years, and models appearing in the 2014 show were 79% white.
Hopefully, these disastrous trends get a permanent axe sometime soon. Authentically reflecting people of color is much more fashion-forward.