WHY Do Magazines Cast White Models To Portray Black Women?

29 September 2010

This photoshoot, the latest in an ongoing trend in which fashion publications push the boundaries of good taste regarding race, has divided opinion in our office and all over the blogosphere this morning. The fashion shoot, by photographer Greg Kadel for Numero magazine, shows fair-skinned Lancome model Constance Jablonski in a succession of afro wigs and decidedly darkened skin. It begs the question; is this merely a slightly tongue-in-cheek shoot attempting to encourage debate, or is it, in fact, racist?

This is by no means the first fashion campaign in which a model's skin has been darkened, Vogue Paris, V magazine and America’s Next Top Model have all courted controversy by using make-up to change a model's race. These campaigns have been heralded by some as an inspired way of highlighting the race debate, designed to bridge the gap between races in the fashion industry.

Why, then, do shoots like this leave such a bad taste in the mouth?

Is the problem that Caucasian women are still massively over-represented in the fashion world? A recent survey showed that black models made up only 8.6 percent of the New York Fashion Week line-up, so it is easy to see why Naomi Campbell and others continually complain of racism in the industry when white models dominate the catwalk and, more often than not, land the most lucrative campaigns.

The obvious question in light of this is: why didn’t Numero just use a black model? The shoot may be provocative and thought-provoking, but while, is this model casting, just compounding the problems with racism in the industry?

What do you think?

- Sophie Cullinane


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