Supermodel Tyra Banks was forced to apologise yesterday after a photo shoot for an episode of America's Next Top Model, broadcast last month, showed models made up to undergo 'a transformation to portray two very distinct races' in a 'fashion interpretation' of workers on Hawaii’s historical sugar cane plantations.
The shoot caused controversy after the girls were styled to represent mixed race women with backgrounds including ‘Russian-Moroccan’, ‘Botswanan-Polynesian’ and ‘Native American-East Indian’.
On the show, (which skates dangerously close to resembling a scene from Ugly Betty) Mister Jay, the girls’ make-up artist, explains:
‘You guys are standing in one of the main sugar fields here in Hawaii. Once the Hawaiians started growing sugar cane commercially they realised they needed a larger work force. As a result, people from all over the world and different countries emigrated here to get jobs.’
Tyra adds, ‘So what happens when men and women from different places come together? You get babies! Lots of babies that are from different cultures – a mix. And it's called “Hapa”. “Hapa” means “half” in Hawaiian, and do you guys know the most famous Hapa? President Barack Obama!’
Banks said she was sorry for any offence the episode may have caused; 'I apologise because that was not my intent [to offend anyone]. It's my number one passion in my life to stretch the definition of beauty,' said Tyra on her chat show The Tyra Banks Show. 'I listen to many heartbreaking stories of women who thought they would be happier if they looked different. I want every girl to appreciate the skin she's in.'
While Tyra may have been sincere in her desire to celebrate different ethnicities with the shoot, the episode has added more fuel to the fire about the presentation of race in the fashion industry. In October, French Vogue sparked a major controversy after they ran a spread showing blonde-haired and blue-eyed Dutch model Lara Stone with her face and body painted black. The magazine, which has previously published photos of 'pregnant' models smoking, is no stranger to controversy and was widely criticised for the move. And in November, V magazine showed model Sasha Pivovarova covered in black face and body paint with a tag line of 'Black is the new black.'
So what’s going on here? Fashion is supposed to be so ahead of the curve, and forward-thinking (after all, we’re forever thinking about the next big thing at Grazia…) but in many ways the industry is only just starting to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of race. We saw an all-black model line-up for PPQ at LFW with designers Percy and Amy simply putting the decision down to choosing 'the best girls that came through the door when we were casting'. And just the other day Victoria's Secret revealed it was casting its first ever Asian model, Liu Wen, for the lingerie label's 11th annual catwalk show. And on the other hand we have models being painted black for photo shoots, seemingly just for 'artistic' purposes.
But what do YOU think about this issue? Are such photographs a celebration of diversity, or completely offensive? Do they just create a two-steps-forward-one-step-back situation for the fashion industry? Answers below please!