Los Angeles based Marketing Brand Strategist Tiffany Victoria Bradshaw has witnessed this scenario firsthand. Often she has seen how the lack of familiarity with various ethnic groups at fashion shows has resulted in not using minorities.
Bradshaw feels that the unfamiliarity with “ethnic attributes” such as coarser hair among African women and non-lids with Asians by makeup artists and stylists has created an environment within the fashion industry that tolerates discrimination – by allowing workers to use time restraints as the rational for their behavior.
Such decisions carry a two-fold punch that deepens the roots of prejudice outside and within minority groups. As for the women of African descent who are further from such mass media interpretation of African beauty, they are made to feel like complete outsiders.
“I think every group is always looking for someone that is similar to them. Even though we like to think that we are so open minded this perception only exists at the surface,” she says. “So when we pick up a magazine and we don’t see someone that reminds us of ourselves, even when that person is suppose to represent us, as an African American women, it’s just another kick.”
Considering that African Americans spent $507 billion dollars (out of our total estimated buying power of $836 billion) in 2009 on hair care and personal grooming items, advertisers are acutely aware of the importance of not only wooing but securing our product loyalty. This figure is up 16.6 percent from the $435 billion spent the previous year according to an annual report published by Target Market News.
With such hefty sums at stake maybe this accounts for why representatives from BMG, Ford Modeling and a former top African American magazine editor first agreed to interviews, confirmed times then went MIA upon reviewing interview questions. Race is hot potato even when you’re naive enough to think it’s not.
Made hotter by the fact that even the Ethiopian models thrust into prominence are also cherry picked for certain features. Take for example Liya Kebede and Gelila Bekel as the print model or girl-next-door versus Lola Luv as the hip-hop model.
The first two are positioned as the perfect blend of brown skin and “white” physical features – absolutely non-threatening, contends Baldwin. Whereas the hip-hop beauty standard of Luv constitutes a type of hyper-Africanized standard (i.e. wide hips, large buttocks contrasted with a small waist).
Whatever angle the situation is viewed, the conscious decision by mass media to skew perception now via the use of Ethiopian models only intensifies the acidic nature of the racial cast system. Although Lydia Asghedom, Maya Gate Haile and Sara Nuru, to name a few models of Ethiopian descent, have gained international notoriety – all Ethiopians do not look the same. To boot, now that there are a few more dark faces in front of the camera – we’re lead to believe that we made it to the apex.
“Let’s be honest,” Baldwin points out. “We’re maybe talking about seven Ethiopian women in the beauty industry that has now constituted an “explosion”…hardly.” “The particular framings of Ethiopian Beauty allows for the “browning” of dominant standards without undoing those standards, still preserving rather traditional beauty standards that are aligned with a stereotypical white ideal, in brown face.”
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