Within the age of technology, we often find ourselves comparing our lives to those we praise on social media. Models, influencers, YouTubers, celebrities… the list goes on. But have you ever stopped to consider the main difference between these people and yourself? As women within a highly discriminatory society facing various forms of prejudice, these challenges have become a staple in our growth and personal redirection. So what gives for them? The difference resides within a five-letter word, a word so powerful it determines every aspect of our lives while hiding the fact that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side. That lucky five? Title.
A title is what stands between you and Gigi Hadid, Wolfie Cindy, Liza Koshy, and social personalities as far as the eye can see. “How could that possibly be the only difference?”, what a good question that you totally asked, random blog reader! Titles bring the influx of status, influence and power, but with these titles come the struggles of reality all wrapped within a filtered package. These titleholders face the same hardships, prejudice and discrimination that “ordinary women” face, they just get to hide behind their status and pretend all is well. As a model and titleholder, highlighting the construed reality of the modelling industry and challenging what you know about how it works is a must for me. So let’s get to it by walking you through the process of castings, bookings, shoots and networking through the eyes of a biracial, female model who is constantly the victim of prejudice, racism and discrimination.
The first step towards booking a job is the casting, which can be pretty nerve wracking considering what a casting entails. At castings, your possible client will ask you the basics: a few questions, your measurements, to walk for them if the job requires runway, as well as to see or receive a link to your portfolio (a book or online folder of your headshots and previous work). So basically, they’re judging a book by its cover and asking courtesy questions to touch base on civility. But, castings work a little differently for women, especially women of colour. Compared to our Caucasian counterparts, a whole new set of requirements, questions and uncalled for comments rise to the occasion. Common questions will turn into a “so where are you really from?’ discussion, highlighting how women of colour are seen directly by their skin in the modelling world and nothing more. A few questions I’ve been asked in castings include the following:
- So are you naturally that pale? You’re so lucky you got more of your white side!
- Is there any way you can straighten your hair for the job? We want our models to look similar and *looks me up and down* …that…doesn’t look similar.
- Is this your usual weight? I know black women are a bit heavier set but you’re mixed, so I don’t know if that applies to you.
- You’re mixed? With that hair? You must wish you had wavy hair like other mixed girls sometimes.
- Are you sure you’re half black? You don’t have big lips or a big nose! How lucky.
- Can I touch it? OMG it feels like a sponge, it’s like petting a dog.
- Are you sure that’s your hair and not a wig? I didn’t think your people could grow your hair that big
These comments generalize the concept of “light-hearted, casting banter”, words that stick with me till this very day as they do for every female model of colour. Prejudice and discrimination don’t only come in the form of “questions” and comments, they also presents themselves within the casting type. If a casting is for a runway or commercial, you’ll rarely see black, mixed, or any woman of colour selected for the job unless it’s to fill a diversity quota. “What’s a diversity quota?”, thank you again for asking, random blog reader! A diversity quota is the term most bipoc models have coined to describe the very obvious need for companies to “promote diversity” while still booking a caucasian majority. Why? So they can gain the support and following of bipoc communities, boost their ratings and sales, create partnerships with people of colour, all while maintaining their preferred majority. Many companies will mentally cut the majority of coloured models at castings and gently let them down weeks later, unless they’re white passing or fit Eurocentric beauty standards. This includes black, coloured or mixed models with:
- Wavy or “curly” hair vs Afro-textured hair
- Weaves/protective styles vs Afro-textured hair
- Pale or slightly tanned skin vs dark skin
- Coloured eyes vs brown eyes
- Eurocentric feature vs ethnic feature
- “Unique” features such as freckles, scars, vitiligo, etc.
- No accent if the job requires a speaking role
Unfortunately, this list continues for as long as women of colour have been discriminated against, aka as long as any of us can remember. So once you’ve survived the verbal abuse, racist comments, judgemental stares and whispers, all while watching caucasian or white-passing models receive praise for the qualities you also share, congrats! You’ve completed your first casting. Now you’ll wait 1-5 business days depending on the date of the job to hear you’ve “unfortunately not been chosen” or you’ve been chosen to fill the diversity quota. That second message will come in a prettier, carefully worded package though. Now, before I absolutely burst your bubble, this isn’t the case for every casting. Many brands, companies, designers and more are wholeheartedly inclusive and dedicate the time and effort to ensure diversity is their normal, not just a sales gimmick. It can take some time to find those people, but I for one can say I’ve found many companies who take pride in their model inclusivity and diversity and promote nothing but love, equality and positivity. Brands that speak freely on social injustice, racism, sexism, sizeism and other forms of prejudice in the industry are out there, you just have to test the waters before you find the right pool to dive into. Speaking of pools, it’s time to dive into booking!
So it’s been 1-5 business days, let’s check our email. Wow, look at you! You’ve been selected for the job which means you’ve been booked! Bookings are somewhat interrelated to castings, they go hand in hand so there’s a lot of crossover information. But, one thing that differs is that if you’re selected from the casting group, whether it be an in-person or online/email casting, you’ll receive what we call a “model call package”. These packages include more information about the job, such as:
- Clothing and accessories to bring
- Whether you’ll be doing your own makeup/hair or if an HMUA (Hair and Makeup Artist) will be assisting
- How you should prep (skin, hair, nails, etc)
- Time, location and who else you’ll be modelling with if it’s a group job
- Minor details like piercing removal or tattoo cover ups
This sounds all fine and dandy until you realize “wait, I’m a woman of colour, does their prep match my prep?” and *cue the disaster soundtrack* as per usual, it doesn’t. Now you find yourself in a downward spiral of anxiety, fear of rejection, and self doubt. This process mostly applies to my afro holders, with “prepping” being equivalent to damaging our hair straightening it last minute or constantly wearing protective styles such as weaves or braids to “blend in with the crowd”. Did I mention frequent heat damage/manipulation causes our hair to break-off or fall out completely which can be irreversible? As women of colour in the industry, not only do we worry about the usual factors such as height, weight, and build, but we also have to factor in our physical features that connect us to our ethnicity and whether or not they’ll be accepted.
Now, let me reintroduce my title concept here because I know you’re thinking “but you’re not a supermodel, so you don’t know how it works in the real modelling world” and if you weren’t thinking it, you’re thinking it now. Would you rather hear from a world famous supermodel instead? Does Bella Hadid ring any bells? In an interview with TeenVogue, Bella Hadid expressed her views on Black Lives Matter, racism in the industry, as well as her fear of “having to see another one of my Black girlfriends get her hair burned by a hair straightener, or do her own makeup because the makeup artist hasn’t been trained to work with all different skin types”. Injustice does not stop once the title “supermodel” enters the room, it only remodels itself to fit a stealthier, socially acceptable incognito. Whether you’re a freshly signed model, work freelance, have 10+ years of experience or find yourself somewhere in between, prejudice and discrimination can always be found lurking in the background. Bella goes on, highlighting the fact that “the industry is supposed to be about expression and individuality, but the reality is that [many people] still discriminate because of exactly [those differences]. If a supermodel and a woman like yourself can experience and observe the same levels of discrimination, what’s the difference here again? Say it with me now, starts with a t, ends with e…no, no it’s not thermoluminescence how did you even guess that? It’s TITLE. Okay random blog reader, guessing privileges have been revoked. But it’s your big moment, your job date is here and it’s a product shoot!
So you arrive at the location bright and early, nerves and adrenaline pumping, hopes are high. You walk in and the lack of diversity hits you in the face, you definitely know what quota you’re truly here to fill. Hopes are low, if there at all, but you keep a plastered smile spread across your face otherwise your agency will have a few choice words with you afterwards. Your team is white, stylist is white, photographer is white, and oh look! Your HMUA is a white woman with cornrows and hoop earrings who calls you “sis” every chance that she gets…aren’t you excited? Some of the most common experiences for models in this setting are based on inadequate knowledge which is ultimately based on racism and prejudice within industry sectors. HMUAs not knowing how to do black, coloured or mixed models’ makeup and hair, especially those with kinky/coily hair textures and darker skin tones. Stylist not understanding that different skin tones require different colour schemes. Photographers not understanding that a beige or black background isn’t the best fit for a mixed, coloured or black model. Editors not comprehending that their access to adobe photoshop does not mean the erasure of non-Eurocentric features and lightening skin, and the list goes on once again. So the common scene on set, backstage before shows, and in the bathroom in between is the visual of black, coloured, and mixed models doing their own makeup, hair, and wiping each other’s tears before they step in front of the cameras. In this video by Vogue, listen to eight models of various backgrounds share their experience, observations and views on the topics above within the industry.
But it doesn’t stop there, prejudice and discrimination are not only designated terms for those of colour, they’re also used to belittle, bully and shame those of us who do not fit a size 0. Fatphobia or “Sizeism” within the industry has always been prevalent since the dawn of time and models, so you can only imagine how it feels to be what the industry labels a “plus-size or curve model” while also being a woman of colour. Hi hello, it’s me again, size 4-6 biracial model who has been told I’m “too heavy” for runway or high fashion and will never be a commercial model, despite me literally being a commercial model for the past two years.
“Commercial Model? What’s that?” Commercial is one of the various categories models can be placed in. These categories include: Fashion, Commercial, Lifestyle, Mature, or Curve.
Comments of this form and much worse are thrown at curve models on a daily basis, but they’re told not to take it personally, “it’s just the industry”. But when the industry you dreamed of being a part of is the same industry that personally destroys the self-confidence and love we work so hard to achieve, something needs to be done.
Within an industry of this size, filled with every shape, colour, height, and build of model, you’d think harmful standards based on societal constructs of beauty would be a lesser factor, especially when uniqueness is sought out for. But unfortunately, the opposite is promoted on any runway, commercial, or high fashion experience you’ll ever witness. Most runways look as though the designer specifically said “copy and paste” on every model except the random black or mixed model thrown in to show their “diverse side”. Caucasian, at least 5’10, a size 0 or below, with blonde or brown, straight hair. That is the image that sticks in every model’s mind when attempting runway, an image so restrictive that models who fit said description can’t even make the cut. This image is most destructive for female models who are already told by society that anything besides skinny and white will never be beautiful. Female models starve themselves, develop eating disorders, form unhealthy relationships with fitness, stop eating weeks before shows, and again, the list continues. These factors not only impact women as a whole on the regular, but supermodels on the job as well.
Sizeism is discussed in the Harper’s Bazaar by 9 models of different ethnic backgrounds, size, and height, highlighting the disgusting emphasis on weight and the obsession with underdeveloped models. Models such as Ashley Graham, Gigi Hadid and Kate Upton, among others, share their experience with size discrimination and how it impacted their mental and physical health, as well as their relationship with the modelling industry. Graham explains “In the midst of people manipulating your body and demanding what they want of you, your emotions go wild.” emphasizing the mental impact of sizeism. You’re probably thinking “well she’s a curve model, only curve models experience the extreme end of sizeism”, WRONG. American model Crystal Renn, the first ever “plus-size” model to ever be casted for a major French fashion house (Chanel), had her first major experience with sizeism at the ripe, old age of fourteen. Before I even quote her, look up Crystal Renn. Notice how the first images to pop up are side-by-side comparisons of her extreme weight loss? In the Bazaar, Renn says “a scout approached her when she was 14 and told her she had to lose “nine inches” off her hips in order to be as famous as Gisele Bündchen”. Imagine your fourteen year old, impressionable, barely-hit-puberty self being told you need to lose nine inches off of your hips in order to fulfill your dreams. But right now you’re just you, a biracial model who just finished her nightmare of a product shoot, so let’s get to networking!
So, the final and most important step to any budding models career, or even well established models, is networking. You can go to as many castings as you want and book as many shoots as you please, but if you don’t have a strong platform or name within the creative community, it’s game over. Word of mouth and media presence are huge factors in your success and credibility as a model. If someone mentions you to a photographer or HMUA and they have no positive things to say, those not so positive sayings get passed around to every model, photographer, HMUA, and brand looking to book models. Your relationship with each model, stylist, HMUA, photographer, brand, casting director and then some determines your ultimate place in the industry. So you can imagine the difficulty of black, coloured or mixed models who have to “play nice” in order to maintain these relationships within the industry. Even then, one discriminatory, racist individual and their mouth is all it takes to end your career as a model, which is the case for many, including myself.
As a model, I take pride in my relationships with those in the industry and creative community, as I value each and every person who’s efforts goes towards the final product. With that being said, I’ve had photographers bash my name simply for using my platform to discuss and raise awareness for topics such as Black Lives Matter. Certain photographers verbally berated me in my DMs, made public story posts about the “ignorance of models with platforms”, then blocked me on every platform known to man. Now you can imagine the things she and other industry members say about me to others. So consider that factor for those just starting out, those who are already disadvantaged, or those who don’t have a strong relationship with other members of the industry to debunk those claims and give them their support. So that’s networking, what’s next?
What’s next is you, wiping the ashy makeup and plastered smile off your defeated face, trying to fight the tear jerking after thoughts that fill your mind. “Did I smile enough for them to like me?”, “Was my addition to the conversation meaningful or did it come off as forced?”, “were they laughing with me or at me?”, “the photographer said I was lucky to be biracial because he struggles with ‘ the ethnic spots’, what does that mean?”, “my hair is so brittle from the heat on top of gel and aggressive brushing, it’ll probably fall out now”, “is this really what I looked like the entire day? My neck is normal and my face is white”. The memories of every casting, booking, preparation process, shoot, runway and networking attempt flood your mind. The blatant racism, sexist remarks, racially charged “jokes”, size discrimination, all of it overwhelms you. Despite the good, the handful of beautiful souls who only wish to emphasize diversity and love, the bad still consumes you.
The reality of the industry and it’s near impossible subject to change is the most dreadful thought in the back of every disadvantaged model’s mind. Despite the change that has already occurred, at the rate of which change is happening, our grandkids will be the only ones to see it. Even those who have privilege in the industry suffer, impacted by sizeism, sexualization, body-shaming, sexism, as well as watching their black and coloured friends suffer each and every day. Whether you’re black, coloured, mixed, a size 0, plus-size, short, tall, Eurocentric passing, non-Eurocentric passing, or any combination of the sort, I know these words will speak to you. The modelling industry is one that requires thick skin, a brave face, and strong willpower. It requires self love so powerful, that no comment or discriminatory slap in the face can take it away. It requires patience, strength, and the ability to take off your modelling cape at the end of the day rather than carrying its weight with you wherever you go. It also requires me to remind you, the random blog reader who made it this far, that
You are loved. Your self worth does not reside within numbers regardless of what society tells you. You are powerful. You are heard. You inspire others everyday without even realizing it. Other women see you as a source of inspiration and motivation. Those that pray for your downfall also pray they had something you already have. You are beautiful and no photographer, casting director, agent, editor, company and then some can ever take that away from you.
I would like to thank each and every one of you who read my first blog post. This position with WEW as well as the topic of discussion are held in a very special place in my heart, and now a piece of my heart is yours to take with you after reading this. Lastly, to my fellow models who possibly read this post, female or male, you are, have been, and always will be enough. Thank you, I will now exit stage left. 🙂 <3
For more information on prejudice, racism, sizeism, discrimination and more in the industry, check out some of these links below!
Hey! I’m Chevaughn, a third year BA psychology student at Grant MacEwan University. I plan on branching into clinical social work, specializing in mental health, illnesses and wellness. The most important concept to me is self expression, as being in touch with our emotions and communicating them freely brings us closer to ourselves and one another. I often express myself through painting, writing, poetry, dance and music. This concept is also why I joined WEW, to write and hopefully express the feelings and struggles of women like me, as well as for those who don’t often have a voice, platform or the words to fully express themselves.
Chevaughn Phirihttps://w4w.ca/author/chevaughnp/November 20, 2020
Chevaughn Phirihttps://w4w.ca/author/chevaughnp/March 20, 2021
Chevaughn Phirihttps://w4w.ca/author/chevaughnp/May 20, 2021