Diversitea: is the modelling industry transforming?

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Heightened awareness surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement over the last few months has called into question how diverse a number of different industries are. The modelling industry has been notoriously under-representative, in which figures outline black bodies make up less than half of castings at major shows. But changes are already upon us: designer Dior has committed to an all-black fashion show; a new council called the Black in Fashion Council are launching a wave of initiatives to tackle the industry’s racism; Calvin Klein welcomed black, trans-plus-size Jari Jones to be the poster girl for their company.

Companies are now striving for diverse teams and, whilst this is certainly opening the door for many underrepresented communities, questions have been raised about the intentions behind this. Whether it be gender, race, sexuality or body type, company’s diversity incentives can border on a box-ticking-exercise to meet quotas, rather than valuing equality as good business.            

During the coronavirus pandemic, 22 year-old Alicia Brittle has been signed as a model for London-based IMM Models. In our Tea Time video below, Brittle spills the tea further about personal experiences regarding race and representation in the model industry.

22-year-old model Alicia Brittle: talking representation, race and modelling.

Brittle expands on the intersectional complexities of being a woman and being mixed race, which she said “isn’t always easy.” She ensures she works with creatives that celebrate different ethnicities and diverse bodies, but explains how not everyone in the industry is as open-minded.

TEAser on @hollyspillingthetea: Alicia Brittle

Brittle said: “You hear things like ‘we’ve already got someone who looks like you’, and by that you just know that they mean they’ve got another black or mixed race person on the books, or they’ve got similar hair to me. But then they’ve got 20 brunettes and that’s fine – they don’t ‘look alike’.”

Alicia Brittle, model for IMM models

What are the problems with representation?

In my interview about their talk “(Re)presenting Cover Girls“, Drs Ivana Ebel and Gabrielle Bittelbrun found that 95% of the images in the magazines that they analysed were white women. Out of the 552 covers that they analysed, they identified just three black women. There was also an under-representation of disabled, pregnant or transgender women.

Ebel said: “It’s hard to be a woman in general, then when you can’t see yourself as a role model, or as some aspirational figure, you end up believing you are maybe not good enough.”

Dr Ivana Ebel, researcher behind (Re)presenting Cover Girls

But companies must go further than simply ticking a box and turning it into an act of tokenism.

Whilst figures about the percentage of black models in the UK are based on 2016 reports, The Fashion Spot suggests that pre-lockdown, racial diversity took a backwards-step for Fashion Month Fall 2020. The percentage of black models (out of 7,390 model castings at 215 major shows) fell from 41.5% to 40.6% (out of 6,879 castings across 194 shows). The biggest drop came in New York, whilst London remained a bright spot which soared from 41% in Spring 2020 to 43.8% for Fall 2020.

Could heightened awareness surrounding BLM improve conditions?

During the coronavirus pandemic, black, plus-size model and LGBTQIA+ icon Jari Jones was featured loud and proud on a billboard for Calvin Klein in NYC. A social media picture comparing previous CK billboards of a white, slim model to someone who identifies as a “trans queer lesbian” highlights that when change happens, it happens quickly.

View this post on Instagram

REVEALING THE UGLY : Learning today that though this ride will be such a blessing from the universe , god and the ancestors , there are things and people, miserable behind computer and phones screens that will try to suck out every ounce of joy I have left in my body. It comes with the territory I guess. It comes with showing the world that Black folks, that Trans folks , that Fat folks can be celebrated and loved and empowered publicly. I’m practicing self love everyday , I’m practicing boundaries everyday , I’m practicing balance everyday to armor myself for this fight but I know it’s gonna be a tough road ahead but like my queer trans ancestors belived, the people and the community and the youth I’m doing all this for ….are worth the mental ass kicking!!!!! Today I pull from the strength of @alokvmenon @huntythelion @tessholliday @luhshawnay @andrejworldwide @watchshayslay @ihartericka @aaron___philip @fatfemme and all of those who hold my heart strings , that have gone through mental and maybe sometimes physical ass kickings, but stayed resilient , so that I could reach this point today. Thank you for your words that are holding me today. Thank you for your words that are wiping the blood off my lip today. Thank you for your words that are allowing me to smile through the punches. Thank you for your words that remind me that we are worth it. . . #translivesmatter #blacklivesmatter . . #transgender #trans #blacklivesmatter #diversity #marginalized #thisisamerica #freedom #blacklivesmatter #bodydiversity #effyourbeautystandards #curvemodel #influencer #visiblyplussize #plussize #plusmodel ##plussizemodel #bodypositive #transmodel #revolution #liberation #newyork #editorialphotography #editorial #photography

A post shared by Jari Jones (@iamjarijones) on

Jari Jones for Calvin Klein: the Black, plus-size model and LGBTQIA+ icon highlights the trolling she faces.

Whilst this a huge step in the right direction for representation of different races, genders, sexualities and body sizes, Jones reminded her followers of the backlash she still receives on Instagram. The comments included: “That’s a man baby”; “It’s utterly disgusting” and “Is this the first time Calvin Klein have used a black guy as a model or what.”

Jones’s caption said: “Learning today that though this ride will be such a blessing from the universe, god and the ancestors, there are things and people, miserable behind computer and phones screens, that will try to suck out every ounce of joy I have left in my body. It comes with the territory I guess.”

Jari Jones

This ignorance is not limited to the public’s perception of modelling. Brittle suggests there are internal industry issues with how agencies and creatives talk about diversity.

Brittle said: “The terminology used when it’s about looks can be problematic. It can be more superficial, with comments like ‘frizzy hair’. It just depends on the creatives you work with.”

Alicia Brittle, model for IMM models

Brittle says problems surrounding diversity could be alleviated by educating yourself further about racism and celebrating different bodies. But it remains to be seen if further initiatives, like the Black in Fashion Council, will bolster diversity within industries like modelling and how they will tackle tokenism being the driver behind these acts.

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