Token racial minorities in modelling and discrimination within the fashion industry

Naomi Campbell. A household name and the face of many international brands within the fashion world. However, a trend is emerging throughout high fashion that utilises the open minds of today’s contemporary culture to promote the feeling of equality within a brand image, all in the name of art.

Racial discrimination in the workplace is at an all-time-low in the Western world. Although that doesn’t mean it does not still exist, it means that our society is taking baby steps forward in opening our minds to the exquisite diversity in human nature. However, one industry that appears to have taken a leap backwards is the modelling industry. Although super brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Ralph Lauren are making an effort to include more diversity within their shows and campaigns, a new issue is emerging in that these brands are specifically recruiting a selected racial minority who are them flaunted as the ‘token’ minority.

Gigi Hadid, an American model who has famously walked for brands like Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret within the last year, is a prime example of the ‘diverse’ nature of the modelling industry. Hadid and her sister Bella, also a supermodel, are of a mixed race heritage (Dutch and Palestinian) which is fully utilised by the brands she walks for in promoting the diversity in their image. Although marketed as a mixed-race and ‘diverse’ model, Hadid actually fits perfectly into the stereotypical ‘all-American’ beauty ideals of a slender, blonde, bronzed bombshell much like her most predecessors. Happy to shout about their diversity and acceptance of racial equality, some of the brands Hadid has walked for hungrily snap up her Westernised beauty standard alongside her racial ties to a more ‘exotic’ world, therefore adding interest and creative factor to their product.

The creative world is moving at an increasingly fast pace, with the modelling industry no exception to this. Black models and racial minorities are being employed by brands purely to demonstrate diversity, or to add an exotic flavour to their aesthetic. The western beauty ideals are restricted to young and beautiful white women, a notion that is being fought against and challenged as times move forward. However, as modern thinkers challenge brands on their diversity and brands respond by employing a select handful of racial minorities, are we encouraging the breeding of the ‘token black model’? A premise that a single exotic creature from some far-flung corner of the globe would be paraded on a catwalk to a smattering of applause from a predominantly white audience, who would gawp at this token model as a demonstration of diversity and exotic beauty. We may be moving forward in the acceptance and even expectation of diversity within branding, however the utilisation of such diversity as a flamboyant demonstration of art in fact send us back several years. The day a respected fashion house send out a cast of fully integrated minorities without making a political or creative statement through it, is the day diversity is truly here to stay.

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