Evolution of the Supermodel: Black is Beautiful

The first black model to ever appear on the cover of American Vogue in 1974, was Beverly Johnson; Donyale Luna was first on British Vogue in 1966; the second being Naomi Campbell 21 years later, in 1987. Campbell also was the first black model on Vogue Paris‘ cover in 1988, and (I’m quoting Wikipedia here!) it was only made possible „after her friend and mentor, designer Yves St. Laurent, threatened to withdraw his advertising from the magazine if it continued to refuse to place black models on its cover“.

There has been much debate about the racism in the fashion industry and I have written about it before: here, here and here. For those of you who do not speak German, I will quickly sum up the points of criticism raised most often.

Vogue Italia’s All Black Issue

Fashion should – in an ideal world, that is – represent the society we live in and the different kinds of beauty that exist. Even in a less perfect world, it should aim at ALL its possible customers. However, most models are caucasian, and most of them are blond. Asian women, black women, and any other ethnicity – are underrepresented, if not denied by the runways and ad campaigns and editorials of the fashion world.

“The World’s Next Top Models” photographed by Steven Meisel for Vogue, May 2007

These representations of beauty, which exclude certain races and cultures, nevertheless shape our understanding of beauty and give women a means of identification and an ideal of beauty. If there are almost no black models there to identify with, what does it mean to black beauty? What does it mean to young girls growing up, finding no resemblance with those considered beautiful?

From Vogue Italia All-Black Issue

If, however, black models are used for fashion spreads or editorials, they’re often depicted in stereotypical ways, as the wild beast in a cage or wearing animal prints or tribal jewelry. Often, the black models which do get booked have white features and look like „white girls dipped in chocolate“, as the agent in the documentary „The Colour of Beauty“ expresses it.

From Vogue Italia All-Black Issue

Grace Jones „Do not Feed the Animal“

If there is no such girl at hand, fashion magazines sometimes just use Blackface on white models, as you can see below. It’s so much easier, right? (Sarcasm!) Why even bother looking for a black model if in the end you’ll just have to whiten her anyways? Cause that’s what happened to Beyonce for L’oreal (and many others).

Lara Stone in French Vogue, October 2009

Beyonce whitened by L’oreal. 

Even in the Italian Vogue’s All Black Issue, the ad campaigns were all-white.


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