The reality of the Western world’s influence on the globe is undeniable. The newest look, the ideal body, and the best haircut are all influenced by a westernized image of beauty. Turn on the TV, flip through a magazine, and there you’ll see an international standard of what we are supposed to look, dress, and act like.
Just take a look at skin color, for example. Unfortunately, light-colored skin is put on a pedestal; thought to be the ideal image of beauty in the majority of countries containing mostly dark-skinned people. We see this in skin lightening creams, advertisements showing intelligence, happiness, stability, safety, beauty, fun, and so much more by way of light-colored people.
Where does this desire come from? Mass media and society at large instill in us that we should look a certain way, and so we develop insecurities, thereby developing desires to become something we are not. This means big bucks for the beauty industry.
This realization has stirred up global controversy, especially amongst those who want to work to change these beauty standards, and allow people from all over the world to embrace their individuality. The modeling industry, for instance, has come a long way in terms of diversity, but, as one African model points out in a groundbreaking new photo series, there is still a ways to go.
Deddeh Howard, who grew up in Liberia and now lives in Los Angeles, notes that her initial break in the modeling business was not one of ease, as numerous agencies turned her away on account of having enough black models on their rosters already.
“Not to long ago, … I would walk into various fashion model agencies and I would immediately be compared to … one or two black model that they had on the roster,” Howard noted on her website. “Even though I was told by those agencies that I have an amazing look and [they] wish they could represent me, they already have a black model. It seemed as if one or two black models on the roster are enough to represent us all. When you are told that, trust me, it feels bizarre.”
And while it’s true that Naomi Campbell and Iman have become household names, they are merely the exception, not the rule.
Howard wanted to expose the need for more diversity in the modeling and fashion industries, and promote the visibility of black models, so she teamed up with photographer Raffael Dickreuter to reshoot some big campaigns by Gucci, Guess, Louis Vuitton, and Victoria’s Secret.
In the photo series, appropriately titled Black Mirror, Howard posed exactly as the originals models and spokeswomen featured had, from their outfits to their makeup, facial expressions, and stances.
“In a time where black people too often are in the media for being underrepresented at important events such as the Oscars, or make headlines for being targeted by the police, I felt it was time to do something positive and inspiring about my race,” she explained.
The series has been well-received, and for good reason, yet still there is a piece of the puzzle missing. We need to call to action not just more ethnicities having a place in the industry, but a new normal of what beauty looks like. It is not about recreating an image bedazzled with expensive clothing and accessories, with one body type the focus, and no flaws to be found. We need to do more to promote the diversity of all body types, of all skin colors, of flaws as beautiful. People don’t go to an art show to see a blank canvas, so why would we take away all the intricacies, all of the unique attributes of one model, one person, to the next?
The Problem With the Modelling Industry as a Whole. Back or White.
Do you see the image above? Is it really portraying an unbiased message? Not really. In many cases the new trend is to focus on the fact that we have become culturally obsessed with skinny and slim, to the point that we say that curvy women are real women while skinny women are not. But is this true?
The word “real” referred to something actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; it’s not something that is imagined or supposed. So this means that if you see a woman, man, dog, cat, lemonade stand or even an earwig under the BBQ mat… it’s REAL! Unless of course you are on a hallucinogen and are imagining it being there.
In all seriousness, a real woman, and even a real man, is whoever we are. “Real” isn’t any specific thing. So we don’t need to create campaigns and movements focused on showing what’s real. We simply need to accept that we are all different and culturally let go of the perceptions we place on what beauty is or isn’t.
Imagine for an instant that we suddenly went the other direction completely and now “real” means being curvy. How does the girl or woman who has a very skinny body type feel? The same thing goes for men. Many men hit the gym in an attempt to achieve the correct body weight, shape, and look in order to be considered muscular (and therefore attractive). But this is just another illusion – and having a decent background in kinesiology, I can tell you that some men, just like some women, have body types that simply don’t allow them to achieve the shape their egos are after.
One more step further, if we want to truly go back to “real beauty” this means going beyond the idea of needing makeup as well. Have fun with it, dress up, wear it from time to time, but does it have to be a daily thing? After all, why do only women wear it and not men? Who made that up? Ask yourself, “Can I leave the house without wearing makeup, perfecting my hair, and hiding my flaws?” Can your friends or new love interests see you without make up? This applies to both men and women, as men can be just as self-conscious about their looks as women and I believe it’s important to simply embrace who you are.
So! Male or female, it doesn’t matter, let’s let go of the idea of “real” and instead accept ourselves for who we are. You will notice very very quickly, the more acceptance and “confidence” you have within yourself about who you are completely, the less you or anyone else will even care about your physical appearance, because you are projecting an entirely new energy.
But wait, what about the whole idea that dressing up nice and making yourself look dashing will make you feel good about yourself? Is that what it takes for us to feel good? Doesn’t the very fact that this is what makes us feel good reveal how we truly feel about ourselves and the importance we place on appearance? Once again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not vilifying dressing up or anything of that nature, enjoy it as you wish, I’m simply drawing attention to the fact that when it is a neutral act it comes from a space of acceptance within ourselves versus a feeling of self consciousness or a need to impress others.
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