I flip through Elle, Vogue and W Magazine every month, and for every five white models, there is one model of color. When I was younger, not seeing a girl with my skin color didn’t bother me, but not being light-skinned with light eyes and straight hair did. I felt that was the mold I had to fit. So I Uncle Ruckus-ed myself and began to dislike my own people and that’s toxic for a pre-teen. I tried to become someone I was not and when I realized I could never become that someone, it angered me.
Let’s fast-forward to 2012, I’m fifteen years old and a seventeen year old boy is gunned down for wearing a hoodie and holding a bag of Skittles and a bottle of Arizona. I’m watching people dissect him, calling him a thug and saying he deserved death. A boy. A Black boy. I got angry. My eyes opened. It took longer than it should have, but they did.
Only 14% of major fashion magazine covers featured women of color in 2014. According to The Fashion Spot, out of 373 shows and 9,926 model appearances from New York, London, Paris and Milan for Spring 2016 Fashion Month, almost 78 percent of the models were white. Out of 470 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, there are only 12 African-American designers.
So as a student that goes to a fashion school, a black student I should say, I’m weary. I wholeheartedly love fashion. I see no other path for me, but I feel as if I definitely won’t make it sometimes. I walk down the hallways of Fashion Institute of Technology, and I do see faces that look like me. However, just like those magazines, for every five white students, I see one of me. I sat in classes where I was the only Black girl. There were times where I felt so discouraged. So alone. You can’t help but feel like you don’t belong, even though you do. You tend to doubt your talents and your strengths and that shouldn’t happen because of the amount of melanin you have.
There is a lot wrong with the fashion industry. You name it from the obsession with being no more than a size 4 to the sick fetish with being young. The most irritating of all the wrong has to be racism. In an interview with the UK magazine, The Times, Chanel Iman, supermodel of Black and Korean descent, she recalled being told by fashion show casters, “We already found one black girl. We don’t need you any more.” That’s what I’m afraid I’ll be told. I’m weary of the judgments.
I can tell you this, I still flip through Elle, Vogue, and others like them and still it’s rare to see women like me on their pages, but now I don’t feel angered that I don’t have light-skin and straight hair. Instead, I feel determined to see more melanin on every runway, every cover page, and everywhere behind it all.
We all know people of color are facing much more heavy matters than being able to walk a runway in a $1,000 dress. This isn’t a prissy cry for job security. This is a demand for respect – not just in fashion. If we have to take, we will take it.
Raquel Stewart, Fashion Editor