Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alek Wek Opens Up About Exploitation in Modeling

Wek recounts the event in her soon to be published autobiography.

The calendar in question was made for Lavazza Italian coffee and showed the beauty against a giant coffee cup. Her flawless dark brown skin was to represent espresso. According to Fashion First, although she thought the images were beautiful she was uncomfortable with the manner in which her image was exploited. She says:

I can't help but compare them to all the images of black people that have been used in marketing over the decades. There was the big-lipped jungle-dweller on the blackamoor ceramic mugs sold in the Forties; the golliwog badges given away with jam; Little Black Sambo, who decorated the walls of an American restaurant chain in the 1960s; and Uncle Ben, whose apparently benign image still sells rice...

When asked by Vogue, the company CEO Ennio Ranaboldo defends the image which he saw artistic.

I think she raises a really interesting point. I remember when I first started seeing Alek in magazines. If my memories are correct, she was usually photographed alone and with rather exotic treatments. Never cast as straight forward beauty, she was usually regarded as some "exotic other." In fashion speak, this meant lots of feathers, body paint, sand, and usually a animal skin or two thrown in for good measure. When she finally appeared on the cover of Elle, I nearly fainted from delight.

Of course, the entire modeling industry is about exploitation but at the same time, I always hated reading mini-bios on Wek that made it sound like she tanning goat hides when the fashion world "discovered" her and put her on display. Iman got the same treatment when she first emerged. I actually remember someone telling me in all seriousness, that Iman was discovered while riding on the back of a giraffe in Africa (never mind which country.)

I'm interested to see what the response (if any) will be from the fashion industry with both Alek and Naomi's recent comments entering the blogosphere. Something tells me it will be business as usual, but I am pleased to see more people speaking out about these issues.

10 comments:

Who's That Fashionista? said...

Great Post!

Overwhelmed Naija Babe said...

great post... she's incredibly intelligent and aware... i like that... hopefully this trend will soon stop the more people speak up about it...

oh and thanks sweetie for stopping by my blog

Aulelia said...

she's fantastic.

Ondo Lady said...

Yawn!!! Yet another super-rich Supermodel winging about mistreatment in the modelling industry. My heart bleeds. The fact is Alex Wek has always been regarded as a decoy in the modelling industry, a throw back to models such as Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks who look more acceptable by western standards. Alex is seen as something exotic, untamed and maybe even wild. You take her jet black skin and short afro and I guess the beauty industry think that is what 'African' women who do not look like Tyra and Naomi look like. How wrong are they. My issue is that Alex seemed more than happy to be represented in this way and took the money and fame while doing so and now she talks about exploitation. Where was her tongue when she was climbing up the ladder? Yes the modelling industry is exploitative and I would say any system where people are judge soley on their looks would be - it is the nature of the game. So what else is new?

Trouble said...

I actually heard about this and was a little suprised. When she first began getting a lot of shine, it seemed like she was fine playing the stereotype. And I was somewhat bothered by alot of her photos. Now, you see her somewhat less often and she's bothered by the photos that have been taken of her?! Why did she take the assignment if she thought it was racist? I'm sure that she's made enough money over the years that she is able to pick what she wants to do. And why did she single out that photo out of all of the ones that she's taken?

And by the way, I really enjoyed your blog (and thanks for stopping by mine!)

Icy said...

What a fantasic photo of her. Beautiful!

Black Style Central said...

I adore Alex Wek, and what she's done to change the face of beauty. She's so intelligent.

Mademoiselle M said...

oh i'm so excited. our book club is meeting on this book this week. I may use this post for a discussion point!

i found ur blog on google btw. love your profile description :)

HolidaysForFun said...

Is this naomi famous?

JKW said...

Yes many designers and photographers do indulge in racial, cultural stereotypes while showcasing models and though they may not mean any harm in it…it can be painful to those who have been tormented by prejudice, racial/cultural alienation and bigotry.

But for some (myself included) art is art, beauty is beauty and sometimes artistically indulging in cultural stereotypes has a certain tabooish appeal.

For me, Alek Wek is sexy as hell covered in feathers and leopard print or rolling around in jungle leaves and so is Indian Model Lakshmi Menon straddling an Elephant.

Yet I understand why many Africans and Indians may be put off.

I am looking forward to seeing more…much more dark skinned, short haired, flat nosed, full lip, African featured Models on the global fashion scene and I salute those pioneers such as Alek Wek and Oluchi for taking risks and facing self-doubt and criticisms from both sides of the color line.
http://www.modelsandmoguls.com/2009/10/25/dark-chocolate-models-african-beauties-or-european-stereotypes-alek-wek-oluchi-onweagba/