Sunday, August 10, 2008

Scattered Thoughts


I often wonder if at some point I'll be so turned off by the images (or lack of images) presented to us as women of color that I'll just unplug everything, nail my mailbox shut and  stop even bothering to complain about it. Would that be tacit acceptance of the status quo or a form of enlightenment?

I spend a lot of time on this blog discussing the things about the fashion and beauty industry that I find distasteful. Sometimes I do wonder if I am just waisting my time. The comments that I think I hear often in response to my disgust about the fashion industry are

Why do you care?
Those magazines are for white people anyway! 
Sit down, shut up and read Essence.

I've been thinking about this a lot since I tracked down and read an article by former model Pat Evans that appeared in Essence magazine in 1974.

In the article, Pat Evans states quite emphatically that Black modeling is just another form of prostitution. She goes on to say: 

The black model business is like slave trading - only more refined. You are black and you are beautiful; the first thing you should learn is that your Black beauty should only be appreciated by your own people. We struggle so hard to fulfill out dreams in a white world that we forget this is their game, and if you look like a winner, you can be moved off the board.

Damn, right?

Evans wrote this piece for Essence after she quit her modeling agency. She was disgusted with the fact that she had to check her self and her race at the door if she wanted to work. "Straighten your hair and carry your 'natural' in your pocketbook. There's no room for a Black image in the modeling field." She was also fed up and angry at black male photographers who used their influence in the industry to bed as many women as possible and white photographers, one of whom told her that he'd rather put a black dot or smudge in a photo instead of a black woman because, as he put it, "no one looks at you anyway."

There is a shallow part of me that places a lot of weight on beauty and attractiveness and how black women are perceived by larger society. As a younger person, I just wanted to see proof that being black was beautiful and 'normal.' It didn't matter how many times family members said it because I had to know that other people thought it was true too. 

Reading Evan's essay and her call for black people to be who they are and not obsess over imitation, I wondered if I could be that person who just doesn't give fuck about black models being featured in a fancy Italian magazine or seeing young black actresses in a dramatic role on TV. I know that I am not. I know that I'm even more obsessed with images of black women in the media now than I ever was in my younger years. The Internet is my enabler. Now I can look at more images quicker than ever before.  Hell, I don't even have to hold a magazine in my hands to tell you what's wrong with it.

And so I continue to read, react and blog. I've just accepted that I'm a natural born complainer and I hope that if I am ever blessed with a daughter, she won't internalize the same bull that I have and won't ever need a photograph to convince her that she is the shit like I did when I was a kid. 

Evans ends with:

Woman you are, man you are, it doesn't pay to imitate. Be beautiful in your Black world, be your own image--anything you desire, from Astarte to Nefertiti.... Set the image in your family, be a model man to your woman and vice versa; ... Why should be model what they copied from us...We are the original models.

ETA: There is a fantastic carnival up at Livejournal now. The entries are written by various WOC bloggers on the topic of beauty. Definitely worth reading.

Image source: Daylife

9 comments:

Ebony Intuition said...

"Why should be model what they copied from us...We are the original models."

Thats the truth right there, blacks have been brainwashed so much into thinking that we are mimicing them when in reality its the other way around..

I agree with her other statement as well
"The black model business is like slave trading - only more refined. You are black and you are beautiful; the first thing you should learn is that your Black beauty should only be appreciated by your own people. We struggle so hard to fulfill out dreams in a white world that we forget this is their game, and if you look like a winner, you can be moved off the board."

I worked in the fashion industry and I'm happy i'm not in it anymore. I've worked back stage at fashion shows , i've worked as a stylist , i've designed etc and as much as I love fashion and the art form. Its not and industry worth trying to mix in, we need our own that properly represents women of colour that won't degrade or dewomanize them.

lapetitediva said...

Did you find that Pat Evans article online? I tried Googling, but came up with nada.

The little I know about what's going on in Hollywood and in the pages of fashion magazines is what I see/read online. And what I see/read is enough to make me glad that I no longer subscribe to magazines or pay attention to the movie industry anymore.

I agree with ebony intuition's assertion that "we need our own that properly represents women of colour that won't degrade or dewomanize them", because if we wait for or expect White people to acknowledge or validate us, we're going to be waiting the rest of our lives because IMO, as long as White folks are running things, they're not going to let but so many of us get but so far, if they decide to let us through in the first place.

Brigitte said...

@lpd - I got the article from the library. I agree with both of you too. We need our own outlets. I'm just a little bothered by the lack of interest among people who have to means to get things like this started.

Ebony Intuition said...

"I'm just a little bothered by the lack of interest among people who have to means to get things like this started."

I agree with this point also, there are blacks and people of colour who are high up in the rankings who have the resources to start these outlets that we need but they don't.

lapetitediva said...

I'm just a little bothered by the lack of interest among people who have to means to get things like this started.

Good point. After I submitted my comment, I thought about the part of the article where Pat expressed frustration with Black photographers who used their influence to bed as many women as possible, and I got to thinking how one of the problems is that sometimes, POC have a tendency to sabotage ourselves and contribute to, rather than try to remedy, the problem. Some POC fall into the mindset of, "I got mine, so what's the problem?"

Nu Girl said...

Blog on sister. As long as you keep blogging, I'll keep reading. Please know that you are not alone, there are plenty of fly sisters who are struggling to stay fly in a world that attempts to convince us everyday that we are not the shit and not worth shit. I expect this kind of psychological warfare from Europeans but as long as we keep believing their lies about who we are, then we will continue to suffer. Instead of trying to gain their approval in the fashion industry we need to start our own fashion industry and market to our own.

Blog On Sister, Blog On!

Ebony Intuition said...

"Instead of trying to gain their approval in the fashion industry we need to start our own fashion industry and market to our own."

I think this also needs to be applied to everyday life also, I see people all the time trying to beg for acceptance from Europeans and expecting them to change when it may never happen and its like accept yourself and thats all that matters.

"got to thinking how one of the problems is that sometimes, POC have a tendency to sabotage ourselves and contribute to, rather than try to remedy, the problem. Some POC fall into the mindset of, "I got mine, so what's the problem?"

I agree with this also.

sdg1844 said...

This is your passion Brigitte. There's nothing wrong with that. I love your insights because most of the time, they are on point.

However, Pat Evans speaks to something real also. As long as white people run the game, we are not in the race. We need to start creating our own.

Social justice is important. No doubt, but so is being able to fill the void and the gap when you are not the standard.

It's the same with H'Wood. We have to beg and plead for roles instead of doing our own thing.

We've always been entrepeneurs, but we've also been taught that white folks water tastes better.

We have to continue the struggle on both fronts. Equal and accurate representation on the "mainstream" front and a development of our own resources to augment.

Keep up the good work.

kamo said...

hi there, i just stumbled upon your blog but felt the need to comment. if it gives you any hope, there are people of all skin tones that are fed up with the ways of the fashion industry, and would love to see more black models (and asian, and indian...) i think it's something that everyone with a social conscious should feel shame over, as it is clearly a regression from even 20 years ago. i don't know if you read jezebel.com, but it's a "thinking women's" site (can't think how else to describe it) that has had many features on this issue, and it might be encouraging to read through. unfortunately it's the people at the tip-top who have the say, and not the consumers. keep up the good work.