Why does something that grows out of your head, need to be censored? Why is it a big deal? The big deal occurs when people of color are denied work because of it. When they are told that they should change their texture or style to fit in. When they are made to feel that being themselves isn’t enough. When conforming to industry standards is promoted. It’s a problem when there isn’t proper representation. Media heavily influences the way a lot of us think, especially the youth, as it can help shape how they see themselves and try to make sense of their place in the world/image/sense of individuality.
“It’s just hair” becomes a problem when wearing your natural hair or making the decision to go natural is considered a career altering event. When you’re a new model, you’re so excited to just be there, and you’re told over and over how lucky and privileged you are to even be considered or seen by certain casting directors/designers. And It’s that naïveté that can cause most models to be taken advantage of in the beginning of their careers. But progress is certainly being made.
I remember my first NYFW season two years ago. Excited and doe-eyed, I wore my big afro to my casting. The casting director told me that if I wanted to be in his show, I would have to straighten my hair and come back to the casting. He explained, in front of everyone, that my hair had “too much drama” because it’s so big, and that for castings, that I’m trying too hard to stand out, and it’s better to come with straight hair because it’s simple, and the casting directors can see me versus getting “distracted” by my hair.
For one, I felt embarrassed. He called me out in front of the long line of models that were all waiting to hear their fate, just as equally nervous as I was I’m sure. But I distinctly remember hearing that my hair was “too much drama,” and that I was “trying too hard to stand out,” by reading between the lines of what that really meant for a person of color choosing to wear her hair as it grew out of her head: we want MOC, but MOC who don’t look like MOC.
How on earth is wearing my hair the way it is trying too hard?
The casting director looked at me again, pressed down my fro to see my bone structure, and asked if I could borrow a hair tie from someone so that I could put my hair in a high bun and walk for him again, because he “wasn’t sure about me yet.”
I then walked for him again, and he approved of my conformity, and told his assistant to take my polaroid.
I’m gathering this past information from a blog post I wrote when this first happened, documenting the new experience while the feelings were still fresh. I would insert the link, but honestly, no. I was just so happy to be there, I pushed away my feelings, thinking that I was blessed to even be considered because he was turning down more “established models who were signed with big agencies.” Sure, that may be a good attitude to have as a new model starting out, but knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have been too eager to please this BLACK casting director who shamed me like it was a sport. I’m literally gagging at 2016 me right now.
Needless to say, I wasn’t cast for that show.
Two weeks later, I went to another casting with straight hair, was confirmed for my first runway show, but decided to wear my natural hair the day of the show, and was told by the designer the she loved my hair, and not wearing my natural hair would be a huge disservice to me.”
Ah, the importance of staying true to yourself, am I right?
Fast forward a year, the evolution of black hair and model diversity on the runway is truly remarkable. More and more models of color are wearing their hair in its natural state with little manipulation, and runways are including models of all body types. It’s a beautiful change that will hopefully grow as time continues.
According to The fashion Spot, “every single runway included at least two models of color. (Last season was the first wherein every runway featured at least one model of color).” While “at least two” isn’t exactly brag worthy, and there is much to be done in order to normalize representing models of every culture, beauty, age, sexuality, body type, and size in the fashion industry, we must give credit where credit it due. In order to promote change and end racial discrimination, we must actively and consistently cast models that aren’t limited to one standard of beauty.
“You can’t just sit back and then—poof—your runway is diverse. It’s a deliberate act” said by Chromat’s Becca McCharen-Tran, bringing in the most inclusive runways during fashion week.
Challenging the belief that models need to adhere to a certain look or size, Chromat casting director Gilleon Smith continues to pave the pathway for the future of fashion by starting a New York based casting agency and diversifying the casting process.
Making a big statement, Nigerian designer Maki Osakwe (Maki Oh) only cast models of color last season, pulling inspiration from her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria.
Black hair and body diversity is being accepted and embraced by brands worldwide. Whether it’s for the right reasons, or to just spike numbers…times are definitely changing.
Written by Teresa Johnson