Naomi Campbell criticises fashion industry for racism against black model

Black supermodel Naomi Campbell has spoken out against racism in the fashion industry saying that advertisers were using the recession as an excuse to drop black models and that the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine in Australia was sacked for putting her face on the front cover.

Black supermodel Naomi Campbell has spoken out against racism in the fashion industry saying that advertisers were using the recession as an excuse to drop black models.

She also said that the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine in Australia was sacked for putting her face on the front of the magazine.

Campbell told the Daily Telegraph (24 October) that she did not see any black face this year in major advertising campaigns.

Campbell has long been an ambassador for equal race representation in the fashion industry.

In March 2009, she told AFP news “…as a black woman, I am still an exception in this business. I always have to work harder to be treated equally. In the past, there were more opportunities for black models but the trend towards blond women has again become extreme. In magazines, on the catwalk, I see blond, blue-eyed models everywhere.” (‘Naomi Campbell hits out at racism in the fashion world’: AFP: Friday, 3 March, 2009)

In July 2008 Italian Vogue dedicated an entire month’s issue of its magazine to black models in response to discrimination in the fashion industry. The idea was inspired by Italian Vogue’s editor Franca Sozzani, who responded to a protest by leading black fashion industry figures, including models, designers and agents in New York to tackle racism in the industry.

Steven Meisel, was the acclaimed New York photographer who took the images of the black models for this issue, including a few of the fashion world’s biggest black models such as Naomi Campbell, Iman, Tyra Banks, Liya Kebede, Jourdon Dunne, Alek Wek and Pat Cleveland, and he is familiar with the barriers that black models face within the fashion industry.

In an article on the website, by Lucy Cockcroft, on June 20, he said that, “I thought, it’s ridiculous, this discrimination. It’s so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race – every kind of prejudice.” He added, “I have asked my advertising clients so many times, ‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say no.”

While black and minority ethnic readers can relate to the struggle of wanting to see more non-European models in the fashion industry, is it really rational and realistic to expect commercial magazines that have a predominately white readership to sell African or Asian beauty?

Magazines such as Ebony and Pride have sought to redress the racial imbalance within the fashion industry and it is perhaps a greater presence of these types of magazines that is needed on the shelves of newsagents.

While there may be an argument for the fashion industry to include more non-European models when it comes to selling fashion, when it comes to selling beauty this is an area that becomes more complex.

Canons of beauty differs depending on a specific culture or society, while white readers may want to see images of white models which they can relate to, Black or Asian readers may want to see models that reflect their cultural canons of beauty.

However, because of the racist associations with beauty the fashion industry do have an ethical duty to represent the diverse representations of beauty all over the world.

This is a debate which will provoke debate for some time.

For further research: issue.html


7 thought on “Naomi Campbell speaks out against racism in the fashion industry”
  1. I think there is a reason that designers and magazines shy away from using non-white models that doesn’t seem to be discussed, but has little to do with whether non-whites are seen as attractive or innate consumer racism against them.

    Fashion is about selling a dream. Women look at beautiful models and imagine that if they looked like them their lives would be perfect.

    If you’re not white you face racism, no matter how beautiful you might be. Experiencing racism does not align itself with living the ‘ perfect dream life’. The fact of the matter is that even the ugliest white woman knows that if she looked like Naomi Campbell, she would face certain prejudices that she doesn’t as she is, and they would probably be harder to deal with. In some ways she might be better off, but in others she certainly wouldn’t. Beauty is worth little if you still find yourself treated like sh*t, because of a certain aspect of the way you look.

    I think white women are perfectly capable of recognising beauty in non-white people and admiring it from afar, but they will not covet it in our current society, as they know that no matter how unattractive they are, they are better off in general than the most stunning non-white person.

  2. The other point is, she mentions that blue-eyed blonde women are hugely favoured. Does that mean white women who don’t have these features also have a cause for complaint? Not in terms of racism in general, but in terms of preference within the industry?

  3. Yes, they may have a justifiable complaint, although then the question could be asked are white women without those ‘ideal’ features preferable over non white women in the industry? I certainly think so as caucasian features is the marketable ideal. From this perspective I think that Naomi was referring to white features in general rather than the blue-eyed blonde preference, which is merely considered the most ideal features on a caucasian female.

  4. I think the problem might be the arrival of a huge number of Eastern European girls onto the modelling scene.They are cheap (to hire), usually non-demanding, easy to boss aroung and relatively hard-working.

    How long however, before we get bored of them…because I’m sorry to say this…but there’s something soul-less about the pale, blue eyed, blonde look. It doesn’t draw you in and/or want you to look deeper and/or longer.

    Compare all these blonde actresses, with the darker Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry and Angelina Jolie. No competition whatsoever!

  5. Yes, I agree that there is something bland about blue-eyed blondes. I wonder whether they are held up as the ideal of (white) beauty, simply because they look furthest away from non-whites.

    I don’t believe that the majority of people find them to be the ultimate in beauty. Some might say they do, because they think that’s what they’re supposed to think. Of course some people genuinely do think that, every one has different tastes. But I agree about the darker look having more substance and interest somehow. Personally I tend to find dark women of European, Middle Eastern or South Asian the most attractive. This is just my preference though. I realise it excludes some people like African, Oriental or lighter whites, but there is no prejudice in this, it’s just my perception. Not that I don’t find people from thee groups attractive, there are pretty and no so pretty in every group. It’s just that a beautiful woman of the description I gave is more likely to grab my attention and make me want to look at her.

  6. For example, I would love to look like Eva Longoria (ok, I know she is part native South American, so not wholly Southern European, Middle Eastern, or South Asian as I said I tend to like), but I think she is unbelievably attractive. Salma Hayek as well, who is half Lebanese and half Spanish I think. Some Indian actresses I have seen in Bollywood also, amazingly stunning, far more so than any white, blonde I can think of. Penelope Cruz, lovely looking. And Anne Hathaway, who despite her extremely pale skin, has beautiful big brown eyes and soft features.

    However does this make me just as bad as white racists? All of these people have, more or less, Caucasian features. I’m half Pakistani and half English by the way, so maybe I, rather conceitedly, just like people who look a bit like me.

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