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A Face on a Billboard, A Step Forward for Millions

November, 2015. Vogue Italia releases a sneak peek of its November issue, with Gigi Hadid staring steadily with stunning blue eyes. The problem? The obviously fake and electric blue afro, the strategically overdrawn lips, the tanned skin.

Valentino, Spring/Summer 2016. Flowy, ankle-grazing silk. Studded leather paired with black lace. Intricately hand-painted and beaded bags. The only thing keeping the public from appreciating the rows and rows of beautiful gowns- the utter lack of black models strutting on the runway, the cornrow buns, and the title of “wild, tribal Africa”.

Cultural misrepresentation has always been present in the fashion industry. From the domination of white models on runways and cover stories, to the outrageous treatment of ethnic styles as “trends”, the industry never seems to learn.

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Graphic by Crescentia Jung

Just last week, Khloé Kardashian made the mistake of trying out the “hottest beauty trends” from the Spring runway shows, which included the much controversial, pastel-coloured dreadlocks worn by white models at the Marc Jacobs show.

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Marc Jacobs SS17 (Credit: IMAXTREE)

Completely ignoring Rasta culture, the Kardashian instead noted how she “[despised]” the look on herself, and praised her younger sister, Kendall Jenner, for wearing the look. And this isn’t the only time that the reality TV personality has been accused of cultural appropriation. On one episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Khloé was spotted wearing Bantu knots in her hair. It’s not that other ladies aren’t ever permitted to wear these styles- that’s perfectly fine. But the fact that figures like the Kardashians take hairstyles like Bantu knots, completely ignore how they’ve been worn by Black ladies for years, and call them their own original style is unacceptable. 

What stars and public influencers like Khloe Kardashian and Marc Jacobs are completely forgetting is that culture is not a fashion trend. It never was and never will be acceptable for people to wear dreadlocks without acknowledging the Rastafari movement, or the style’s historical significance in counterculture movements in the 70s, and then to mark themselves as “trendy” or stylish” because they’re white. It never will be okay for designers to claim that they were inspired by Africa, only to label an entire continent as “wild” or “tribal”, and hire 8 black models out of a total 87 who would go on the catwalk.

And so when on November 1st, US-based makeup brand Covergirl announced its #LashEquality campaign in part of the promotion of the “So Lashy” mascara, thousands cheered. This isn’t any campaign- it’s a movement featuring seven brand ambassadors, all of different races, striving for diversity in beauty- even for genders, with the brand’s first ever #CoverBoy James Charles. One of the ambassadors is beauty blogger Nura Afia- a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman- a huge step in representation for Muslim girls. In an interview with CNN, Afia was clearly excited about the campaign, saying that it was an opportunity for “little girls that grew up like [her]” to “have something to look up to”. To some, Afia’s feature on a Covergirl ad may be nothing more than another pretty face; but to millions, people like Afia represent a step towards proper representation of all cultures, all ethnicities in entertainment and in society.

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Credit: Covergirl

While so many disregard fashion as a shallow topic, the industry holds a far greater effect on our mindsets than we think. Without showing more body types or skin colours in magazines, on TV, or on posters, children can’t help but grow up feeling insecure or insignificant about themselves when society tells them that they aren’t the norm.  

– Seiyeon Park (’17)

Featured Image: Nura Afia’s Instagram- @nuralailalove

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