Deddeh Howard is a 27 year old model, fashion blogger and medical student (that’s what I call Black girl magic). Recently, images of the Liberian-born model have flooded social media sites such as Twitter. These popular photos were a part of a series entitled Black Mirror, created by Howard and photographer, Raffael Dickreuter, in response to a lack of diversity in the modeling industry.
Howard told People “I was looking for ethnic models [while trying to find blog inspiration], and I realized that I could count the Black models. I freaked out. It was almost like a slap that woke me up, like, ‘Wow, we are really underrepresented.’”
I, along with many others I’m sure, recognize Deddeh’s realization all too well. I was about a sophomore in high school when I really began to notice the lack of ethnic models posing in magazines and walking runways. I tried to ignore it at first because of my love for the fashion industry. At that time, I wouldn’t dare question the industry that I hoped to one day join. However, I now plan on not only joining, but overhauling the whole business, so I’m much less hesitant to share my critiques.
In fact, the same issue that Howard and Dickreuter chose to shed light on has grown from a critique to a priority for me. The lack of diverse models is one of the fashion industry’s major downfalls and is sure to have troubling effects on young girls of various races.
Agencies and designers love to point to their token dark skin model when asked about diversity, but to be candid, that’s bullshit. That one Black girl walking your runway with twenty White girls just doesn’t suffice. Also, “diverse” is so much more than Black and White. When the little Asian, Hispanic and Native American girls flip through magazines, they want to see themselves too.
Howard shared one photo from the Black Mirror series on Instagram, coupled with a caption that read “What do you mean you already have 2 to 5 models that look like me? Did you say the same thing to the 50-100 white models you already have?”
I can guarantee you that the answer to that question is no. According to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, 69.73 percent of models who walked in New York Fashion Week 2016 were White, 13.29 percent were Black, 7.37 percent were Asian, 4.47 percent were Latina and 0.57 percent were Middle Eastern. While this is an improvement from the 75.25 percent White models reported following last year’s Fashion Week, it’s not enough. CFDA’s efforts towards inclusion are commendable, but that doesn’t mean we should stop viewing this as a problem.
Until there comes a day where you can’t count the number of Black models in a show or magazine on one hand (or even have to think about doing such a thing) and you don’t have to hope that at least one other minority will be represented as well, I’d still count lack of diversity as a major issue within the fashion industry. The time when shows have an equal or slightly smaller number of White models might not come until I’m well into my career, but it will be the product of the work of Howard, Dickreuter, members of the CFDA, myself and so many others and therefore is well worth the wait.
Be the zeitgeist.