When I was a little girl, every weekend my group of friends and I would have sleepovers. We would spend hours painting our nails, styling each others hair, and perfectly painting our faces in rosy makeup. After hours of deciding and un-deciding outfits, we would begin taking photos. Our own personal photo shoot that embraced every body size, hair and eye color, and skin tone on the wide, vast, beautiful spectrum. Carefree and clueless, we effortlessly lived and loved our skin.
As I grew older, everything changed. Before beginning the process of getting dolled up, I would flip through magazines; looking for outfit, hair or makeup inspiration. But to my naive surprise, my hair type was not represented in these popular magazines. My skin was not represented, either.
Pale flushed faces and long, straight hair filled the pages of my fashion bibles. And because of this lack of representation, at such a young, impressionable, age, I began to think that there was something wrong with this skin and hair that I had previously loved.
A few years later, my interest in modeling re-sporuted. After pleading and negotiating with my mom, explaining how much being signed to an agency meant to me, she picked me up right after school and together we drove into the city.
Wide-eyed and curly-haired I could hardly wait to walk inside the agency with my head high and earn a spot on their team. I walked out of that building thinking about how I could slim down my hips. I was thirteen years old.
For years I struggled with my image. Negotiating with my hips to be smaller; pleading with my waist and stomach to be thinner; and fighting with my curls to be less unruly. I poured chemicals on my scalp, withheld nutrition from my bones, and spent too many hours on the treadmill.
I tried again at all the agencies in my city, but each time the same script was enacted. No matter what I did or how much I tried to change, I couldn’t fit the mold of beauty standards.
This is where my modeling story truly begins. I began thinking that maybe, just maybe, the problem wasn’t me. Perhaps, the problem was not skin deep or engrained in my hair type, but instead it existed in the dominant ideology of what beautiful is.
I understand the aspect of marketing and ability to sell, but that’s part of this problem. The idea that certain cosmetic characteristics, which include European traits and exclude all else, simply “don’t sell” is unacceptable to me. These marketable characteristics include but are not limited to regulations about height, weight, and bust.
Being apart of the generation of technology and social media, I feel a certain responsibility to be sharing, with whatever following I have, a truer representation of the vast spectrum of beauty. This is why my Instagram is filled with series of “modeling”-esque pictures. Representation in the media is deceivingly important and, as Yara Shahidi explained, “media weaves an influential narrative” and so, “if the Black man is always cast as the drug dealer but rarely as the righteous, successful business man the conclusion is that it is not believable for a man of color to be inherently good, or successful, or on the side of righteousness”. Similarly, if certain skin tones, heights, weights, hair types, are not represented in the modeling realm, one could be led to believe that they will never be beautiful, attractive, wanted, and worthy.
Even if one thirteen year old girl stumbles upon my page, and sees my photos, and thinks to herself: “Wow- she looks like me! That could be me”, and some part of her is inspired, I will feel greatly satisfied.
Check back on Wednesday for a new post!
The video of Yara Shahid referenced here
My Instagram and Twitter: @alyssarbain