j.n. salters Posted: 05/09/2013 6:28 pm
Writer, doctoral student, sex-positive black feminist
It looks like Vogue Netherlands has added its name to the ever-growing list of fashion magazines employing blackface — a form of theatrical makeup popularized in the 1800s in minstrel shows, in which white performers negatively caricatured African Americans for entertainment. In a recent spread for its May 2013 “Heritage Heroes” editorial, Vogue Netherlands painted Dutch model Querelle Jansen in black makeup and tossed on a textured black wig for a retrospective editorial spread of Marc Jacobs’ career, purportedly to illustrate the “tribal” inspirations Jacobs looked to for his Fall 2008 and Spring 2009 collections. The photo’s caption reads: “This collection is inspired by the style of the Parisian showgirl Josephine Baker, mixed with tribal influences.”
In an 1848 article, Frederick Douglas describes white minstrels as “the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens.” One must ask, how much has changed in the last two centuries? Blackface persists in a “fashion industry that continues to display an overwhelming preference for white models.” The trend was pioneered by Vogue Paris in 2009 when Steven Klein shot size four Dutch supermodel Lara Stone in blackface makeup for a spread that praised her “sensual” body,” “uninhibited gappy teeth,” and the “radical break with the wave of anorexic models” that she supposedly represented. In October 2010, French model Constance Jablonski donned blackface and an afro to pose as the mother to her fictional black baby in French magazine Numéro. While there was much controversy throughout the blogsphere after Jablonski’s controversial spread,Numéro recently had another model pose in blackface, this time as an “African Queen,” for its March 2013 edition. Rather than use a black woman, blond-haired, blue-eyed sixteen-year-old model Ondria Hardin was covered in bronze face and body makeup and “ethnic” clothing. In the words of Jezebel editor Laura Beck, “If jobs for ‘African Queen’ photo spreads aren’t going to black women, what hope is there?” Similarly, in November 2009, Russian model Sasha Pivovarova was featured in dark body and face makeup in a spread for V Magazine, which was accompanied by the quote “Black is the new black.” Around the same time, Tyra Banks had a blackface photoshoot on America’s Next Top Model. And, let’s not forget Kate Moss’ 2006 Independent cover, on which she wore nothing but black paint covering her face and body. To borrow from Feminist Philosophers commentator maenad, “Emaciated, black, and sexualized. What a great way to trivialize hunger, racism, and sexual violence against women in Africa.”
From blond-haired, blue-eyed white teens to middle-aged black men such as Tyler Perry (Mabel “Madea” Simmons) and Martin Lawrence (Sheneneh on Martin and Big Momma in Big Momma’s House), it appears that everyone but black women are afforded opportunities to portray black women. Considering that there are so many unemployed black models and actresses, I must question the intentions of these fashion magazines, photographers, and directors. Regardless of claims of “paying homage,” the message that I am continually getting is that black womanhood is not beautiful unless it is somehow caricatured or manipulated, and I wholeheartedly disagree.