by Oyin Akande
So it’s hard to imagine a world-class model being told that she’s anything but gorgeous, right? While we are increasingly aware how many mainstream industries push rigid and unattainable ideas of beauty, we have a tendency to overlook that these constructs are even more ruthlessly observed for models than they are for us, the majority of ‘real women’.
French model Anaïs Mali has featured in many editions of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and many other international titles; she has walked down the runways for Michael Kors, Balenciaga, Jason Wu and more. It would seem to most that her success in the industry, at the very least, is a confirmation of her widely accepted perfection. Yet, after landing the cover of French magazine Lui, an adult entertainment title created by Daniel Filipacchi, Jacques Lanzmann and Frank Ténot, Mali posted this on Instagram:
“I always wanted to be a LUI cover girl!! I was told by my ex model agency 2 years ago, that I wasn’t sexy enough for The Magazine. So I wanted to thank first of all @nextmodelsparis for making this happen and a huge thanks to LUI for giving me the opportunity to show y’all what I could do (I’m a pretty shy girl and don’t often pose nude) so this is HUGE for me ! I’ve been criticized by the industry for Yeaaaaaaars because of the way I looked (too skinny , too sexy , not sexy enough, too petite .. blabla). I’m so at ease now that I realized that sexy begins by loving yourself and not caring what others think (EVER). Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you re not good enough for this or that ! If you think that you are .. well you are . If the other are too blind to see it, their loss … And this .. is me”
Anais is not your ‘typical’ pin up in that she is incredibly slender, but Lui magazine has a more ‘high fashion’ slant, using photographers who usually shoot for magazines such as W Magazine rather than Playboy.
Born to a mother from Chad and a Polish father, Anaïs belongs to a generation of gorgeous melaninated models working the fashion and beauty industries. But she’s been fighting the rigid ideals of her industry for a long time. She left France for New York when she was 18 as she found it difficult to get jobs. She was told ‘This is Paris; black girls don’t work here’ and in 2013 spoke out about the persistent lack of diversity on the runway particularly in Milan.
No matter who you are, what you do or what you look like, society’s mechanism can attack your confidence by telling you there is something you lack. Your “imperfections” or simply just qualities you do not possess (because we cannot be all things all at once, right?) become the standard against which you measure your worth. And the female body and identity are historically the choice ‘victims’ of these paradoxical pressures.
The model recently launched, Anaïs a collection of bodysuits created by model v Mali and designer Urivaldo Lopes in 2016. Inspired by the audaciousness of studio 54 and the supermodel era, Anaïs reinvents a 1980’s wardrobe staple for the modern woman with a “Made in Italy” philosophy, creating and armor that empowers its wearer through an urban perspective and irrefutably bold aesthetic.
Posted by Kay
‘A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. Either to please or to educate, salons were commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries.’ Wikipedia.
When you are different from anyone else in any way, you usually find out that you are indeed ‘different’ via a short comment or assumption made by someone else. Comments that are a bit more than afterthoughts but without the conviction of a firmly held position which you often won’t notice at the time.
Later, you may wonder why you feel a bit odd, even a bit down.
‘That’ Fashion Police Police faux-pas by Kathy Griffin and Giuliana Rancic whilst summing up ‘Zendaya’s Oscar’s Red Carpet worth’ last year was a wonderful opportunity to choose four women to do what we never were able to do when we were little, and often still don’t: pull someone up on the assumption without going down the dead end of yet another cultural appropriation catfight.
I was also inspired to discuss the culture of cattiness in a backdrop where women are encouraged to be reduced to their appearances alone and valued accordingly: judged by the jury of a high rating TV show then echoed endlessly by the RTs and RG’s of social media.
Rather than spending our time realising our personal power and becoming forces to be reckoned with, we willingly go down a ‘rabbit hole domino effect’ of knee-jerking, hyperbolic name-calling.
Anyone happy down there in the tit for tat pit? Don’t think so.
Collectively ‘we’ seem to fall for it: divide and conquer (or divide and rule) ‘gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy.’
The concept refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures (a community) and prevents smaller power groups from linking up.
When I first heard the remarks of Giuliana Rancic, I was unsure of how to feel.
On the one hand I am aware of the toxic bitchiness after every awards show on Fashion Police, and felt it was almost expected that women -regardless of ethnicity, shape or size – would fall victim to the humiliation and reduction of actresses to mere clothes horses that Joan Rivers created a standard for.
Personally, I see the TV show as a platform for high school ‘mean girls’ to belittle and insult anyone slightly different or out of the ordinary. This being the case, at first I didn’t acknowledge the racial undertones of the suggestion that Zendaya looked as though ‘she smelt of patchouli oil- …or weed’. Dreads don’t fit with the Fashion Police acceptable norms, so it could only be expected, right?
But then I caught myself. What would have been an acceptable hairstyle for Zendaya to have showcased? Hollywood waves? A classic up do? What hairstyle could this young woman of mixed heritage have worn for her to fit into Hollywood’s idea of acceptable beauty?
I myself have felt these same pressures – on a much smaller scale, of course. As a woman of colour with naturally wild, curly hair, I have often felt the underlying pressure to conform by straightening or neatening my curls before going to formal events. I’m sure some of my friends, both white and black, would voice their disapproval if I arrived to a wedding, for example, with a large Afro or long locs.
For this reason, do I think that Guiliana was intentionally racist? No. But I do think that by these two women voicing these assumptions on Zendaya’s locs they exposed a lack of understanding about black hair culture that is still apparent in America and the UK today. ‘You can come to our award ceremonies… but we only aknowledge our standard of beauty.’
1. That the idea that conforming to white beauty standards- or consciously/unconsciously ‘passing for white’ is still accepted in a supposedly multicultural western society.
2. That much of the work that I personally do (as a teacher) to promote equality and eradicate bullying is completely undermined by offensive TV shows such as this because judging and mocking as entertainment, as comedy, makes the behaviour seem normal (these people are famous and on TV, they must be popular and rich).
For this reason Guiliana shouldn’t be fired from the Fashion Police; she was simply doing her job as a ‘fashion juror’ by being head-mean-girl, attempting to make a young woman feel as self-conscious and unattractive as possible for entertainment.
In the 21st century – after decades of advancements in women’s rights – it is laughable that a show with the sole purpose of criticising other women on their appearance, rather than their talent, is seen as ‘normal TV’.
The one positive thing that came out of this mess is how perfectly Zendaya responded to the remarks. Rather than starting a twitter war (or worse, feeling the need to take out the locs in order to fit in), Zendaya explained the significance of her wearing her hair in such a way to such a prestigious event. Rather than wearing locs as an act of aggressive rebellion, she wore them to ‘showcase them in a positive light,’ and ‘to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.’
Which it is. We must remember that. No matter what colour skin we are born with or what way our hair grows, we are born neither inferior or superior. We should not feel the need to conform to any superficial beauty standards but instead love ourselves for who we are.
Being kind and what’s on the inside is what really matters; something that Guiliana and the ‘high school mean girls’ could all benefit from understanding.
In this instance, if I feel the issue at play is one bigger than racism, please, by no means think I’m not acknowledging the possibilty.
What I’m suggesting is that there is a behavior present in Giuliana Rancic’s assumptions that is detrimental to our society that we have not yet eradicated in our otherwise increasingly progressive world.
Behaviour we have allowed to continue as a societal norm and as women, is our biggest contradiction in the fight for female empowerment.
The issue at play in my humble opinion is the breakdown of sisterhood and the acceptance of non-constructive criticism e.g. bitchiness, as a method of entertainment, gratification or personal progression.
We witness the attack of women by women in the media daily whether in print, on screen or online and in many cases this goes by without any protest. Instead we actually share or join in on the abuse as if we are nothing better than bullies.
The same publications/platforms/presenters that hail and praise the newest young feminist or empowered/influential celebrity are the same media sources who fat shame or blame women for the failings in their relationships or loss of their men to someone who they deem far ‘superior’ based on appearance.
Surely these articles are redundant in a modern world where equality is high up on the female agenda? I mean honestly- what do we gain from tearing other women apart-surely this practice is outdated? Also who are they to pass judgment on another, what authority was granted to them- or any other industry- to comment on what is deemed acceptable? Who creates and sets these standards?
Shouldn’t we question when and why this practice started, the reasoning behind it, who’s interests it benefits because I highly doubt it is ours.
Instead I can certainly say the breakdown of respect and trust amongst women is well funded by this behavior. We are encouraged to view one another as enemies instead of allies. I won’t lie and say I have never played my part in this behavior but I would like to think I have grown up, become wiser and learnt the value in my fellow women. Ultimately I no longer understand it and have consciously decided to avoid poisonous tabloid-eques magazines and sites that pry women further apart as I’m more interested in building one another up than tearing each other down.
I’m secure therefore I’m happy for the success of those around me, I’m there in times of turbulence- not to gloat but support and raise my sisters up, reminding them of their strength and brighter tomorrows.
During my loc period, I too have been subject to small-minded comments and queries about ‘ganja/weed/marijuana’ while walking the streets of London minding my own business despite the fact I’ve never actually experienced the drug.
We need to be more vocal as a community in the educating of our cultures and heritage just as Zendaya was. It is our responsibility to channel any anger and outrage into change.
We need no more evidence that negative stereotypes remain prominent in society today and need to be challenged and changed but we can question what is portrayed and change what is inaccurate or detrimental to our wellbeing and progress.
We need to challenge the media to change the song they play to represent us, for us to write the song that represents us in full.
I don’t have locks (although sometimes uncultured people think I do, because my hair is often worn in chunky, wild curls), but I am a life-long receiver of ignorant and truculent comments about my hair. This is because it doesn’t adhere to the universally adored sleek, shiny, long and swingy texture that seems to make people feel safe and comfortable.
This type of response to the hair on my head continued right through to my first forays into the working world.
The agent at the temping agency called me up during my lunch break on my first day at a job, to ask me if “there was something’ I could do with my hair”. Bewildered, I asked her what she meant, and she confidently asked me whether I could straighten it.
You’d think that by now you’d have a cultured person on the Fashion Police panel (perhaps one person who isn’t Caucasian?), or at the very least that these commentators would have been educated by osmosis, since they are immersed (albeit as ‘fashion jurors) in the dazzling world of the arts. Commenting on another person’s hair choice to keep sofa surfers at home chuckling into their crisp packets could be perceived in intellectual terms as a lazy job. However, when you have between 700, 000 and 900, 000 viewers during awards seasons, you have a responsibility and a platform to help diminish archaic assumptions that people with locs are automatically part of a pot-smoking sub-culture. It’s a passé and misguided set of beliefs, that I thought most of us had moved on from.
It’s divisive for all women (regardless of ethnicity) and a setback in the quest for acceptance of our natural hair type and the way we choose to wear it. Let’s send Fashion Police to SOAS pronto!
“Studies have shown that even though we try to act without prejudice, sometimes it’s just hidden inside us due to our past or surroundings.
That hidden prejudice is often influential in our actions. It’s our job to spot these issues within others and ourselves and destroy them before they become hurtful.
I have so many people looking up to me, that I couldn’t be scared, wait it out, nor could I just stand up for me; I had to do it for WE.
Body shaming and other hurtful tactics will never get the job done.
As hard as it was to stop MYSELF from being ignorant and from posting the first mean words that came to my mind because I was hurt, I had to think about the bigger picture.
Instead I sat for two hours on my phone, doing my research and formulating an educated response. Giuliana, I appreciate your apology and I’m glad it was a learning experience for you and for the network. I hope that others negatively affected by her words can also find it in their hearts to accept her apology as well.
From a quote we all know by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’ Let’s be that light and spread that love.”