February 21, 2010

Playing Indian: Artistic or Insulting? Blog repost

(Image from America's Next Top Model)

Today I stumbled across this blog by Eli’s Fashion Chronicles – she writes about fashion, and this particular post questions the ethics of dressing models up as a different race, often using stereotypical garb, but also sometimes using ‘black face’ in order to make white models appear black. She asks, is this artistic? Or is it insulting?

Eli writes:
Artistic? or Insulting?

It is happening again and this time just in time for Black History Month. The most current controversial expression of Fashion has now been followed by the question "Offensive or Artistic". The act of changing models nationality with body paint, & make-up for editorials, and ads. This story has been hitting news for over a year now. It begin when French Vogue's editor-in-chief Carine Roitfield styled a shoot in which she decided to paint Dutch model Lara Stone's face, arms and legs in dark make-up to resemble what we can all assume to be a black person. Perhaps even more controversial is the fact that this specific edition was marketed as the "Women of Color Issue" yet no women of color were displayed on any of its pages.

As weeks passed from that event the trend continued to hit mainstream news. As more images emerged of women of different nationalities portraying different ethnicities with the help of body paint and make-up. The question is now being asked "Should we be offended?". Another case was examined when African-American model Tyra Banks, and host of Americas Next Top Model a, show dedicated to giving aspiring models their big break, aired an episode where the finalist contestants were transformed into different nationalities, all in inspiration of "Hapa" (that's Hawaiian for mixed-race). The nationalities varied in this case between "Russian-Moroccan", "Native American-East Indian", "Botswanan-Polynesian". All the models were portrayed in stereo-typical clothes and head dress. As some look at this as a flattering, and beautiful way to embrace different cultures, colors, and ethnicities; some are asking why not just hire a model of that race or culture?

It's back this month and in time for Black History Month. Editors at L'Officel Hommes have placed this spread in their latest issue. In this editorial spread Caucasian male models get painted a darker shade and outfitted with Afro wigs, chains, etc in order to pantomime being African-American. The spread is questionably entitled “Keep It Goin’ Louder Part 1.” As if the pictures weren’t already controversial the titles meaning is even more unclear.

So I close asking: Would you be flattered or would you be offended if your ethnicity or nationality? Are we being to sensitive? Are we looking to far into this? Are we taking a step back by being offended? Should they just hire models of the chosen decent? And, lastly what do you think, Artistic? or Insulting?


  1. You know that is a difficult thing to say. We can't take events case by case, but ideally that would be the way to do it. Me I am not sure about this. I like the idea of keeping things for Indians, but at the same time it's nice to see some Indian images out there. However, a lot of images are used in a mocking manner. That is totally disgusting. I think that we should be allowed to evolve and not just stuck in a historical image. If you look at some of the chokers that Indians used, were borrowed ideas from new soliders like the Spanish. I like the mix of new and old. The beadwork on the brim of a derby or bolo hat. I know sitting on the fence for an issue is no good.

  2. Native American fashion designers, models, artists, stylists, and photographers exist. I'm a huge fan of getting them involved in the process of presenting 'Indianness' (whatever that means).