The latest issue of French Vogue features Dutch model Lara Stone donning African-inspired garb and painted black, head to toe. Trés chic? Mais non, chérie.
The text blurb in the mag says something to the effect of, We chose this particular white model because she has funky teeth and isn’t anorexic. This woman is a whopping size 4, ladies and gents, and her mouth is closed in all the photos. Plus, what do funny teeth and a “normal-sized” body, in model dimensions, have to do with painting her skin black? Why didn’t they just use a normal-sized, funky-toothed black model? They would have saved a whole bucket of charcoal.
On top of this controversial photo shoot, an Australian TV equivalent to SNL called “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” featured 5 white men performing a blackface Jackson 5 skit this week:
Harry Connick, Jr. (what, who cares?) wasn’t impressed, and neither am I. Sure, I understand the fact that neither the stylists/photographers/editors at French Vogue nor the men in the “Hey Hey” skit meant to offend the African-American community, but SURELY they understand the complex, demeaning history of blackface and its implications. Like Hitler’s extensive anti-Jewish propaganda, including posters, movies and books exaggerating certain stereotypes of Jews in order to solidify anti-Semitism, the tradition of blackface in theatre and printed art played a significant role in the proliferation of racist attitudes and stereotypes.
I remember back when I was in college at UVA, two seriously idiotic frat boys decided to dress up in blackface for Halloween (as Venus and Serena Williams). They were both suspended, to my delight, but I was shocked at the number of people on campus who jumped to their defense. It was a joke! People dress as other people on Halloween, that’s the whole point!
No- a white man dressing up as Bill Clinton and a white man dressing up as Venus Williams send two very different messages. To participate in the blackface tradition nowadays, even without any kind of malicious intention, is to rub salt in a centuries-old wound. You should know better than that, educated college man.
Now the Vogue photo shoot is decidedly not blackface minstrelsy, since none of the model’s features have been exaggerated and she is not performing any kind of stereotype. Still, why paint a white model black if not to purposefully allude to the controversial blackface tradition? And to further fan the flame, in choosing a white model for an African shoot, especially since Vogue has been criticized in the past for its lack of black models, the magazine’s editors are only highlighting the lack of racial diversity in their publication. I could suggest a ton of stunning black models Vogue could have chosen for that shoot, my personal favorite being Alek Wek:
Swoon. Look how fabulous she is. I just forgot what I was even talking about.