The fashion industry has always had a problem with representation. There’s a certain image it upholds, a checklist in which marginalized people are judged by their proximity to Eurocentric beauty standards. A person’s marketability in the beauty, entertainment, and fashion industries is heavily determined by skin color. Until recent attempts to address the industry’s white supremacy problem, colorism has impacted the longevity of many models of color. Lighter-skinned models are more often chosen over darker-skinned models. They are seen as classier, more profitable, and more digestible by designers and consumers, while darker-skinned models are more typically used to highlight mediocre garments or make them more exciting.
Colorism has done both horrifying things in terms of my career progression. I’ve been passed over for lighter-skinned models and actresses. I've been boxed in and categorized as urban or ghetto. I’ve been hired to fill a quota while not actually being asked to participate in the work I was hired to do. And I’ve experienced isolation. But my experience with colorism has also acted as a catalyst in my fight to make these industries better for other marginalized folks. It has shifted my focus on who I want to work with.
By boldly and unapologetically serving as representation in fashion, media, TV, and film, while breaking records and opening doors, I am creating a culture of uplifted and powerful people. I’m the representation that I needed when I was growing up.
These industries must consciously hire, uplift, and value darker-skinned folks. They must create equal opportunities for all people of color so that we can be united instead of separated based on how we look. They must unpack untrue stereotypes and make sure our environments don't uphold damaging stereotypes. Everyone should openly love, respect, and desire folks of color, especially darker-skinned people of color, so that society rewires itself to know that people who look like this are deserving of an abundance of love and respect. — as told to Fran Tirado
This article appears in Out's 2019 Fashion Issue covered by Janet Mock and Dan Levy. The issue will be available on newsstands on October 1. To get an advanced look at the issue, preview other articles here, or view it on Apple News+, Kindle, Nook, and Zinio beginning September 24. Grab your copy by subscribing now.