As a mother of two lit­tle girls, ZODWA KU­MALO-VALEN­TINE feels it’s time we see more black women in fash­ion cam­paigns

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - NEWS -

When will black beauty be con­sid­ered uni­ver­sally beau­ti­ful?

Sip­ping on a cof­fee in a re­mote farm­house in the Free State with close friends who share sim­i­lar ob­ses­sions, some­one passed around a cap­ti­vat­ing im­age of model Karly Loyce, shot by Juer­gen Teller for Cé­line’s AW15 cam­paign. It was the rst time I saw it – and I was in love.

Our hus­bands, lured off the porch by the smell of freshly brewed cof­fee, saun­tered past en route to the kitchen and stopped one by one, glanc­ing at what we were ogling so early in the morn­ing. They didn’t get it and, mildly ir­ri­tated by the fuss, con­tin­ued their kitchen mis­sion.

My friend called over my six-year-old daugh­ter to look at the beau­ti­ful im­age we were be­hold­ing. ‘Isn’t she beau­ti­ful, Maya?’ she asked. ‘ Not really,’ my daugh­ter replied and walked off, dis­in­ter­ested.

This im­age of a black woman, with no makeup and an afro style in all its glory, marks an ex­cit­ing shift in the way top fash­ion la­bels are telling their sto­ries and re­in­forc­ing their brand mes­sage. Karly, who was cast by Cé­line’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Phoebe Philo, has ap­peared in a num­ber of ID mag­a­zine spreads and cov­ers and is part of a clutch of up-and-com­ing faces cho­sen to front the brand’s cam­paign. Her im­ages are the most cap­ti­vat­ing.

My daugh­ter’s re­ac­tion was dis­ap­point­ing, to say the least, but hardly sur­pris­ing. A few months ago at a lunch with friends, I shared my frus­tra­tion about not be­ing able to eas­ily nd black dolls for my two daugh­ters. My youngest is three and Maya, the el­dest, at­tends a school where her main daily frame of ref­er­ence is lit­tle white girls and im­ages of a white Je­sus and white fam­i­lies adorn­ing the walls. It’s no won­der, then, that she asked me one day whether she could have long straight hair when she grows up. In her mind, it was an in­no­cent re­quest. I, on the other hand, was mor­ti­fied.

In 2015, ad­ver­tis­ers still don’t deem the black woman (or black men, for that mat­ter), im­por­tant enough to mar­ket to. We are bom­barded with im­ages of white women swing­ing their long owing hair, talk­ing about their creamy com­plex­ions; we stare at row upon row crammed with pack­ag­ing that re­in­forces the alien­at­ing idea that is the ideal; the as­pi­ra­tion for all women.

Prada doesn’t gen­er­ally use black mod­els for its runway shows or cam­paigns. In 2013, Kenyan­born Malaika Firth be­came only the sec­ond black model to front a Prada cam­paign, 19 years af­ter Naomi Camp­bell in 1994. Jour­dan Dunn also fol­lowed in Naomi’s foot­steps when she be­came the sec­ond black model to walk the brand’s runway show in 2008 – 15 years af­ter Naomi.

It’s no se­cret that nat­u­ral black hair is a rare sight on in­ter­na­tional and na­tional cat­walks. There still re­mains an up­set­ting lack of di­ver­sity on this front. Off the runway, I’ve heard short, nat­u­ral hair­styles or sim­ple corn­rows be­ing re­ferred to as ‘bread­win­ners’ hair­styles’. The mes­sage is that it’s pedes­trian and not at all glam­orous. Yet it seems like change might be in the air.

Mod­els like Karly and 19-year-old Lineisy Mon­tero from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic are now walk­ing ma­jor runway shows sport­ing tight and combed-out ’fros. And in an an­noy­ing twist of events, the in­clu­sion of Lineisy in Prada’s AW15 runway col­lec­tion has earned the brand credit for ‘bring­ing back the afro’. (Insert side-eye emoji.)

Still, there re­mains a dis­tress­ing lack of role mod­els for black girls. In my home we don’t have a TV, but my chil­dren are adept at us­ing YouTube Kids. As a re­sult, they have be­come ob­sessed with Bar­bie. But where are the car­toons about cool black girls start­ing girl bands or go­ing about their daily lives with their friends and fam­i­lies?

Ask­ing my peers at the luncheon what they think I should do about the lack of iden­ti­fi­able role mod­els for my daugh­ters, one sug­gested I might stage a burn­ing of all the white Bar­bie dolls my daugh­ters have been gifted with. I quite like this idea. An­other shared how she grew up with­out a TV and was never al­lowed to straighten her hair or have white dolls. As a re­sult, she has a very strong black iden­tity and self-worth.

Ev­ery day I tell my daugh­ters how beau­ti­ful and clever they are. When­ever I brush or wash their hair, I tell them how lucky they are to have such gor­geous hair and how many dif­fer­ent things they can do with it. Yet some of those words are un­der­mined by the re­lent­less im­agery re­mind­ing them that they are not the ideal. Per­haps in a less ex­treme at­tempt to re­con­di­tion my daugh­ters, I should start ev­ery school run by play­ing Nina Si­mone’s ode to black youth, ‘To be Young, Gifted and Black’. My par­ents used to play it all the time when were grow­ing up and it re­mains an im­por­tant song for me; it serves as a per­sonal mantra to af rm who I am, es­pe­cially in times when I feel de­spon­dent about how black women re­main thought of, to this day, as un­pretty and un­wor­thy.

Maybe when they’re older they’ll look at an im­age of a black woman with a big afro and say: ‘Mommy, she is beau­ti­ful. I want to look like that when I grow up.’ mc

RIGHT Malaika Firth in the Prada

AW13 cam­paign


Karly Loyce in the Cé­line AW15 cam­paign

and walk­ing the

OP­PO­SITE runway

Zodwa Ku­maloValen­tine with her daugh­ters, Maya

and Ruby

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