In the above image, White, plus size model, Crystal Rennis is having her eyes taped back by a makeup artist, to create an Asian appearance for Japanese Vogue. Not only did they decide to give this model a clearly offensive look, someone thought that it was a good idea to release a video of how it was done. Yeah, now White women all over the world can learn how to do this highly offensive supposedly fashionable look all on their own.
This is not about appealing to Asian audiences, because if that were truly the case — they could have simply hired an Asian model for this shoot. This was about affirming the dominance of Whiteness and the idea that White women are the standard for beauty. A simple look at the following graph shows that in the 2010 New York fashion week that the models were overwhelmingly White.
As you can see, Asian women made up a scant six percent of the models employed that week. In 2011 they did slightly better, with a whopping 6.2%. Can I get a yeah for diversity?
Prior studies of portrayals of Asian Americans in advertising have found limited representation and portrayals that are skewed toward technology-based products, business and science magazines, and business settings and relationships. This article examines current Asian American portrayals. Findings indicate that, despite improved representation, stereotyped portrayals persist. The “model minority” stereotype, which suggests that Asian Americans are hardworking, technologically savvy, business oriented, successful, and well assimilated, is clearly reflected in advertising portrayals. Portrayals of Asian Americans in family and social contexts are seldom seen. Moreover, even magazines with high Asian American readership reflect the same stereotypes. (source)
When it comes to fashion, Whiteness has nothing to gain by equality between the races and this is specifically why Asian women, and in fact all women of colour, are decidedly erased. One or two tokens will always rise to the top in an attempt to deflect charges of racism, but their very tokenism only serves to highlight the complete lack of representation for WOC.
Instead of true inclusion, we are offered false women of colour. How many times have we seen White models in Blackface? Now we have White women with tape affixed to their eyes, as though race or ethnicity, is something that you can simply perform for a day and then reach for another beauty aid. Even when White women proclaim to love certain physical aspects of women of colour, they never want the whole package, because this package comes with having to negotiate racism.
Each time there is hateful representation, whether it is taped eyes or blackface, it is a purposeful choice to participate. Models do not have to say yes to these shoots, but invariably the opportunity to actively oppress and get paid to do so, is too much to reject. I don’t believe that even as Crystal sat there getting her eyes taped, that she had no idea how offensive the action she was participating in was. There is absolutely no way anyone can be that ignorant.
It is far more likely that she was aware and simply didn’t care. Other than the fact that failure to participate would have been a public good and a stand of solidarity with people of colour, what incentive is there for her to abstain from this overt act of racism? Her career will not be effected by her action, people will still continue to buy Vogue, though they have a running history fail, and it will be just another day in institutionalized Whiteness — and in the case this issue — you can add a heaping dose of imperialism as well.