Why does no one look like me?

18 June 2018

Growing up I used to own my fair share of Barbie dolls. Barbie dolls were the iPhone equivalent for kids growing up in the late 1990s/early 2000s. If you walked down the aisles of Toys R Us (a luxury that young children of today will never have – RIP Toys R US), it became apparent at a young age that it wasn’t the norm to see a Barbie doll that looked like me. Nor was it usual to see a black Barbie doll winning the beauty pageant or saving the world. Even when Mattel released black Barbie dolls, they came under fire for introducing dolls that still had predominantly European features, failed to represent the whole African-American community or were marketed differently to their white plastic counterparts.

It's easy to not realise or fully understand the deep rootedness of race issues and how this filters down to things as trivial as a plastic doll representing a conventionally attractive young woman – especially if you aren't exposed or experiencing these yourself. Of course, the intricacies of race, identity and so on, are much more engrained and complex than the fact I wasn’t able to play with a non-white Barbie doll until a much later stage of my childhood. The lack of diversity whether it’s people of colour, people with disabilities, different wealth status, people of different ages or sexuality permeates a much larger societal problem. An understanding of these issues can be found in ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge - which I honestly think is one of those books everyone should have the opportunity to read. 

As this is a predominantly fashion and lifestyle blog, let's talk about diversity in the fashion and blogging industry. Whilst this isn't the worst performing area, it is progressively getting called out by figureheads and the public for its lack of individuals of different race, class, body shape, age, identity. And better yet, the fashion industry has started to act on this.






I was scrolling through Instagram the other day (let’s be honest, when am I not) and came across a campaign by a retailer who had taken a few social media influencers on a trip abroad to promote their latest collection. When I looked closer at the picture and I saw 10-12 Caucasian, female influencers with long wavy blonde or brown hair and legs long enough to reach Mars. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But why does everyone simply look the same? Why do some brands only recognise this as the only definition of beautiful or only repost girls that look like this???

With that said, I do not think that bloggers who do fit this ‘specification’ should feel guilty because to put it frankly ‘you’re killing it hun’. But it must be appreciated that this creates the exact same scenario for a young girl growing up now as it did when I grew up with my Barbie dolls, ultimately making them rebel against who they really are. Like how I straightened my naturally curly hair to look like the classic Barbie doll.  The next generation of young girls that look up to influencers will do the same to fit in with what is popular and be more accepted according to the worlds beauty standards.  


Generally, if we look at campaigns, opportunities and awards - the most successful bloggers fit a certain criterion. Fair skinned, able bodied, young, silky long hair and with slim builds. I myself have been to numerous blogging events where in a room full of people, the number of individuals who are people of colour, disabled, of different shapes, sizes and ages are limited to none. Brands may claim that ‘We want people that look like normal people’. But yet, they don’t follow and work with a selection of so called ‘normal’ people


 



Why they aren't we seeing more bloggers who are a closer representation of consumers?  
After all, brands use influencers to influence.  There is an equally strong business case for brands to include a diverse range of bloggers and influencers in their campaigns and other opportunities. However, the sad truth is that the majority don't. Then I asked the question - what's the reason for this? are there people to blame? is there a proper rationale behind this? is it the case that brands are unaware of an entire demographic being over represented? is this issue being ignored on purpose? 

A great point that was made on the podcast ‘Adulting’ by Oenone Forbat is that the media support the zeitgist. Side note: zeitgiest is a phrase I learned in my A Level politics class, and one that I try and use at every opportunity (I like to think it makes me sound clever).  And this is where you begin to get trapped in a cycle. It’s easy to find the perfect bloggers that fit this certain criterion because brands usually post nothing but these bloggers - telling you who to follow and how these bloggers have styled trends.  As diverse bloggers aren’t presented to us as easily as bloggers and influencers who fit the criteria, we have to actively search for these individuals.

There is a structural/historic link with most race issues. And the same can be applied for why there aren't many diverse bloggers in the mainstream. A lot of it is due to what is universally perceived as ‘beautiful’. Beauty standards, if we’re talking in Western terms, are defined as fair skinned, skinny, straight haired etc. etc. In fashion and beauty industry, where evidently in the name, beauty is at the centre. The potential for success is heightened if you’re conventionally beautiful (i.e. have some of the aforementioned features). And this is a theory that has been proven across a number of industries and professions - according to Daniel Hamermesh, attractive people earn an average of 3% - 4% more than people with below-average looks.

Colour blindness is also a thing. And not the song by Pop idol runner up Darius (THROWBACK).Those who are making the important decisions to cast bloggers who fit this ‘specification' are simply colour blind to this heavily prevalent lack of diversity. If you are privileged enough to not be affected by the issue, there is no need to rectify a problem you believe to be non-existent.




As consumers, we need to make more demands of what we want the media and brands to portray. The consumer has more control than ever over the actions of brands. Especially now since influencer marketing is such a huge thing! In her amazing podcast, Oenone looks at the success of veganism and our attitudes towards healthier eating. 2 years ago, there weren't many mainstream food chains with a vegan menu or entirely vegan restaurants, now since more people are demanding these options, retailers have started supplying them. It's all about demand and supply.


And yes, the point may be raised that 'well in this campaign this blogger was featured and she's a person of colour'. Great! However, it isn't sufficient enough to throw one person of colour in the mix and then call it diverse. Growing up in a predominantly white, independent school until the age of 16, I quickly learnt what it tokenism meant. Quite often brands may feature a POC, but sometimes their motives aren’t as sincere as we’d hope. Yes, you’re using an individual who doesn’t fit the norm, but why? Are you using one person to claim that you’re ‘diverse’, as a quota filler and have the motives of increased profit as the main driver behind this? Or is it a genuine commitment to represent the brand across a range of demographics and cultures, using individuals reflective of this to do so? For some brands, we shall never know. 

Fashion (and fashion blogging) are the UKs number one creative industry, contributing £28 billion to the UK economy. On the grounds that there is no significant difference of the quality of content that is produced by a blogger of colour or a blogger with a disability or different sexual orientation. It’s important that the creative industry recognises talented people from all sorts of backgrounds, as creativity itself stems from diversity. 

Whatever the solution is, whether it’s more responsibility by brands or more demands from consumers, it’s a sad yet increasingly significant issue that has come to light as the influencer marketing industry has become more popular. We can't ignore it anymore.

Outfit details
Top - similar
Jeans - H&M (similar)
Bag - similar 
Boots - Missguided via ASOS (similar)



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