1 – The beginning
To understand what pushed me to found this project, I am not going to share with you my career, but the feelings, the observations and the story I have lived during my beginning in the fashion industry. During these two years and even before, when I was looking for agencies; I noticed that being a mixed-race or black woman can be a handicap to climb the professional ladder.
When I went to model agencies in Paris, even if some of them were interested in my profile, I was always told of a kind of quota for “black” women. In other words, agencies established a maximum number of black and mixed-race models that they could not exceed. The reason for that, seemed to be the resemblance of “non-white” women. Moreover, it happened to me in model agencies that some “bookers” (people who work in the agency, on castings, and on models’ contracts) confused me with other mixed-race models. We didn’t look alike. Furthermore, some did not bother to remember our first names. All this made me wonder: Do these professionals of the fashion industry really look at us beyond the color of our skin ?
« We have reached our quota of black women. »
Here is a sentence I have heard too many times. Here is a sentence that I never really understood. Here is a sentence that pushed me to act and show these agencies that they are wrong and that non-white women are all different. If we think about it, this sentence simply means “that all non-white women do look alike”. Here is a sentence that I refused to accept because it had no meaning for me.
Indeed, I am a mixed-race woman. I am the fruit of the union of an Ivorian mother and a French father. I am not ashamed of my black roots.I was born and spent more than half of my life in Côte d’Ivoire and I go back there frequently. I think that not distinguishing between “black people” and “mixed-race people” leads us to generalize, standardize and categorize them into “communities” without taking the time to look at their particularities.
I am a black and white mixed-race woman, from Africa and Western Europe. Therefore I have a coffee and milk skin color. Being a mixed-race woman and being black are two different standards of beauty that are too often put in the same bag in Western countries.
I decided to do some research on modeling agencies and that is how I discovered that 1 out of 10 agency in France, some of them being very famous, had an average of 5 black and mixed-race models for a mere 150 or 200 women in their portfolio. Some alarming figures knowing that these quotas do not apply to white models. Does this imply that only 5 women are enough to represent all of us ?
When agencies select black women, they set the same physical criteria for all of them. The trend over the last few years seems to be black women with very dark skin and shaved head, or with boyish haircuts, androgynous or not fully formed, very thin and tall, that ressemble white women’s body type. Mixed-race models often need to have curly-haired women and angelic beauty to be hired.
I am very pleased to see non-white women in the highest spheres of fashion. Being white has been set as the ultimate standard of beauty for too many years. However it must be noted that things are slowly changing. Even if there is some progress, black and mixed-race women are not limited to a single “identity”, just like white women.
In the few haute couture magazines that feature black women, we often see them wearing boubous (traditional African clothing), animal prints or flamboyant colors, not to mention the theatrical makeup. For mixed-race models, professionals of the fashion industry tend to want us to be very natural, most of the time with nude makeup. But, we also have the right to be sophisticated, and to have more assertive styles. Even if I often have a natural look I can adapt to various styles, from sophisticated to streetwear or even casual.
Speaking of this, I would like to share with you an anecdote. In order to improve my book I decided to take Haute couture type of photos, sometimes looking like a “femme fatale”, and also a series of black and white photos out different from what I was usually allowed to do (see the cover of this article).
I wanted to break free from this image of the commercially successful model within which I felt imprisoned and which prevented me from getting big contracts. I want to prove that yes, I can follow the trend and be the all natural and commercial mixed-race model, but I want to show that I can also adapt to other things.
Unfortunately, my agency considered the photos I took to be too sophisticated which, apparently, does not represent “me”. How can they claim to know all the facets of one personality ? I do not know. I was very disappointed. I struggled to take different pictures from what I had, hopping to add them to my book so it could bring me some sort of recognition and help me evolve professionally. But it was a lot of effort in vain.
Yet, I recognize myself in these photos. The person I see is me. I am not bound to a single image, I can adapt to multiple styles. Being a model should not be limited to skin color, body type, a clothing style or make-up pre-defined by fashion professionals.
Being a model means knowing how to pass on emotions and charisma while posing in any situation, context or outfits.
This is why the Ayika’a project was created. Its goal is to show who we really are, to show that black and mixed-race women can wear traditional or Western clothes, have braids or wear extensions. Black and mixed-race women are not defined by a single identity but by a multitude of identities just like anybody else. It is time for the media to follow along and change the way they portray black and mixed-race models. There is not one type non-white women, but many.
2 – Fashion within the hexagon
As I told you before, I am a French model, who lives in France and started her career in Paris. Mastering the fashion market in France, I decided to focus on it first.
The biggest issue in France right now is a problem of representation. I have often been told “you are not representative of the French population”. It is hard for me to understand what it really means. When I walk down the streets, I see a diversified society. Therefore my question is: what does it mean to be “French” nowadays ?
Most of the girls who participated in the Ayika’a project are French. They were born in France and grew up here. They have a double culture, which in my opinion represents today’s France: A mixed and diverse France. If I take myself for example, I am French-Ivorian. My father is French and my mother is Ivorian.
I was born and raised in Ivory Coast until the age of 16, but I am familiar with my French culture. My father always ensured that I know about France and its history. So, when I was young, I came here regularly on vacation. My grandfather fought during World War two and my great-grandfather did the Chemin des dames in Verdun. I was raised 50% the French way and 50% the Ivorian way. I believe to be a good representations of today’s France I represent, not only because of my origins, but because of my mixed culture.
Society is no longer simply white or black. France is no longer what it was 50 years ago and it is time the fashion industry to evolve as well.
As it is difficult, if not impossible, for a black or mixed-race model to evolve in France many girls decide to go abroad, not by choice but by necessity. In France very few mixed-race or black models succeed at the highest level, even if there are some exceptions. I find it distressing that as we have to leave our country of birth to hope for a better future. We all know that the modeling business often pushes us to live between two airports, but we still have a home country to get back to, which for French mixed-race and black models is often far from France…
3 – The current fashion reflection and its impact on women’s self-esteem
Always representing the same kind of light-skin women in the media can generate deep complexes and identity issues. Women are no longer aware of their beauty, which can hamper the process of growing teenagers and adults. These women have little to no self-esteem. It is rather complicated to feel beautiful when the only standards of beauty that are presented to us on a daily basis are the opposite of our phenotype, especially when we receive degrading comments every day. (“you’re beautiful for a black woman”, “your hair looks wild”, “you’re too pretty to have an African accent”, “you’re so exotic”, etc) See what I’m talking about ?
Despite some progress during these past few years, I recently saw a pertinent video entitled “why do black men dislike black women ?“.
Check the video below :
Three young men were discussing about this issue and said that everything came from the representation that the media give to a black woman. It is always represented in the same way, without variety or diversity. It is often represented only in a negative way (noisy, aggressive, petty, theatrical, animal, etc.) She is also seen as “apart”.
For example, not so long ago, the international brand of cosmetics distribution Sephora, has displayed in its store a foundation for black skin with slogan “ethical skins“. What does that really mean ? Does it mean that the black woman is apart ? Being ethnical is reserved to a certain category of the population ? We are all ethnic, so why bringing that precision only to black women ? Putting “for black skins” would have been enough. This proves that fashion professionals still see us as beings apart and different. It is time to stop this. Putting black and mixed women in ads involves taking them at their true value and not in some stereotypical ways.
These stereotypes which do not only place black women in the background. It can also have far more serious consequences for their health. Such as skin depigmentation, which is still a major problem in the black community.
Media and fashion stakeholders play a key role in building the image we have of ourselves and others. So it is important if not crucial, that we should all be represented. Not just a small elite that refuses to open up to others.
« Black women is not good for business » ?
I have often been told during my casting that black and mixed women do not sell, and that is why brands and magazines favor white women. I do not really understand this argument. Did you know that black and mixed women spend more money on cosmetics ? So I am surprised to see professionals supporting this idea.
I also heard that these women are a minority in the West and a small percentage of the population. Therefore, it is normal that we are not represented enough. To this argument, I reply that when we know that there are NOT only whites in the West, but people from ALL AROUND THE WORLD, the argument of the “number” doesn’t fit anymore… Awareness and marketing are therefore compatible.
Some Caucasian women say that they do not identify themselves in our image, so this would be why magazines or casting directors would refuse to include non-Caucasian women in advertisements, and magazines.
But when I see a white woman on television or in magazines I have no difficulty in identifying myself with the products, clothing or any other that she tries to sell. I have no difficulty in identifying myself to her because I never really had any choice but to try to find myself in white women. Why would the reverse be irrational ?
Check the article about this subject: http://bit.ly/2pSXl0A
4 – Why not only model whithin the project Ayika’a ?
I did not want to take only fashion typical profile as the goal is to show all these women who are less or not represented. Who are still there and who only want to exist. These women have the right to feel represented at their true value and not necessarily in a stereotypical way.
I wanted to add mixed women to my project as I am a mixed woman myself. I thought it was important to add us because we are often seen as “black” or “white”, depending on where we are, but rarely as a whole mixed woman.
I would like people to come out of this reductive mentality and accept to see blacks and mixed women for what they are. Without directly trying to put them into boxes. To summarize, everything that differentiates from a very white skin is immediately considered as “alien”, “exotic”, “black”.
To conclude, I would like you to know that my project aspires for my dream. I dream of a plural beauty in the fashion industry. Moreover, a plural beauty among non-Caucasian women who are not put forward by the media. I would like that tomorrow, my daughter, or my little sister of 11 years old, will be able to have several role models to whom they could identify themselves.
5 – What does the project AYIKA’A taught me ?
As project manager, I had the chance to lead my project from the scratch. From team management, budget monitoring to the choice of my providers. I had to make decisions and deal with the common mistakes of the “Young Entrepreneur”.
« I had to take decisions and confront mistakes.»
It was by making these mistakes I became aware that the life of an entrepreneur is not simple. Lulled by my passion and determination, I proved to those around me that I was able to transform a simple idea into a real project.
AYIKA’A‘s conception reinforced me in my choice to take the way of entrepreneurship while continuing to defend the interests of black and mixed people who are often forgotten.
My profile interests you ? Find my professional Books in the following links:
– Outlawmodels : http://bit.ly/2wVeppH
– Karin Model Paris : http://bit.ly/2wV9aGs
– Profile Models : http://bit.ly/2vSoQqg
Follow me on intagram : @Cindylababss