Last month, acclaimed model Nykhor Paul called out racism in the fashion industry through an eloquently worded Instagram post. Beginning with, "Dear white people in the fashion world," Paul immediately made her intention to critically address white privilege and racism in the worlds of fashion and modeling very clear.
With the post came headline after headline on the Internet, most of which radiated agreement with Paul while acknowledging that the issues Paul was highlighting when it comes to makeup are just the surface level of deep, racial problems within the fashion industry as a whole. Once again, Instagram became a viable platform for social issues.
In an Aug. 3 interview with Style.com, published a month after the Instagram outcry, Nykhor Paul continued to voice her opinions and backed them up not just with passion, but with proof. In this equally well worded and well presented piece, Paul gives voice to not just her personal issues, but the issues that many models of color struggle with day to day. Not only that, but her words leave behind a powerful message for all of society, rather than just the spheres of fashion and beauty. Here are nine of her strongest quotes.
1. "It isn’t about one runway or season, it’s really about consistently having a diverse group of models."
Paul praises Vivienne Westwood for her consistent inclusion of black models and briefly mentions Balenciaga's recent opting of a more diverse runway. However, she makes an important point in that the inclusion of models of color shouldn't simply be a bold statement for one season, but a concrete representation of the diversity of women everywhere — at every show.
2. "Part of the reason I think people were so reluctant to speak up is because you risk being labeled the angry black girl."
The "angry black woman" trope is used repeatedly by those in a position of dominance within our culture to silence those who are trying to speak out. Paul acknowledges this label but refuses to let it define her.
3. "Dealing with all the makeup issues, skin issues, hair issues, it makes you feel inadequate."
As Nykhor Paul stated in her original Instagram post, it's a matter of white privilege that black models aren't treated with the same care that white models are. This issue isn't just prevalent in the modeling world, either, but in the rest of society as well. Finding makeup products for black women on the high street, for instance, is a struggle for many. Models shouldn't have to deal with this whilst in the professional care of makeup artists.
4. "One minute we’re talking about the lack of diversity in this industry, and then they book a few girls and the conversation goes away until the next time."
"I have talked to models who are in their sixties and I’ve talked to models who are 15, and they’ve all experienced the same thing." Paul discusses how racial issues arguably come in and out of fashion, but never get fully resolved.
5. "Social media is a platform where you can be an activist."
This quote is especially relevant given the escalation in social media activism that has taken place even in the short space of a month since Paul's post (see Nicki Minaj's Twitter account).
6. "Black beauty can be Chanel, black beauty can be Dior, it can be Lancôme and all those things."
Black beauty can be anything it chooses to be, and implying that someone with a certain skin color is inherently less than someone with another... well, that's inarguably racist. As Paul told Style.com, "People need to expand their idea of what black models can do."
7. "There is still the idea that if you have two dark girls, they are interchangeable."
As Nykhor Paul repeats throughout the interview, agencies and clients will often choose one model per ethnic minority and proceed to declare themselves diverse. Paul told Style.com that an agency will sometimes say it already has "a dark girl like you," when the only similarity between the women is their skin color.
8. "I can provide a voice for those dark-skinned girls and this issue, I’m happy to."
Paul wishes to become a voice for a movement that has long needed to be heard, and I feel she'd be the perfect person to do it.
9. "The issue isn’t new, but I’m hoping to see more change now. We’re in a time when people are more conscious and more aware of the realities."
Ending on a positive note, Nykhor Paul has faith in the fashion world (and in the rest of us) to be more conscious of racial issues.
There's a lot of work to be done when it comes to inclusivity in fashion, but with advocates like Paul, the cynic in me is feeling just a little bit more optimistic.