“You look so…Caucasian.”

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Our discussion about the exoticism of mixed-race people in class on Friday made me think of interesting blog post I read last year. Did anyone here watch the first season of America’s Next Top Model? Elyse Sewell, the second runner-up from that season, has actually become a successful model and works primarily in Asia and Europe. She has a blog that she updates occasionally. In one post from 2007, she talked about one of the weird quirks of working in Hong Kong.

For a photo shoot, the client had her wear black contacts in order to look “more Chinese.” She went through the process of trying to get the black contacts in, noting that “the client could have picked up the phone and procured Eunis Chan or Gaile Lai or any one of a hundred ACTUAL CHINESE MODELS instead of trying to pummel Anglo old me into one.” What I found really interesting was that she added she didn’t feel that it was wrong to fake being a Chinese girl. “‘”Why won’t they let me look like me?’ is basically the fruitiest f——g complaint a model could ever make.” Within the modeling industry, people are so used to being transformed that race isn’t a big deal; it’s just another wig or makeup trick.

That said, I’ve found that race is becoming more important in the fashion industry. Last semester for Dr. Fernsebner’s Cultural History of Modern China course, I did a research paper on the Chinese fashion industry. Most of the models in the industry are Caucasian. Those that are of other races are usually hired because they have “exotic” features. Fashion shows in Asia, even Hong Kong’s Fashion Week (the second largest in the world) tended to feature more Caucasian models. But now that Asian countries are becoming larger luxury buyers, there has been a push to include more Asian models in campaigns. Other industries are catching on. Shiseido has its best profits for years when it launched a campaign with the tagline “Japanese Women Are Beautiful.” With this new demand for Asian models, it will be interesting to see if white models will continue to be hired and then forced to hide their blue eyes.