Model Minorities: Cbruh’s Two Cents

Las week, AZN introduced our new series “Model Minorities” with an inaugural post on Aussie model Jessica Gomes. Now it’s my turn to weigh in, and provide some context for the decision to start this thang. After all, just because we both rep BCB doesn’t mean we have to always agree.

“Model Minorities” was in part prompted by recent articles on the heels of New York Fashion week about the declining diversity of runway shows. The idea was that we would research (google) Asian American models, see how many we could find (would there be such a dearth we’d have to look to Asian models in other countries?), promote them on BCB, and have a little fun with it.

I do wanna add a disclaimer: I have mixed feelings about even doing a series featuring models — since I think it’s a stupid institution that reinforces unrealistic expectations of beauty and body — especially impacting women. And that sometimes it feels like women of color are just jockeying for position to be equally as objectified and sexualized as white women.

That said, there’s also a need to provide more visibility for APA folks in areas typically dominated by white people — fashion and modeling included — and this is an industry that’s not likely to die out anytime soon. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a heapin’ helpin of eye candy now and then?

So I personally wanted to find a way to walk the fine line between fightin’ the power and reinforcing it — and I know I probably picked the worst topic to try and politicize, since part of a model’s job is to be ogled and lusted after.

Back to AZN’s Jessica Gomes post — I let him know I was bothered by certain parts of it — namely the identification of which parent was from where, and how “those countries sure go together like chicken and rice!” I wanted “Model Minorities” to help raise the visibility of folks who are normally not sexualized (Asian men) and post in a less predictable and stereotypical way on those who are hyper-sexualized (Asian women and mixed folks) — rather than exotifying the “Other” or valuing women based upon how they’ve been historically colonized. Equating Gomes’ ethnicity to food is too often done to Asian women and multiracial folks, and the pinpointing of her particular “mix” in direct correspondence to her attractiveness smacks of exotification (I do realize that writing about females is more challenging given the gender dynamics — with male models you can be all “yowza woohoo hawt! etc.” without coming off too creepy).

And since our goal was to feature those most under-represented, personally I would have picked a “full” Asian model (especially for the series kick-off), since mixed models are already sought after in fashion and media (in this limited sense, I agree with Yuey’s comment). So that’s my long-winded and over-intellectualized way of saying: it made me feel kinda icky.

Going forward, who knows if either of us can avoid such pitfalls when writing about models, but we’ll see where it goes.  Thoughts, folks?

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4 thoughts on “Model Minorities: Cbruh’s Two Cents

  1. I liked azn’s choice, although I see what you’re saying about picking a “full” model for the kickoff.

    I think at certain stages, we need to roll with certain portrayals. Equating Asian or mixed race women with food is something that is done very often. I know what you’re saying. However…it’s hard to be too intellectual when doing something around modeling. Sex and food kinda…just come into the picture. Maybe it makes sense to make allowances for this?

    The upside is that by focusing on models, we do get the representation that you guys seem to be shooting for with respect to the model minority series.

    Here’s an example: Today, I blogged about Miss Saigon:

    http://www.bigwowo.com/2010/03/miss-saigon-bigwowo-review

    I thought the musical was hella racist against Asian men–they even put two White dudes in yellow face to underscore the point! However, I can’t deny that it did wonders for Lea Salonga, nor can I deny that there is a real human portrayal in the Asian female lead’s character. So this is why I gave it a pretty high rating. I also said that it might be useful to use Miss Saigon as a means of moving ideas among Asian Americans. If we can roll with certain portrayals, maybe we can find what we appreciate and discard what we don’t?

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  2. whereas i understand the context of flipping the script on the “model minority” phrase to be used to uplift api women in a positive light, i must agree that the use of a mixed race female was probably not the most strategic choice. while tryin to address the issue of the lack of visibility of our folks in industries such as modeling, fashion, media, etc., the use of a mixed race female reinforced the mythical idea that mixed folks are better looking than non mixed folks. we all too often see the lighter skinned, mixed race person on television, just turn on cnn and see for yourself (i’m talkin about you betty nguyen and tj holmes!). if you’re tryin bring visibility to our folks by countering a term that has negatively impacted api’s, then do it justice by using it to embrace our truly invisible models…. the darker skinned api folks. perhaps, therein lies the challenge. do they even exist in google land?

    additionally, just because api women are often sexualized and equated to food, doesn’t mean it’s something that needs to be embraced in a space like BcB. as politicized bloggers, it’s important to send a message of social responsibility and understand that whatever gets put up in this blogosphere is read by people from all political views and values. it’s one thing for us to have conversations internally about these hot item issues amongst like minded folks who understand the underlying message and tone that is meant through these conversations, but it’s another thing to put it out there in an open space where it can be misinterpreted and taken very inappropriately.

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  3. Hey thanks for the update. I guess it’s perceived differently here as Perth is a very small city and everyone knows everyone one way or the other, especially if they’re famous (Shaun Tan, Heath Ledger, Gemma Ward etc) and if Perth people were asked to name a model from Perth, regardless of race, Gomes would have been named in the top five.

    You’ve got a wide target audience and she may not be as well known internationally.

    On the bright side, at least you didn’t name Megan Gale (half poly) given that Americans use the AAPI banner a lot.

    Look forward to seeing your other model minorities and hopefully some unknowns too.

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  4. Really interesting thoughts here. You’re walking in a minefield here, and one I would’ve avoided. You’re brave as hell, and I salute you for that. I think re-examining who we pick, how we pick them, and what we say about them is important. Nice stuff.

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