America’s Next Faux Skin Model

Against my better judgement, I’m diving head-first into the swampy territory of racial politics. In the marriage of Hollywood and race, the contestants of America’s Next Top Model donned accessories that were borrowed alright…but they’re not blue.

No, they’re different shades of brown, meant to emulate skin tones of someone who is hapa –a biracial person– in the imagination of Tyra Banks. For the 9th episode of her reality show, the contestants wore make-up to appear as though they were of two different races. And because it consisted of coloring the women a darker shade, one article questioned if the act was similar to blackface in the 1800’s when white people wore theatrical makeup to look like  black people. But before we venture down that lovely road, let’s meet the offenders, shall we?

Brittany Markert was assigned to model Native American and East Indian.


Erin Wagner was Tibetan and Egyptian.


Jennifer An was Botswanan and Polynesian.


Nicole Fox, who, incidentally was the winner of this racial challenge (and the season), was Malagasy and Japanese.


Lauren Kirkpatrick transformed into Mexican and Greek.


Sundai Love was Moroccan and Russian.


There’s a reason why I haven’t been reading anything racially or politically charged lately. The comments on the blackface article were hilariously infuriating. I seriously though the people commenting were teenagers who weren’t as insightful about the dynamics of race, but my husband reassured me that there are idiot adults out there. <inhale> I get rather snarky and downright pissed when I rant about racial politics, so bear with me. I don’t even know where to start so I’m dividing up my rant into academically polite sections.

“This Is Art!”

This isnt blackface, its acting. You’re a nut. Google blackface and see the exaggerated, offensive makeup of blackface along with the mocking dances. All this is, is a revisit to a time when caucasians played different roles in cinema, its makeup and acting, not ‘blackface’ which looks entirely different.”

Oh please. I saw the show. It was an artistic expression of the mix of two races. Nothing racist about it. they just try to stir up controversy where there is none to be dramatic. They should save the race issues for the really important real ones so we don’t get sick of it all the time and real progress can be made!”

I think this was probably the most idiot thing I’ve heard. The viewers are acting as though it’s not possible for art to be racist. Even more so, their comments imply that engaging in racist actions has to be a conscious effort. When someone mentions racism, people immediately get defensive. Most of the people commenting liked the episode and the show and any mention of the show being racist obviously implies that people who like the show are racist, too.

It’s common knowledge nowadays that overt racism (ie., lynching, racial slurs, segregation) is unacceptable. But just because there are societal limitations on the expression of racism, doesn’t mean that people still aren’t acting or thinking that way. What’s even more ironic is that not copping to one’s own prejudiced thoughts may even more harmful because they may not even be aware of the racist things they are saying or doing. This makes it easier for me to let the whole “This is art!” thing slide.

But this next one really irritates me…

Buy Your Skin Accessories Here! Cost: Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness

I completely agree..there was nothing offensive about their appearances. These woman were asked to bring out the special qualities of the bi-racial individuals that inhabit hawaii as a result of the growth of sugar cane production. There is nothing offensive about bringing out the inner beauty of cultural mixes. I think it was a beautiful photo shoot and people just want to have something to gripe about. Get over it, lets talk about something important rather than something senseless.”

Okay, first of all, frogs inhabit ponds, birds inhabit trees, animals inhabit dwellings. You get where I’m going with this? As the first comment so eloquently states, “bi-racial individuals inhabit Hawaii.” When standing alone, the sentence doesn’t really mean much and I can see how a person may be looking too much into it. However, in the context of the entire comment, the sentence makes me cringe.

Second of all, to my knowledge, there are no half Tibetan-Egyptian, half Malagasy-Japanese, half of any of the races they mentioned living in Hawaii. If they truly wanted to acknowledge the “bi-racial individuals who inhabit Hawaii,” they would’ve represented Filipino-Chinese, Japanese-Caucasian, Portuguese-Hawaiian, any race that has a history of actually immigrating to Hawaii to work on the plantations. When Tyra starts choosing random races out of the thin air as though they are accessories, it totally negates the supposed intent of recognizing the history of Hawaii.

I’m white as can be and I see absolutely no problem with it. I actually think it’d be cool to see how I’d looked with brown skin (although it probably wouldn’t come out well, lol: my facial features are very Italian). As long as it didn’t affect the consciences of the female models, it wasn’t done without their consent, and they had absolutely no problem with someone making them look completely different, then it’s fine and dandy. Everyone changes their appearances for fun (body piercings, tattoos, plastic surgery, etc.), so why should this be any different?”

I actually saw the episode and I thought it was done very tastefully. They did not portray them as anything other than beautiful women of mixed race. One of the girls even commented that she had always wondered what she would have looked like if she had been born a different race. I did not see anything that was derogatory toward people of mixed race.

Yet another comment illustrating the whole skin-color-as-accessory argument. ANTM makes the whole idea seem flattering, but it’s actually pretty offensive to watch these random women “try on” a culture or supposed perception of what the culture is about (“All I know about Tibet is that it needs to be freed”). It’s pretty much like wearing animal fur. It objectifies the culture and let me tell you, I know nothing more about Hawaii or any of those cultures that were being modeled than I did before I saw the episode, and I’m sure the models didn’t either. They didn’t do any kind of celebrating of cultures because none of them were actual representations of what the culture is about.

Everyone is in entitled to their optinion, but i think this story is reach. A portion of what tyra’s show is about it taking photos in different scenes, scenarios etc and the models taking it and owning it. They have done everything from Mermaids, Aliens, Bull Fighters, Jockeys, Amazon woman, Highschool Steriotypes, Bollywood, Leading Ladies from Novels and even our ancestors made their journey to Ellis Island. Whats good for one should be good for all, so should Bull Fighters, Jockeys, High School people, and our ancestors all frown upon this pull the ‘offensive card’. Her photos are always tasteful and I think its a shame this even needs to be a conversation in our day and age!

This comment is the same as the previous one in that it compares different races and cultures to mermaids, aliens, bull-fighters, Amazon women, etc. To reduce something so inherent to a group of people’s identity and way of life to something as trivial as a mythical creature is so objectifying. This viewer pretty much shot herself in the foot with her comment. What the commenters don’t get is that, while the photos themselves are gorgeous, the underlying messages are harmful. And I’m not talking about the message that “all races are beautiful!” but the message that these physical characteristics are fun to try on like body jewelry without any sensitivity to the fact that one’s skin color has more meaning than others imagine it to be.

As I think about it, the whole comparison to being a mermaid is really profound. It shows how people of different races and cultures are perceived as mysterious creatures whose personas we can don as costumes and fantasize about becoming. Like dressing up for Halloween.

Disclaimer: I peeped the episode on Youtube to get a better feel for the whole thing. And it was awkward for me to watch. That being said, it definitely doesn’t have the same cruel undertones as “blackface” per se, but the underlying concept is really similar. Both are using race as means of entertainment and worse yet, each one objectifies the culture or race associated with the contrived skin color. And even though ANTM portrays it as flattery, it still has harmful effects such as Asian women who are often perceived as exotic beauties and more often than not, associated with stereotyped characteristics (ie., delicate flower, passive, obedient, blah, blah, blah).

Big deal! All nationalities are beautiful. Maybe they who are bothered by it should take it as a compliment. Imitation is the best form of flattery.

You imitate someone’s outfit or someone’s behaviors. You don’t imitate someone’s culture or race. The word “imitate” reminds me of someone going through the motions for purposes that aren’t meant to actually embrace whatever it is they are imitating. When these models were “imitating” the cultures or the race, they didn’t know jack-shit about them. Where’s the respect?


Well, When Black People Do It, No One Cares

So what do we call the Wayan brothers dressing up in “white face” for an entire movie, and, making stereo-typical fun of white folk….when did this become ok….? Scott Harris, you are trying to stir up trouble that isn’t there…so, I’m very suspicious you aren’t being paid by the very producers you are talking about in the last sentence of this article. If you aren’t being paid by them, then you are a foolish victim of the very intent you accuse them of.

What about all the colour models who bleach and straighten their hair ? What about colour models who wear blue or green colour eye contacts ?

My response to this is pretty simple. White is right. It’s good to be white in this country. So what if black actors wear white make-up? There are tons of other positive portrayals of white people in the media. People of color are still working towards roles that don’t stereotype them. At the end of the day, white people still end up on top. How many Black presidents have we had again?

The Hapa Trend

The girls were beautiful. It made me wonder if maybe we should ALL mix up. Wouldn’t the world be prettier.

I agree w/sweetgirl1025…why can’t we show the beauty of what these nationalities would look like mixed?! They are all beautiful! I am so sick and tired of people who have issues with this…it’s reeeeeeeeally getting old already! so many nationalities are mixing these days, that by the time my daugther is n HS, every kid will be mixed! What a beautiful thing that would be!!

I remember seeing a Benetton ad with this gorgeous Hapa guy on it and reading an article about the increase in demand for models of mixed races saying that their exotic features are the new faces of this generation, or something to that effect. Reading it made me feel strange. The article wasn’t for or against using mixed-race models, but it definitely described a growing trend in the preference for the exotic. And when something’s exotified, there is no respect for the history of the culture or race. It’s simply an object that is beautiful to look at.

What’s funny about the comments is that many of them wanted to talk about race issues that “really matter” or that “we should be beyond this.” The thing is this: racism in this day and age has evolved. I can’t find the article that was speaking directly to the ANTM episode, but the author was talking about institutionalized racism and of course, the readers had no clue what she was talking about. It’s worth mentioning anyway.

Insitituationalized racism refers to systems that are in place which oppress groups of people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, whatever. The way that a laws are written or enforced, the way that people are hired, the means through which students are admitted into educational institutions may be done in such a way that stereotypes are reinforced. They are difficult to prove because it’s not overt like the lynching and racial slurs I mentioned earlier, and damn near 99% of the time, people are unaware of it. Something that seems to be flattering, such as ANTM, actually reduce bi-racial people to the exotic trend of today. Which proves the point that ANTM’s bi-racial photoshoot is actually pretty damn relevant to the kind of racism that is pervasive in our current society. Whether or not this was Trya’s intention is a moot point because either way, it still exposes this new kind of racism and it still exposes America’s ignorance.


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