Gigi Hadid, an international supermodel, recently came under fire for posing in pictures with dark makeup and lighting. She shared the photos on her personal Instagram page and was immediately accused of attempting to impersonate people with darker skin tones. Many readers suspected that the layout was a modern-day version of blackface, a makeup technique that alters lighter complexion so that they more closely resemble those of African descent. In her public apology, the model claimed that she, like many other artists, has little creative control over the final product.
Over the last few years, entertainers like Fred Armisen (Portlandia), Claudia Schiffer, Sarah Silverman, and Tyra Banks have taken to the stage in blackface. If, as Gigi Hadid claims, these artists are simply following directions, who is responsible for the trend of colorism in the fashion world and what do they hope to gain from indulging in classically racist behaviors?
Military PsyOps and the Culture Wars
Sociologists refer to the conflicts between traditional conservative American values and the growing prevalence of more liberal and progressive ideologies as culture wars. As the American demographic moves away from Caucasian, Puritanical values, those who fit the previously established norm are fighting to maintain their dominance. This struggle can be seen in the rise of White Nationalist, Alt-Right, and other groups that espouse the supremacy of European peoples.
These groups, driven by hatred and fear, use numerous tactics in their attempt to regain control of the cultural narrative. Many of their methods are similar to those used in military psychological operations (psyops). These operations are designed to affect the thoughts, emotions, and general worldview of their targets. This can include distributing misinformation through media outlets, displays of physical power, and acts of charity. In 1995, the US military used psyops to encourage the residents of Bosnia-Herzegovina to accept the NATO-backed peace accord. In the 1991 Gulf War, leaflets and loudspeaker broadcasts were used in an attempt to convince insurgents to surrender without causalities.
Modern groups are using psyops tactics to turn the tides of the culture wars in their favor. Conservative news outlets continuously pump out half-truths and distorted facts to demonize darker races and gather sympathy from others. Marches, like the one in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017, are becoming more common and are an attempt to show the strength of their numbers. Many of these groups have recently begun to organize food drives and other grassroots community services in predominantly Caucasian areas in order to lure more people to their cause.
Psyops and Colorism in the Fashion World
Throughout its history, America has been firmly under the control of men of European descent. This control has allowed them to use the labor of other races to gather great wealth and influence all over the world. This has also given them the power to decide what is “normal”. Any culture or ethnicity that doesn’t match their own may be described as exotic, interesting, or even attractive, but is never able to fully meet the established standards. However, with the new wave of progressive philosophies, their grip is quickly slipping.
Colorism in the fashion world is one way those in power are trying to desperately cling to their supremacy. By establishing the ideal of beauty as light skin, straight hair, and thin bodies, those who are not of European descent are effectively relegated to the sidelines. This can be plainly seen in fashion magazines, music videos, and runways everywhere. As the new generations demand more representation, however, the fashion industry has had to adjust. The rise of racially ambiguous models, like the Kardashians, is an attempt to placate darker people while still maintaining the supremacy of European beauty standards.
The recent events surrounding Gigi Hadid are an example of how colorism in the fashion world seeks to maintain current beauty standards. Photographers and graphic artists use heavy bronzer, lighting tricks, and photo enhancements to make models more closely resemble darker skinned races. The combination of European features and African skin tones is a psychological tactic meant to confuse readers while upholding whiteness as the ideal. This is done to convince the population that, although the national demographic is shifting towards more racial diversity, white people are still the most attractive.
The producers, publishers, and designers who control modern artists have an established stake in keeping colorism in the fashion world. While they may apologize profusely once discovered, there is no doubt that their actions are organized and intentional. The only true defenses against this blatant psychological warfare are self-appreciation, unity, and critical thinking.