For Halloween this year, I had an Indian friend dress up like an Indian (feather, not dot). She thought it would be ironic (in a way that I’m sure this man would not have gotten). No painting of skin tone was involved. I was thinking about her as I watched this.
The blogs are a buzz with the latest from America’s Next Top Model, Season 13. The short girl season (all the girls are under 5’7), Tyra Banks takes them to Hawaii where she photographs them in a sugar cane field. The twist? She takes the pictures of the girls as “hapas.” Hapa is a Hawaiian term for people who are of mixed race. For the shoot, Tyra gives each of the girls two races that she wants them to embody in the photo. A race other than their own. She paints them all brown and gives them props to achieve it.
The racial mixes — Laura was Mexican and Greek, Erin was Tibetan and Egyptian, Sundai was Moroccan and Russian, Jennifer was Botswanan and Polynesian. and Nicole was Malagasy and Japanese. Who were we gifted with? The model named Brittany was given “East Indian” meets Native American i.e. feather and dot Indian. Fast forward to 6.29 to see Brittany get her face painted. Her picture after the jump. Oh Tyra Banks. Always toeing that line. With the history of “black face” in this nation, I can’t help but feel irked that all the models had to put on face paint for this shoot. It was like she was trying to create the ultimate American melting pot in this shoot, which she herself was shooting in this episode. And frankly, by looking at the final products – I don’t see how she was able to get both ‘races’ to come through the pictures with a little face paint and international props.
Is this fashion fantasy? Can skin colour be worn like any other fashion costume? Maybe the reason the wannabe super-models appeared so uncomfortable is because they were truly uncomfortable at pretending to be exotified hapa mixes, or subconsciously knew how inappropriate it might be to pretend to “look like different racial identities.”[schema]
As for the “mixed race clothing,” Tyra says in the clip that the girls are wearing a “fashion interpretation of it” even if the outfits don’t really match what come from the particular race. But, seriously, if you were a hapa Desi and Native American, would you really go around wearing a poorly draped sari and a feathered headgear like that?
And to add to that, the sari is draped over the wrong shoulder. Come on…!
When I saw this ANTM Indian Indian picture, I couldn’t help but think of this Sapna magazine fashion spread from April ’09, entitled Desi Fashion Gone Wild West. The photos consist of langas and cholis with boots and cowboy hats. I frankly found it absurd. But what if the Desi cowboys photo shoot met the Desi Native American photo shoot? It would take cowboy and Indians to a whole different level.
Sadly, the shoot was Brittany’s last and she was let go at the end of this episode. Apparently it was not strong enough because she “went for something safe” and sometimes “you have to let the art enter and just relax.” Honestly, though, can you blame her?
And a question to the mutinous horde, especially in the post glow of Halloween costumes of geishas, bellydancers, and other oriental wares — is there ever a time where painting face black (or brown, or yellow, or white) is alright? Was Tyra inappropriate in her brown-facing the models, or is this just how the fashion industry works?