How Race Is Read
This chapter documents the racial parameters of the fashion aesthetic. While models of color are more prevalent in high-fashion images today, historically the modeling industry has been closed off from taking the kinds of risks that involve troubling the idea of “fashion” as dictated the given signs and symbols that have evolved within the corporate world. For black models the repertoire for creating a marketable look has traditionally been limited by stereotypes and cultural assumptions, which shape black models’ glamour labor in specific ways. Their self-branding has demanded more intense forms of bodywork and self-commodifying, at times using their race as part of their brand, while at times essentially erasing their racial characteristics by straightening their hair or pushing their bodies to fit a Euro-American standard. While my respondents experienced their race as something they created or dissimulated according to client’s whims, at the same time they were keenly aware of how their work was shaped by prevailing expectations of what “race” should look like, indicating the power of pre-existing racial tensions into which they must fit the aesthetics of the look they build when doing glamour labor.
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