Why Doesn’t the Lingerie Industry Like Women of Color?

Photo Credits: Keena Royale by Viva van Story

Today’s article is on a subject very close to my heart.  I’ve been debating if I should write this for weeks now, but after talking with other women of color in the lingerie industry and doing a bit of soul-searching myself, I’ve decided there’s no way I can’t not post this.  The Lingerie Addict is about all aspects of the lingerie community, even the parts I don’t really like.

Awhile back, I had a conversation with another woman of color in the industry (who prefers to remain anonymous), and she asked me flat out, “Why don’t lingerie companies use black models…especially in retro lingerie?”  After thinking it over, I realized this issue wasn’t limited to black women; all women of color are underrepresented in lingerie.  Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Native American…it doesn’t matter. When was the last time you saw a woman of color modeling on your favorite lingerie website?

We know (or at least I hope we know) that beauty comes in all colors, just as it comes in all shapes and sizes.  So why don’t lingerie retailers, designers, and photographers diversify their literal portfolios?  It’s gotten to where I’m surprised when I see a model of color (pleasantly surprised, but surprised all the same) and, quite frankly, that’s just sad.  Seeing a beautiful woman of color modeling lingerie shouldn’t be a shock or a rarity, it should so happen so often I barely notice it.

What do you think is the problem here?  Are there just not enough models of color?  Is the lingerie industry biased?  Do people (mistakenly) believe that women of color simply don’t look good in or appreciate fine lingerie?  I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts.  A week or so ago I asked this question on my Facebook page and got some interesting responses from lingerie fans, bloggers, and retailers alike.  Here’s what they had to say–

I really don’t know a “good” excuse for that. At first I typed reason but there is no reason, it really would be an excuse. ~Koko

Echoing Koko above, I’ll say ‘no *good* reason’. Believe me, I’ve looked around the net for my blog, and it’s a sparse-but-thankfully-beautiful-few. I’m going to guess ‘Myopia’. By 2010, I’d hate to think it’s anything else. Also, a really dumb marketing move. ~Frankufotos

I ask myself that question all the time. Although I will say that Victoria’s Secret has always had at least one. Few others can same the same. Do they think that we don’t love & wear lingerie as much as our counterparts of other races??? ~Madison

Well, when it comes to small businesses, who can’t go through agency to book professional models but rather go the semi-pro route, like in my case, I really have to say that models of colors are a rare gem. If you can book a model for 500-1,000EUR a day, knock yourself out, but in the alternative industry, there aren’t that many.  That’s just one of the reasons, of course.  ~Sophie

So very true! It’s rarely seen. And it makes no sense. Their should be more lingerie models of color out there! I was at the CurveNY Expo and there was such a gorgeous girl modeling lingerie – and it made me wonder why aren’t there more! ~Jenny

Within the UK, less than 10% of the population at the time of the last census defined themselves as BME (Black & Minority Ethnic). The distribution varies widely from area to area, though. Still, worth bearing in mind for UK brands who sell predominantly in the UK, the situation is somewhat different from the USA.  ~Catherine 

I had this conversation right after our SS11 shoot when talking about who I wanted to model the next season and who would serve as my muse, so definitely stay tuned for our next shoot. As a designer I think it’s important to portray beauty in every woman, and absolutely agree that in the industry as a whole there is a lot less color than there could/should be. I also agree with Sophie; it’s definitely hard to find professional models on a budget, and that can narrow the pool! ~Layla

73 Comments

  1. madamori
    18/08/10 at 22:20

    I happen to think it's bullshit when people say that they can't "find" suitable models of color. I see EVERYDAY women of color who could run laps around the higher paid vintage lingerie models I see in my favorite designer catalogs. I think when they picture retro lingerie, they also picture a whitewashed world–the world of Hollywood–where all non-whites are too unattractive or common to model.

    [grimaces]

    I do wish I could see more of the women like me. Vickie's at least has three.

    • Anonymous
      01/03/12 at 23:38

      I don’t see how anyone wouldn’t want to see models with curves and beautiful cocoa, chocolate and all these other various color ranges. I guess it still about the majority…I think ALL women of ALL colors offer beauty and uniqueness. Well I’am working on at least helping diminish this trend. I will post my site soon!

  2. CollegiateDown
    19/08/10 at 0:26

    Unfortunately, this is a problems with other models, not just lingerie models. I think the fact of the matter is that we still have racism in this country, it is just not as blatant and people choose to ignore the problem rather than doing something about it. In which case, I think its good that you wrote this blog, thus bringing attention to the issue.

  3. Annmarie
    19/08/10 at 2:14

    This is a sensitive issue and you certainly did the right thing by bringing it up!!!
    Being a member of a minority myself (Mid-Eastern), this is a subject that often comes to mind when I watch how American and other companies around the world would like to be represented.
    Unfortunately the lingerie industry is not much different then the rest of the world. As others commented, Victoria's secret may be somewhat different and they also helped Tyra Banks propel her career in the 1990's. Unfortunately, nowadays they cater for a younger crowd and I often find their catalogues to be on the border of child pornography.
    One US company that I like, Soma Intimates
    http://www.soma.com/store/home.jsp
    seem to have some Hispanic models and have also added an Asian one recently. Unfortunately no black models yet on their site…

    This is a frustrating situation, but we as consumers can make a difference. Next time we place an order we should ask to talk to a supervisor and let that person know that if their company could represent us better and make us feel more welcome then we will have an incentive to come back and do business with them again. I bet they will listen and communicate it to their own supervisors.

  4. Sophie HMS
    19/08/10 at 4:31

    @Madamori: I agree, I see gorgeous women of colour everyday, but not everyone can model! Deer in the deadlight look, awkward posing, shyness… Modelling isn't something you can do efficienlty just like that.
    And models of colour in the alternative business are very _very_ few and far between. As a latex company owner, I just can't pop into a regular agency and request a model, let alone afford one. I happen to know one personnaly and we had the opportunity to make gorgeous photos together, but her agency wouldn't be happy to stumble on them… http://hmslatex-designs.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d2kbvtf (Hope linking to one is ok)

  5. Jacques
    19/08/10 at 5:21

    Interesting article. I would have to disagree with your views. I live in South Africa, and though not the majority, certainly a big percentage of lingerie models in South Africa are black. With the Cosmopolitan annual lingerie edition, I would say 4 out of the 10 models are black. I think because African Americans are the minority, maybe the industry in America reflects the general demographics perhaps?

    • Marissa
      02/04/13 at 15:52

      As someone who lives in the US, I can say almost for certain that the percentage of the population that is black is much, much higher than the percentage of models that we see who are black. I’m very glad that isn’t the case in your country!

      • Amber
        31/01/14 at 23:17

        Yes, it is definitely NOT by demographic. I too am surprised to see anyone other than a white person on a billboard or ad — what a backwards thing. I live in the Twin Cities where the metro area is extremely diverse- every color represented!- and something needs to change in the fashion industry to appreciate all cultures :)

    • AmyJ
      10/02/14 at 6:35

      This comment is disingenuous in the extreme! You claim that South Africa doesn’t have a race problem in modelling because 4 out of 10 models in Cosmo were black? Great! If that had happened in the US it would be awesome! Except…the population of South Africa is 90% black. Yet 60% of the models were white. Doesn’t seem so awesome now, does it?

      In fact, I’d go so far as to say that makes the situation in SA much, much worse. At least in the US, it’s ethnic minorities who are not being included. It’s wrong and indefensible, but you can also see how it happened. There are some justifications for it, as white people are the biggest market and a smaller population of X ethnicity means a smaller pool of models (I personally don’t think they’re good justifications, but I can kind of see it makes some small amount of business sense). In South Africa, the native population remains the largest ethnic group and yet still are massively under-represented. There is literally not a single justification that can be made for that, it’s pure and simple racism.

  6. Kashaya
    19/08/10 at 5:43

    Interesting article. It's so sad that the fashion industry almost always uses women of one colour and size instead of mixing it up and show modells of all colour and sizes.

  7. Petra Bellejambes
    19/08/10 at 6:04

    It's never just one thing is it? All commenters have raised good points, and I too have to give points to VS (who always looked her best on Tyra) for being ahead of the curve.

    Demographic impulses must figure in. Retailers want to make it easy as possible for the biggest slice of their market to visualize themselves in their goods. And here in the USA, the vast majority of lingerie shoppers are (still) pale.

    I suspect that there are some cultural inhibitors too on the supply side. Prospective models of South Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and (recent) African roots grow up in settings where a little more modesty of display is the social norm. Perhaps this keeps the numbers down a little, and perhaps drives up the cost of working with the few who choose modeling as a career.

    Perhaps there is something else too. I think that there are people out there who are not moved by beauty outside of their narrow definition of what is beautiful. I don't get those people, but I think it is there. This is not an issue of "racism" to me, it is just a sad blind spot that many people are biologically hard wired to feel. The easiest reflex for people is to see beauty in people who look (more) like them.

    Things change slowly, too slowly, but they do. Just yesterday, in the space of about 1 hr I spotted 4 loving young couples of different complexion just walking about looking like young lovers. These young couples are people with bigger, broader, better beauty biases then their parents had. We have to count on the youngsters to change things, and I am confident they will. And lingerie shoots of the future will be even better. :)

  8. Sugarlesque
    19/08/10 at 6:16

    I agree with madamori – to say that models of colour are hard to find is frankly bullshit. With websites like model mayhem it takes under half an hour to find hundreds of thousands of models of all shapes, sizes and colours.

    The problem is that certain companies either dont want to, or dont see the need in putting in the extra effort to source a variety of models. Which is sad because as a woman of colour i have definitely felt alienated before when I dont see any models who even vaguely resemble me.

    And from personal experience, i know for a fact that sadly some people still hold the opinion that women of colour dont look graceful or sophisticated enough to model lingerie.

    As a lingerie business owner myself (and a woman of colour) my first move was to duplicate what i saw – and i automatically went for caucasian models (and gorgeous they were too – not a move i regret!). It took an upsetting comment from someone else in the industry to make me step back and think about what I was personally doing to make a difference to an issue that deeply bothered me, and I realsied I was doing exactly the same as everybody else. Ive now made a conscious decision to be as inclusive as I possibly can with my shoots – as Id never want any of my customers to feel as alienated as I did.

    Thanks for writing this article Treacle – hope it goes some way to making people change their practices, or at the very least think long and hard about the issue.

  9. Anonymous
    19/08/10 at 6:35

    Personally I'd love to see more black women in corsets; I suspect they have a better figure for it.

    I wonder how much the black and white cultures are polarised, because I do not believe black women have bought into the androgeneous skinny look anything like as much as fashionable white women. As a white English guy I much prefer curves on a woman to bones and sinew, or 'concentration camp chic' as I call it.

  10. Anonymous
    19/08/10 at 16:56

    I absolutely agree. In fact right before I read this post today I was browsing Lane Bryant's website looking at the Cacique intimates. Beautiful! I have to give them credit. I'd say that their models more accurately portray the demographics of this country. But I was surprised at my own surprise upon seeing more black models. I guess its something that I had never really thought about before. I myself am white and so I'm used to the models looking like me and hadn't thought twice about it but upon second thought I realized I haven't seen a woman of color model lingerie in quite some time. Which in turn made me really angry, what is that saying to our children? My Husband is biracial Hispanic and Asian and it angers me to think that my daughter will grow up in a society that tells her only white models can wear lingerie. My sister in law is seriously the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and yet all the lingerie models look like me. It makes me very angry. We were in Haiti this past March and while I'm happy to know that in South Africa there are more black models there certainly weren't in Haiti where black is by far the majority of the population. Why were their billboards of blonde haired blued eyed white women? I have also been to Uganda and I'm happy to report that this is not the case there saying that it reflects demographics is not true at all. Not when every lingerie billboard in Haiti portrayed white women and I didn't see a single white person that lived there the entire time we were there? It's just WRONG!

  11. Anonymous
    19/08/10 at 18:02

    As a black man, who lusts after but unfortunately will never be able to have my ideal full-color tattoo design, I'd like to state the obvious: some lingerie just wouldn't look good against a "darker background" for marketing purposes.

    The porcelain skin so prevalent in lingerie ads does serve at least ONE purpose: making it crystal clear where the products begin and end. Certainly I can think of a few frilly brown/purple/black/blue outfits that would simply be "harder to suss out" in a catalog – which is not to say they wouldn't LOOK GREAT on a woman of color.

    That said, it brings up a whole new question – is there an untapped market for lingerie "designed for" people of color, specifically to have the lingerie stand out against a brown/olive/black skinned person? Not as a ghettoization thing, but it's just like makeup – not everyone can be a "spring", right? So why not have lingerie for all seasons, with models to match?

    • squeeky
      19/09/12 at 11:55

      @anonymous

      That’s the silliest reason I’ve ever heard for not using model of color–I mean,give me a break.
      “I’d like to state the obvious: some lingerie just wouldn’t look good against a “darker background” for marketing purposes.” Oh come on. That sounds like one of the same lame as hell excuses white model companies use to justify their racism toward models of color–and you sound like you’re trying to justify their so-called reasons—truth is, they just don’t want any models of color to compete with space with the white models, period,that’s all there is to it.

  12. Bon "Idearella" Crowder
    19/08/10 at 18:21

    I have about a bazillion things that I could write (and I've started and deleted half that many).

    I think it boils down to this:

    Thank you for writing this.

  13. Bella Bella Boutique
    19/08/10 at 19:15

    Everyone made goods points, specially Jacques, Petra, and Sugarlesque. I think it may have to do with the demographics but it's not an excuse either. I'm from Brazil and there you see all colors skin being portraited everywhere in all kinds of advertisement including lingerie. Brazil is diverse so you see everything, much like USA, but I think USA demographic is white as the majority still, but it's going to change in the future accordinally to some statistics reports. As the owner of Bella Bella Boutique, I would love to see the brands we carry using more women of color, it would be spectacular. But thankfully I recently had the opportunity to hire dark skin models for my other company, M3 Lifestyle for an Activewear photoshoot. M3Lifestyle will be launching soon for the public in the next few months on TV worldwide. To find out about the program and to see the beautiful models I hired, check out the preview website at: http://www.M3Lifestyle.com
    xoxo

  14. frankufotos Lingerie
    20/08/10 at 0:33

    Great topic – and on-topic – so why not write about it?

    The illustration for the post makes the 'why not?' argument pretty solid, as if some of Treacle's own images hadn't already.

    I still think it's more or a mindset of 'oh, we hadn't thought of doing this' as opposed to purposeful exclusion.

    That neither excuses it, or, sadly, changes the outcome.

  15. Anonymous
    20/08/10 at 1:52

    Just got finished looking @ my new VS catalog. There are a number of African-American models. I am an AA woman.
    To the AA man who prefers porcelain-I image that that is just your personal preference.

    To the owner who is “trying” to use people of color without success, I am sure that not all of your Caucasians models photograph well, so continue to seek out models of all races.

    America is becoming more diverse and wise advertisers know this. Sadly, I think that it is a matter of preference. Whoever selects the models, owners or otherwise, if they have any interest in diversity, you will see it in their models.

  16. Marina Mello
    20/08/10 at 12:06

    Awesome topic!@bellabellaboutique, love the black models and the asian model you pick for the activewear photoshoot for the m3 lifestyle website, that's wonderful! good job! p.s: the outfits are so nice, you can definately look stylish at the gym! :-)

  17. (IN)DECOROUS TASTE
    20/08/10 at 12:51

    @Anonymous #11: "…some lingerie just wouldn't look good against a "darker background" for marketing purposes. The porcelain skin so prevalent in lingerie ads does serve at least ONE purpose: making it crystal clear where the products begin and end." <— What? There are as many sets of pale, pastel colored lingerie as there are darker ones. Something else is going on, and it's not purely practical.

    I think a lot of it has to do with a desire to market lingerie by drawing on the "classic," iconic pinup model of the 50s. That image has a lot of associations: girlishness, sexiness, but more importantly, innocence. It's classy, never sleazy. And it's playing it safe from a sales standpoint to use that pre packaged image to market a product, and distance it from anything that could be misconstrued as cheap or sleazy. The problem is that the 50s werent the most egalitarian of times. This is pre-civil rights. Were the beauty ideals racist? YES, absolutely.

    So, that having been said, we're left with a need to create a new vocabulary to convey sexiness (without sleaziness) and without drawing on the old pinup model. It all boils down to this: We need some new pinup photography! And obviously, it should reflect our times (not the 50s!) and include women of all colors and sizes!

  18. Natalie
    20/08/10 at 18:58

    I'm so diving into a world I know so little about – race or lingerie…but here I go (please don't shoot!)

    First (and I can say this because it describes me) it doesn't really make sense not to use women of color. White skin is SOOOOOO pasty. Even tanned – it can be blotchy and blemished. Those white models are so airbrushed.

    Second – I would love to see more variety in lingerie – in both color, shape and size. I'm thin, but I'm flat chested and have short legs. One of the reasons I don't by lingerie is because I know I won't look like the model if I wear it, so why put out the cash. If there was a picture of a pretty, thin, flat, and short-legged model wearing lingerie it would say to me – this would look good on you to. And, I just might buy it. ;)

    • Danya
      26/11/12 at 21:32

      Just like with the not putting a thin girl down to validate someone with a larger frame, can we not put down pale skin to advance darker skin? Everyone is beautiful.

  19. Annmarie
    21/08/10 at 13:04

    To Natalie @18
    Don't mind what others may tell you or what models look like. It's all about you- how you feel about yourself, what you wear underneath during the day, what you look forward to wear to bed, and how you see your reflection in the morning once you wake up in it.

    Celebrate yourself day and night, and don't let any ad agency or other supposedly "norms" take it away from you!

  20. Panty Buns
    21/08/10 at 17:52

    The fact that models of color are woefully under-represented in lingerie modeling (and most of fashion) needs to be brought up more frequently. i suspect many people, having been raised in a racist society, are so used to what they've been seeing that they hadn't even thought about it. Kudos to you for speaking up.

  21. lynxminx
    22/08/10 at 9:19

    I suspect when it comes to *retro* lingerie, a more liberal "rock-and-roll" market, people are reluctant to cast black women as characters from a time period in which they're believed to have been suffering or marginalized. When I saw the pic at the top of your page I was a little unsettled by it and didn't know why. I'm not used to seeing African-American models in victory rolls…it takes me back to the halcyon era of Bamboozled and Cabin in the Sky. Not exactly a feel-good association for someone with a shred of white guilt.

  22. Tights Lover
    23/08/10 at 12:26

    I can't think of a great reason, myself. As someone with two business degrees, I've taken more than my share of Marketing classes, and what is modeling, if not a form of marketing?

    From what I've learned, I know nothing is done by accident, when it comes to marketing, and nothing is done without the target market in mind. That said, it would seem like the industry, collectively, is chasing a different demographic, but I couldn't hazard a guess as to why. No one would argue that only white people buy lingerie and there are certainly some styles and colors that are much better aesthetically on other shades of skin.

    This is really something worth looking more deeply into…

  23. Heather
    23/08/10 at 23:23

    Growing up in the industry – every model looked pretty much the same. If they didn't fit into the mold, they weren't used. and that goes for race and measurements.
    In the past 10 years, I've seen more and more models used that were outside that mold. Different sizes – anywhere from petite to plus size, AA to K cup, pregnant models and all races. None of this was around when I worked summer for my parents in their showroom or at trade shows.
    The mix still isn't what it should be, but I think with many more designers heading to shows, and getting more involved in picking the models for catalogs and trade shows – slowly there has been a change. I have noticed many of the younger/newer designers automatically started with a nice ethnic mix.
    There are still some fashion shows that every model looks the same (if you put a wig on them, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart) and some will never change.
    The more people talk about it, and the more designers and company owners hear about it, the more it will change. And it never hurts for the consumer or store owner/buyer to say that they want to see more posters/catalogs/trade show & runway models with a better mix.

  24. Ana Tomás
    25/08/10 at 9:08

    Well, I can't really talk about the rest of the world but here in Portugal I have some experience. I've worked as a model for some time and I must say that browsing the model websites I only remember seeing one or two models of color.
    I've read some comments and a lot of people are argumenting that there are a lot of beautiful women of color, that's true but how many of them do modeling work? and how many of the ones who do model lingerie?
    From what I've seen very, very few. But again, I'm talking about Portugal, a small country with a lot of population that came from abroad, but where the majority still has caucasian/latin body type.

  25. Panty Buns
    25/08/10 at 20:12

    I just mentioned your name and posted some of your questions that broached this subject in a comment to the Project Runway Exit Interview: Episode 4 which was uploaded to YouTube on the Lifetime channel. It's an interview with Kristin Haskins Simms, a black designer. i think it would be great if you happened to feel like commenting or asking questions on videos or channels like that one too, since you could do it so much more knowledgeably and with better perspective than i. Hope you'll be doing more YouTube videos soon. Loved your first. i personally do feel that there has been a lot of discrimination, and if people get more aware of it perhaps more equal hiring will result.

  26. Sheen V
    26/08/10 at 8:30

    I'd love to see more women of color as lingerie models, as I think a lot of other men would too! Start the revolution!!

  27. Joi
    27/08/10 at 8:37

    First of all, Beautiful site!

    As for the question…… it's a great one. Three of the sexiest, most stunningly beautiful women in entertainment today are black women: Halle Berry, Beyonce, and Rihanna.

    But the real mystery is this – if I'm not mistaken, the gorgeous Tyra Banks launched more bra sales than any model anytime, anywhere. Her VS photos were epic. You'd think the lingerie companies would try to find another Tyra Banks.

    Or better yet, grab the original. She just gets more and more gorgeous each year.

    Sigh. I think I may hate her.

  28. badside
    27/08/10 at 17:48

    Part of the problem is that most people don't have much imagination, so they just keep doing the same thing over and over.

    This is a real problem, not just in lingerie modeling, but throughout visual media in general. Non white people are generally just not shown or given parts in acting roles as much as they could be.

    I guess it's important that we write in and let the people who make casting decisions know that we want to see all colors and sizes represented.

    BTW, I have nothing against the white models at all, they're lovely, I just would like to see more variety.

  29. Panty Buns
    28/08/10 at 0:20

    There is a Post in Jezebel titled: "How May Black Models Were In The September Issues?"

  30. Treacle
    28/08/10 at 16:24

    First of all, I just want to say "Thank You!" for all the comments, Facebook shares, and retweets this post has gotten. It makes me so happy that there are people who believe this is serious issue.

    Second, I want to address some of the comments here individually–

    @Madamori, @Sugarlesque–I absolutely agree with the both of you. It's never been easier to find models than right now. True, it may take some effort, and you may have to go outside your usual circle, but the notion that there just simply aren't any…well, I can't believe that.

    @SophieHMS–Thank you for commenting here. Your perspective as a designer in the fetish/alternative market is much appreciated. And what a gorgeous photo!

    @Jacques–I'm kind of not sure what you're disagreeing with here. Yes, South Africa is different, but that doesn't mean any of the issues I've brought up here are non-existent. In Paris, London, New York, and Los Angeles (which are cities I think people identify more with lingerie than say, Johannesburg), the default model is still white. Excceptions do not disprove that rule.

    @Petra, @Frankfufotos–While I understand what you're saying, I have to agree with Frank here. Saying it's the status quo doesn't make it any better.

    @Indecorous Taste–Yes! Thank you for being a socially critical perspective into this. Words like "classic pin-up" are often code (whether we like it or not) for a certain kind of model who fits people's preconceived and idealized notions of what beauty should be. It is absolutely important to question those perspectives rather than take them at face value.

    @PantyBuns–Thank you, both for commenting here, and for sharing the Jezebel article link.

    @TightsLover–We needed your business perspective in this discussion…I'm glad you brought it in! I think the knowledge of "no marketing decision is accidental" is really important to keep in mind when we're having these conversations. Companies are not making benign, passive decisions to exclude models of color; it's deliberate and should be treated as such.

  31. SoCalMan
    28/08/10 at 20:15

    I've typed this response up a few times in your Facebook feed, erased it, re-written it, and never really felt comfortable posting it, because I've dipped my toe into this pool before and been called quite a few names over the years, simply because it is coming from the fingers of a middle-class, caucasian male.

    The Jezebel article you linked to today had an embedded link in it that mentioned that "recent estimates that black women spend a whopping $20 billion a year on apparel". To you and me, that is a WHOPPING number, but what is the overall number? How much is spent on overall women's apparel in a year?

    When you take a snapshot of one single magazine, the questions that need to be asked are what are the demographics of their readership? When you take a snapshot of one given manufacturer, the same question can be asked.

    Is this a chicken/egg conundrum? Can you say that an established business, like Wolford or Victoria's Secret, has not done their homework, and knows their clientele, and caters marketing to them? VS saw an increase in the 18-25 demographic, and started PINK.

    What defines "color"? If a model is from South America, is she lumped in with the Hispanics, or Caucasians?

    It is sad we live in a world strife with -isms, but businesses will always market to those who are buying their product. If 5% of their clients are of "color", does that mean out of 20 models, one must portray the token "colored" model? If these are the expectations, at what percentage is a business expected to draw the line?

  32. Desert Reviews
    30/08/10 at 1:27

    We are an online department store (wwww.ChelseaMarketeers.com) that is launching a new Lingerie/Underwear website (www.LuvMyUndies.com – which is visible but still under construction.

    Two of the major brands we carry are Dominique and Vedette.

    Vedette carries shapewear and the Latin market are proportionally higher buyers than the white market (at least for us). But all of their garments are modeled by a Latin woman.

    Dominique has a mixture of white and African American models, but all of their new images use an African American model. Interestingly, their main garment are bridal bustiers/corsets and evening wear corsets. They are not specifically geared towards any segment of the population.

    As a retailer, I would love to see even more women of color used to model the lingerie!

    Jeffrey

  33. Hannah
    30/08/10 at 10:00

    Great article Treacle.

    So-Called-Man, are you sure you've been called names 'simply' because you're a middle class caucasian male? Maybe you're just being offensive.

    'It is sad we live in a world strife with -isms, but businesses will always market to those who are buying their product. If 5% of their clients are of "color", does that mean out of 20 models, one must portray the token "colored" model? If these are the expectations, at what percentage is a business expected to draw the line?'

    Is 'draw the line' what white folks are calling equality these days?

    As for the demographics argument, bullshit. Does anyone really think models accurately reflect general populations? Where are all the women with visible disabilities? Where are all the women above thirty? Where are all the women who are not a size 4?

    The modelling industry does not mindlessly churn out models who accurately reflect demographics. Models are chosen according to what is considered beautiful, and clearly women of colour are unfortunately still considered inferior to white women in the beauty stakes.

  34. SoCalMan
    30/08/10 at 20:27

    Hannah, I find it quite refreshing that you lower yourself to name calling and cursing to attempt to make a point.

    I found Treacle's article quite enjoyable, and I am in complete agreement to it: there are not enough women of "color" in any apparel advertising, not just lingerie. Adding to it, I also don't think there are enough older women, women with non-waif body sizes, or any people with visible physical challenges.

    If by "white folks" you mean business owners, sure. Because business owners should cater to the whole population, and not people who actually buy their product. That is why men show up in about 50% of feminine hygiene advertising.

    Do you lump Brazilian supermodels, like Alessandra Ambrosio, Adriana Lima, or Izabel Goulart, all Victoria's Secret Angels, with Caucasians, because they are not Hispanic enough? When in Europe, where do YOU stop drawing the line for "white"? Eastern European and Mediterranean have olive complexions darker than many Hispanics or Native Americans, and even some Asians.

    And poor Halle Berry…does she lose her "color" credibility because her mom is Caucasian?

    Which leads me to ask… is this about "color" or ethnicity? I want to see more Indian and Chinese women, since they out-number African and Caucasian women by easily a 3:1 margin, because that is where your general population is, regardless of their income.

  35. Hannah
    31/08/10 at 15:13

    Yeah, people of colour are always lowering themselves. Thank god middle class caucasian men are always here to point it out!

    'If by "white folks" you mean business owners, sure. Because business owners should cater to the whole population, and not people who actually buy their product. That is why men show up in about 50% of feminine hygiene advertising.'

    Are you actually trying to imply that women of colour don't wear/buy underwear?

    I'm not going to explain to you what women of colour means. I think Wikipedia could probably do a better job than me. I do find it interesting that when an article about race comes up, a white person is always around to ask such questions as: "but what IS race?" "what does 'of colour' mean?" and "what about mixed race people?" and "what about this Italian person I know that is actually darker than your average East Asian person after a holiday in the sun and some bronzing powder?"

    I suspect it's a derailing tactic. As long as you're discussing definitions – especially definitions surrounding people that you consider racially ambigious, which can go on forever – you can hold off talking about racism.

  36. Sundal
    03/09/10 at 16:16

    I'm actually surprised you brought up this issue, as I'd always thought that the lingerie industry was better as a whole than the commercial and the fashion industry in terms of representing models of non-white origin.

    A model/designer myself, when recently discussing a shoot for my soon to be launched lingerie label with my photographer, he asked me who I was going to get to model it, and if i planned to model it myself? When i told him I was using another girl, a 3/4 ugandan, 1/4 russian friend of mine, he replied 'good, cos white girls just don't shoot as good in lingerie' (he shoots a lot of lingerie), so I had believed the tendency was to favour a brazilian, hispanic, asian, middle-eastern, mixed race, i.e. tanned look.

    The truth is though, the modelling industry as a whole is notorious for being subtly racist and I have experienced it myself (being of half-indian, 1/4 uzbek, 1/4 french origin). It's ultimately clients who don't want to take enough of a risk to book models of ethnic minorities that subsequently mean these models work less, which means agencies are more reluctant to take such models onto their books (most models of ethnic minority will need to have the perfect measurements, the kick-ass portfolio and a really strong look before an agency will even consider them, while being much less demanding of white models). This is perhaps why clients are claiming they struggle to find enough ethnic minority models, but it's probably because when they see an ethnic minority model, they see their ethnicity first, and then look at all their other attributes, which will lead them to question, 'Will a black girl really be the best person to sell my products?'

    The next girl who'll be shot wearing my lingerie is 1/2 chinese and 1/2 estonian. I've not chosen these girls as some kind of positive discrimination, it's just cos they look so damn good in my lingerie, so watch this space.

  37. daintydarlings
    13/09/10 at 19:44

    It's a strange thing, but I think it's because women of color are seen as exotic fetishes (to some people). When I tried to look up some hairstyles and cuts for puerto rican women a while back (I'm peurto rican with hard to manage hair) a lot of porn came up. I was really surprised. And when I got into looking up Asian fashions, that also came up. So I don't think that's the only reason I think it's just one of them, maybe. And I think it's totally wrong. Am I the only one who thought about this?

    • Anonymous
      04/11/12 at 5:01

      I thought of this too! It’s almost as if the porn categories have transcended into the lingerie industry. It’s unfortunate that POC are still seen as nothing more than ‘exotic’ treasures and not sophisticated enough to model lingerie, lest people get the wrong idea about their lingerie designs.

  38. SpitFire
    19/09/10 at 20:56

    Our society in general, has an a stupidity issue when it comes to other races. And I don't understand it. I'm white, and I don't understand it.

    There's a book I read recently that centers all around a Chinese woman, and Chinese culture. And the publisher was told to make a new book cover for it, because they were told that the stores couldn't sell a book with an Asian woman on the cover. Uh hello? The character is Asian??

    Which I didn't understand at all, especially with the HUGE abundance of anime-fiends and Japanophiles out there. Our world is a mess. And stupid. Sorry..my rant is over.

  39. Anonymous
    28/09/10 at 23:37

    Very good article! I came across this blog searching for a African American Lingerie Company or Wholesaler. I have a lingerie e-commerce business and the company that I purchase from only has pictures of white models. Not that I am against white models, but as a African American its seems only ethical to have some diversity displayed or represent my company. This is very unfortunate that their are not any wholesalers (or none that I have found) that have African American models.

  40. Alice Sturdivant
    03/10/10 at 15:02

    Hannah actually has a point: lingerie is still considered a luxury/feminine/sexy- based sort of commodity, and as such, ads are still very much influenced by what marketers and companies think read as luxurious, beautiful, sexy, etc. Unfortunately, women of color are still not seen as automatically feminine, alluring, delicate, etc — all the things that come to mind when one thinks "lingerie". And until the racist and elitist root of that problem is eliminated, I fear that seeing women (and men) of color in lingerie ads — as in all fashion — will consider to be a sad rarity.

  41. frankufotos Lingerie
    22/10/10 at 17:39

    Consider it a late addition to the thoughts here – I came across it while reading a different story, and just thought it a great fit for this thread:

    http://hubpages.com/hub/Are-Black-People-Allowed-To-Wear-Lingerie

    I'll see if they'll allow a link back to this story as well.

  42. Marzie
    12/01/11 at 18:17

    I just read your new post on "Real Women" and found my way back to this great post. I'm white and my best friend is African-American and she loves lingerie far more than I do. So, if they are marketing to me, they are marketing to the wrong girl. Why would media and lingerie manufacturers so consistently fail to show diversity in their advertising? My only take would be there is no answer other than lingering racism. I mean, I really can't see any other reason. It's shameful. And shameful to me that I never really thought much about the lack of diversity in this area until now.

  43. Jenna
    13/01/11 at 5:23

    I am a lingerie designer.

    I need models.

    I have used models who weren't white.

    What is important to me in a model?
    - She shows up on time
    - She is professional
    - She looks great in my stuff

    Do I care what her race is?
    Nope.
    I just care about that other stuff.

    One thing I do know, many African American women have a distinctive body type, and this shape may not look good in the stuff I have made already. However, I can remake my garments to fit this body type, ensuring the model would look great in my stuff!

  44. Anonymous
    31/01/11 at 17:55

    Yeah, I think the white guy here made a good point. And I think if he hadn't outed himself as white or a man, his thoughts would have been considered a bit more thoroughly, and there wouldn't be these knee-jerk accusations of racism and sexism. Way to alienate people from sharing their views.

    The tough reality is that plenty of people think just like that. Where to draw the line–not in terms of affirmative-actioning models of color into ads, or refusing to do so…but in terms of speaking accurately to the company's demographic. If 5% of the buyers are women of color, and psychologically women want to see women like themselves, then why not just have one out of 20 models be an alternative to Caucasian?

    That is, unless the company wants to INCREASE the number of women of color who buy their products. And that, I think, is the heart of the issue. Who are things FOR? Are some things FOR different races? That's the problematic thinking. More arenas, lingerie included, should be opened up psychologically to NW women. Models should be used to promote this, and then to reflect it.

    If a lingerie company has more than 5% non-white customers, and only use 5% non-white models, that's racism. If the company actually does have only 5% non-white customers, I think they should be trying to fix that…using NW models as well as other means.

    Why are there so few NW models in lingerie? Plain racist skittishness, habit, conformity, and lack of business foresight.

    The white male poster wasn't trying to be an apologist for racism, just illustrate how some companies ARE thinking. The line of thought–WHY should companies use more non-white models? It's a legitimate, pragmatic question that companies–being the creatures of habit they usually are–WILL ask. And the answer is, it gets more customers to come in, especially as times change and some white women slowly let go of the racist notion that having more than just token non-white models means a product isn't "for" them. Looking at things from a pragmatic point of view, even if it means stepping into the heads of racist business owners, might bring about solutions and ways to provoke change that those business owners can understand and agree to pursue.

    And no, I'm not a man just trying to get the male poster's back. I just hate the shit out of how guys get their heads chewed off for sharing their ideas around a group of women. Attack the idea, not the person, please. Guys aren't automatically evil dunderheads. :)

    • Richard
      23/02/13 at 11:10

      As I guy who is presently working to have his first three designs put into production in May. i had to stop and reply. A lot of effort has been put into finding the right model. The model who will be selected will be the one who can meet the requirements i look for. That being said if I have a piece of lingerie I want to market that is say a very white almost shear lace, then my preference would be a model with dark skin. Because here I would be looking for contrast, and the darker the skin, the greater the contrast. So now I would be looking at the woman who have dark skin, Black, Brazilian, Indian, Native American, Greek and so on.

      In keeping with those thoughts, a slinky cute panty design I have. I look for a model who has a breast size she can cover easily with folded arms, after all it is the panty cut I want to showcase. In this instance skin color plays no part, bust size as well as a nice derriere does. The same would go for a nice demi style bra.

      So to present I have found that the semi pro or amatuer model selections using sites such as Jurgita and modelmayem are mostly white models. That being said my searches have been limited to the Ma.. Me. and Nh. regions where demographics play a part.. When I make a selection it will be based on the selections I have at hand especialy a fit model. I do wish that my choices included a much lager percentage of dark skinned women, but does not.

  45. Veronica
    10/05/11 at 7:01

    Natalie:
    As a white woman I get offended and sad when you say white skin is pasty. I think all different types of people are lovely in their own way, and I would ask for you to give me the same respect in return. There is no need to critisize others to lift yourself up. We're on the same team.

  46. silken allure
    20/07/11 at 12:06

    I am glad I came upon this blog; even though we are just a new small, start-up company we feel that it is important that we include women of colour as models, in marketing and advertising. Hope more companies take the hint.

  47. Bibi Bellatrixx
    13/09/11 at 1:39

    Ah yes, the whole 'there aren't any ethnic alternative models' gag.

    They are definitely out there, but as a model starting out in this industry, even the smaller designers will not even blink in your direction if you are not white. I know, as I am an alternative model and trying to get my foot in the door when I was starting out was difficult because as I found out on a shoot one day, the general opinion is that ethnic girls CANT model. That white girls are BETTER models than black, asian, mid eastern girls.

    Imagine the anger I felt when I finally did get there, I got a few designers to work with me….I worked so hard to ensure the photos were of high quality to quash that 'black girls cant model' thing..
    Only 1 out of the 5 the designers put up the photos. I could only wonder why.

    http://www.modelmayhem.com/839666

    I am also a latex designer. And I've made it my business to source beautiful girls of colour to model my designs, because I know for a fact that it is not only white girls purchasing my clothes. The world we live in is not white, however much the old goats at the top of the industry may want it to be.
    If you cant even find a small time designer that will work with ethnic girls for free with the boom of Model Mayhem, dont expect the big guys to pay £1000+ for one in their campaign.

    Beauty ideals today are STILL racist. I have plenty of friends who are signed to the worlds top agencies and have their agents tell them they didnt get the job because they were looking for a 'white girl dipped in chocolate.'

    I kid you not.

  48. Lelerz03
    26/09/11 at 17:23

    I had been thinking about this. As a woman of color in America my original thoughts gravitated to the racist ideas and the stereotypes.

    Women of color, black women in particular (As far as I've known), have always been over-sexualized. With thicker bodies and curves all over.So what do you want to star, sexy women or the clothing themselves?

    Then I thought again. When these sexy were popular… Who wore them? Who were already portrayed wearing them? Far as I know it wasn't the women of color there. So I think rather than appreciate the beauty models of color bring they already have ingrained in their imaginations the models of old.

  49. daralynn
    21/07/12 at 7:41

    I just had this darn conversation yesterday with one of my models. I asked if she would do a lingerie shoot for me, because i want to convey that women of color( black in particular) can look great in lingerie too. When I see lingerie shoots ( mostly unprofessional ) the black women look ..scanky. ( I know thats not a real word)
    there hair is unkempt, they show the worse parts of their body ( everyone has them) and the poses are funky.
    Women of color have very sensitive skin and scar easily and the pigment become darkened . It looks horrible on pictures, but my gosh thats why they have skin smoothing software! Also the stigma that their butts are too big and that they aren’t /can’t be elegant is a bad mark against women of color. Like any lingerie model, they have to be directed.

  50. 04/08/12 at 17:51

    I put out a casting call for a lingerie photo shoot and got about 25 responses from white woman, and only one from an African-American woman. I don’t think this will change if I put out another call, unless I specifically ask for women of colour only and I don’t want to do that, I want everyone to be able to apply. I can’t say for sure, but it looks to me like maybe less women of colour bother applying, because they’re not used to seeing lingerie models of their own ethnicity and so assume they won’t get picked?

    • 04/08/12 at 18:13

      Quite possibly. It can get completely discouraging- especially given how many modeling casting calls have an unspoken (not going to lie, sometimes it is blatantly stated) rule of no PoC.

      I would suggest posting either in a separate call that you would like WoC to apply, and have them meet in the same area (be this internet based or in a physical spot), or simply state that you are indeed interested in WoC models.

  51. Iva Medina
    15/09/12 at 10:32

    Well you said it all! I would like to ask a simple-difficult question: Who got the power to determine that beauty comes in the shape of blond colorful eyes!

  52. 25/05/13 at 15:53

    As a woman of color, in the lingerie industry for over 14 years, I have too many thoughts to print, and long rambling comments wouldn’t do the subject much good. While I don’t have the answers, I do believe there are multiple reasons. 1.Racism. While there have been improvements in this area, there is still much to be done. 2. Economics. Manufacturers, retailers and others in the business don’t want to venture out in uncertain waters. There are a few women of color in catalogs and at trade shows but very few. The decision makers don’t yet see the value of making women of color an imperitive. 3. Lack of demand. Here is where I do have an axe to grind as I think change has and will come when it is demanded. Articles like this go a long way towards helping create a climate for change. For that thank you so much. These things need to be brought up, discussed and those in a position of power need to be involved on some level. There needs to be pressure applied to make it better to increase the numbers of minorities in the lingerie industry rather than hang back and wait for the other guy/girl. Race is an issue that many people have an opinion about and want to change the situation but lack leadership and lack specific direction as to how to accomplish a goal. Encourage others to bring up this subject with whoever you encounter in the industry, retweet this article on Twitter, post it to social media. Take some action, however small.

  53. Wendy
    11/07/13 at 5:46

    I’ve done local and regional modeling. I got started because I filled the non-blonde, traditional role. Yes, I’m Caucasian, but dark hair, pale eyes, very fair skinned, with body modification. I saw the requests made for PoC. Three requesting PoC only. One response, who decided she didn’t want the job.

    While the large names may have social racism playing part – local and regional may be a lack of willing models. Which I don’t know how to fix.

    But, dang right I’m pale. But, I’m not pasty, blotchy or unevenly tanned. So, why insult me when the only thing I did to start was help a friend. Then, I found it fun, I’m apparently easy to work with and don’t pitch fits, and I’m reasonably easy to fi bras in without being frumpy or excessively slutty. I’m never going to be national, but I’m not steal jobs from PoC. Heck, I can’t wear 90% of the white, ivory or pastel bras and corsets because I don’t have the coloring to make those stand out versus a silver and navy bra.

  54. Bernie Smith
    27/10/13 at 21:07

    I can see no real reason why the lingerie industry and for that matter the clothing industry as well should not use the many beautiful women of any colour for their models. Contrary to what they think white is not the only colour skin in existence and I have seen many beautiful women of all races. Keep up the blogs and maybe we can make changes in their attitudes.

  55. Passion
    02/01/12 at 12:16

    You may also like: Why Doesn’t the Lingerie Industry Like Women of Color?

    This was a wonderful question to ask. I am a women of color and I always wonder why this is in our county. To me it looks like its based on the size of what they think looks good and what beauty is to them. I asked this question to a couple of my co-worker and friend and yet they wondered why they don’t see women of color either.

    I think it shouldn’t matter about color because I do agree with some of the post that stated that beauty is in all colors and sizes.

    When I watch certain show and spoke to some of my co-works they have all said that in some modeling agencies that a girls has to be a certain size and if you are a size 5 that can be considered plus size. Its that the industry judge who they want especially when a women size will not fit in the lingerie or clothes they have.

    As a colored women I really think that we should see more of people like ourselves modeling lingerie.

  56. Seams Plus Stress
    25/01/12 at 3:30

    Pulling back the curtain to better expose the great elephant:
    As far as western civilization is concerned, the great boom of “importing darker folks from somewhere else to serve the rich (usually Caucasian) masses” began hundreds of years ago. We’ve only begun breaking away from “my colored help” in the last 50 years. If you’re just waiting for western society to realize that polishing the silver is not the only way women of colour can be associated with luxury… good luck! Conversely of course, white Is the colour of luxury.
    Even among populations where the majority of people are of colour(s) there is often a prevalent notion that Light is Right. Do NOT think for a minute that marketing/advertizing have overlooked using this depressing factoid to their “advantage.”

    Then there’s the truly secret offender: “MyTribe?ism”. We never even notice ourselves doing it. My team or Other? Only after this initial classification do we slow down enough to process their attractiveness. This deep seated biological reflex cannot be stricken from human existence. Now consider what percentage of manufacturers/retailers/purchasers are classifiable as white. There is no doubt in my mind that the market reflects this – whether the hands at play are conscious of it or not.

    Advertising (in a social respect) is a shadow right behind the consumer. The consumer has to vote with their pocketbook before market research mines the data. Only then can said data be considered and decisions be made upon it. Whether the item is new or vintage in style, advertising tries to capture their notion of what-we-want-NOW and spit it back at us – reinforcing this ideal through propaganda. They give us what they think we want while erring on the side of doing what works or playing it safe and keeping a job or keeping up profit. That said, If they have done their job right, they’ll keep us wanting to exist within the confines of that ideal. Naturally, whatever that NOW reflects, it will always be the now of yesterday or yesteryear.

    In this modern age, it’s up to us to be socially responsible. As consumers: to buy what reflects our own ideals. As advertisers/marketers/merchandisers: to conciously remember that the yellow brick road leads to equality (if they market to the future, they might be right on time). As designers/manufacturers/retailers: to make an attempt to accommodate a wider audience… You know, for social change AND profit!!!

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