By Isaac Breese
Medium: Isaac Breese
Imagine being in a society where the beauty standard looks nothing like you. Imagine a place where you look just about the complete opposite of what is considered beautiful.
You want to pursue modeling but because of your appearance you’re are not what most agencies are looking for which makes you second guess to casting calls at all. However you’d love to change all that.
So what do you do? Do you accept the fact that you don’t live up to the beauty standards or do you do make an effort to change those standards?
Well if you’re Tina Rateau, who lives in China, changing the standards is exactly what you do. Tina moved to China at a very young age When she first came to Shanghai as a student a girl came up to her and asked her to model her designs in an end-of-semester fashion show and she killed it.
The teacher liked her so much that she had her do the entire class portfolio. The photographer liked her too and got her connected with an agency.
However, when she started modeling for the agency there were a few cultural problems. No one knew how to do her hair, clients didn’t like her afro, they didn’t know which foundation was right for her skin color, and even complained about her bust being too big.
But why? Because the beauty standard for fashion models does not include women of color.
And if you pay attention to the models within the fashion industry you will notice that the aesthetic of these models are not found in people of color.
The body shape of the black woman is strong, sturdy and curvy. Typically women will very high cheek bones, big eyes, big busts, big butts, wide hips and thighs to match.
But this wont work for the Chinese fashion companies. What they want is someone who is petite. They want someone with a frail build not a strong woman. What they look for is models with pale skin and who have oval shaped faces. What they want is tall, skinny, small bust Chinese models which are simply features that blacks don’t have.
However, Rateau is changing that bit by bit.
She’s went from not ever modeling before to being a model in high demand. But it’s not just her, other black women are starting to see the spotlight as well. In fact one model from Tanzania who is, according to Rateau, “probably the number one model on call right now [in Shanghai]”.
Rateau believes the reason for this might have to do with agencies having better relationships with Brazilian agencies or that Chinese clients are trying to mirror the high fashion industry. But she also believes that the interest in black models has something to do with the growing interest in hip hop.
What this tells me is that black are changing the culture in China. Blacks are in high demand because they are seen as cool.
Yet the real reason, more African Americans models are seeing more opportunities in China it may just be that they are trending within the fashion scene. And while this can be beneficial for black models it also can be detrimental as well. Because trends start, and trends end; they come and they go with the times.
So how can models like Rateau find a way to stick around for the long haul and not become just another phase in fashion?
Well to be truthful, it may not be up to the models to decide. I think the people who can change the beauty standards when it comes to modeling are the brands that higher them. While they make the ultimate decision in who they do or do not model for the agencies are the ones who select the brands for which they will model for.
Thus it is mainly up to brands and the agencies that work with them to change these beauty standards within China.
However, models can also work to change these standards as well by forcing the issue within the agencies as Rateau has done. For models of color within China the best thing for them to do may be to create change from the inside our. But the cannot do it by themselves they will need support from the brands and agencies who they work for.