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Discussing diversity in the model industry with Salem Mitchell

Discussing diversity in the model industry with Salem Mitchell

In the last 30 years the modeling industry has made attempts to become more diverse. However going from one model of color on the runway, to five isn’t the serve they think it is. Quite frankly, it’s the bare minimum.

Yes, the model industry is way more inclusive than it was in the 90s but are we supposed to be satisfied that they added one curvy model on the runway instead of their usual zero? I’m not a model myself, so I can’t speak on things I haven’t experienced. Luckily, I’ve had the honor to discuss this topic with upcoming model, Salem Mitchell, to get her insight into the model industry. 

 What do you think is the biggest problem in the modeling industry right now?

It’s hard to pinpoint one specific issue because there are so many things within the modeling industry that need improvement but overall I would say the industry is lacking consistency. There are brands and agencies that are more inclusive. There are brands that are more sustainable and then there are some that haven’t made those changes yet. It’s important that in the future all brands/agencies can get to the same place of being all-inclusive of different types of models and brands need to get to a place of being more environmentally friendly. 

 Do you think there’s a certain standard black models must maintain compared to their white counterparts?

I often feel black models are expected to be super grateful for the bare minimum. Whether the bare minimum means being in the back of the shot, being the only black model on set, or not having adequate hair or make up. It’s also unfortunate because more often than not black models come to set ready out of either fear of working with hairstylists/ make up artists that won’t be able to properly prep them or simply because they’ve been asked to go that extra mile. Black models have to do 10 times the work in preparation for a shoot yet they’re also expected to be 10 times more grateful. 

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gold girl ✨

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Is race being used as a trend for these brands to seem more “woke” than they really are? Is the model industry as diverse as it prides itself to be?

Brands definitely use “wokeness” and diversity to their benefit. A lot of the time when “unconventional” or black models are being used it’s tied to a conversation about their hardships, struggles, and ultimately an explanation as to why they’re in the room. While there are changes being made we have a long way to go. Black models deserve to exist in these spaces without having to broadcast their trauma or explain why they deserve to be there. 

What’s one of the biggest misconceptions of being a model?

People tend to believe models have really fantastic glamorous lives and that we’re confident at all times. While being a model brings great privilege there is a lot of rejection, it’s a bit lonely at times, and it can be hard on your mental health to constantly have people critiquing and commenting on your physical image.

Courtesy of Rafael Martinez
You were discovered on Instagram, since that time Instagram has evolved to be more integrated with the “fashion industry”. Do you think the “Instagram model” trend has become saturated over the years?

Instagram and social media are so heavily involved in the fashion industry. Whether people like it or not we’re becoming a more digital world. I’ve only been modeling for 4 years now but within those 4 years I’ve seen so many print magazine’s stop producing physical copies and move over to digital issues and digital covers. Nowadays people don’t want to buy subscriptions when they can instantly access the same material on their phones within seconds. I do miss the way things were at times but what I do enjoy is how many more people you can reach via social media. 

Some may say “instagram model” or the modeling world have become oversaturated within the past few years but I personally don’t mind or care. There is room for everybody and that’s what people tend to forget. There are so many brands, there are so many lanes of modeling, and with the influx of creatives we’re only going to see more brands continue to develop and thrive and they will always need models. It’s also really special that due to social media we’re seeing a lot of successful first generation creatives, prior to this you had to be told that you fit the standard to do this. Now people of all types from all places can decide what they’re interested in, build themselves, and create a career.

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i love my friends 🥺

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How do you use your platform to bring awareness to causes that need help? Do you feel as if it’s your responsibility?

I mainly use my platforms to amplify situations and voices that need more exposure. I also speak up on important things that are directly happening to my community or within my life to create dialogue or educate those who may not have been aware. It is important to use your platform to bring awareness to different causes and there is a slight responsibility to use your influence for good. However, it’s really important that people only speak up on things they’re comfortable with and educated on. I think sometimes the pressure put on those with platforms to use their voices can lead to wrong information being spread or harmful dialogue that reaches a large number of people. I think we all noticed with the black squares on instagram that people will blindly follow with no research or understanding so the best thing to do is either amplify educated voices and only speak on what you’re experiencing or things you’ve thoroughly researched. 

Is it easier for black models to get into commercial modeling vs runway?

I can’t speak to this with certainty as I don’t do a lot of runway but I have heard horror stories from black models being told only one black girl was needed for a show. Commercial is definitely more inclusive than runway from what I know/see because they have to sell a product. Nowadays people aren’t interested in buying from brands that don’t show what they’d look like in their items. When it comes to runway it’s definitely more traditional when it comes to sizes and more eurocentric beauty standards. 

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Do you think being light skin has gotten you more opportunities than those darker than you?

I definitely think so, I think racism and colorism are still very prominent especially in the fashion industry. I’ve noticed when there are casting calls looking for black models they’ll often have notes that are like “cool looking black girl with unique features,” their example girls are always people like Zoe Kravtiz. I’ve noticed even on set the mood boards sometimes only ever have references of white, racially ambiguous, or light skin models.

Colorism is a huge problem in the industry, how do you as a light-skinned person acknowledge that? do you often witness the lack of darker individuals at shoots and other modeling spaces? Do you see it changing anytime soon?

I acknowledge by reading and sharing information on how to make space as a light skin person and recognize the privilege having lighter skin brings. I don’t think it’s beneficial to pretend that every black experience is the same when it’s clear that darker-skinned people are treated worse across the world. I have witnessed the lack of darker individuals at shoots and in modeling spaces. I’ve also noticed even when dark skin models are on set they’re still not being captured properly. Some photographers don’t know how to work with darker skin, some makeup artists don’t know how to do makeup on darker skin and it’s unacceptable. I am hopeful things will change soon since so many conversations about colorism in fashion continue but it’s been a long time coming and these changes are long overdue. I think what gives me the most hope is the power of social media and the amount of people willing to be vulnerable and share their experiences in hopes for change.

What is your advice to the young black girls that are looking to start modeling?

Use social media to put yourself out there, don’t ever shrink yourself, and start working on your self confidence prior to entering the industry. Self confidence is a forever long fluctuating journey but modeling comes with a lot of critiques, rejection, and the more exposure you get the more people form opinions on you and your looks. Whether those opinions are good or bad they can impact your perception of yourself so if you build yourself up before you’ll be able to get through it all a bit easier.

It’s clear that the model industry is becoming more diverse… slowly but surely we’ve seen an influx of all kinds of models not fitting into the typical white skinny archetype. Though the industry is changing at a very slow rate, its changing none of the less. We need more representation for people who don’t usually see themselves on the cover of Vogue. It’s important to acknowledge all aspects of the industry if we want to see some real change, and starting the conversation is the first step.

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