Last week, Tyra Banks said she’s trying to expand the idea of what the fashion industry considers beautiful. According to her, black models with lighter skin are deemed more commercial, whereas darker-skinnned black models are considered more high fashion. We’ve noticed this phenomenon holds true when a woman’s “hotness” is being judged, too. Light-skinned models are plastered across men’s magazines and cast as leads in hip-hop and R&B videos. But dark-skinned models must have a little something extra to get the same attention as their lighter-skinned counterparts. Recently, Maxim released its annual “Hot 100″ list. Only seven black women made it. Rihanna was broke the top 10 at number eight. Zoe Saldana, Ciara, Beyonce, and Christina Milian were numbers 29, 32, 52, and 55, respectively. Gabrielle Union and Michelle Obama, who are darker than the rest, placed much lower on the list.
Ida Ljungqvist is the first African-European to be crowned Playmate of the Year and fits the mold of what’s considered hot — light skin and curves. Even the men’s magazines aimed at black men foster this idea of beauty. Latina and light-skinned black models reign in King and XXL. When models with darker skin are featured, they tend to have more ample asses or are famous. In music videos, dark-skinned models get the lead when the director is going for a more artistic look, like Bilal’s “Soul Sista,” filmed in black and white.
The idea that light skin is more beautiful or marketable than dark skin is bigger than Tyra, and it goes deeper than the fashion industry, so I can’t help but wonder when, if ever, it will be a non-issue. It seems young, dark-skinned women will have to stop looking for examples reinforcing that they, too, are beautiful and desirable.