I have nothing against the success of an African model like Alek Wek but, without discounting that she is a hard worker and very smart woman (I've interviewed her, I know this for a fact), I can't shake the idea that some of her success is due to a romanticised and very Western ideal of what should look African. It should be dark, really dark. I could go as far as calling this the Tin-Tin syndrome. As disturbing a thought as this is we cannot sit and blindly believe that all is well with the fashion and entertainment industries (or life in general for that matter) when it comes to the issue of race and the portrayal of beauty. Try being me- light skinned- and dare try to be a model. Good luck to you finding work. Your look would not be deemed African enough. Typing this out is highly discomforting but this is the reality of a world that has been through centuries of racial segregation as a direct result of which the victims (read: black people) are still trying to finding their own definition of beauty that is not prescribed by the very romanticisation perpetuated by Western media.
This is why I worry about the current obsession with Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o who, I must say, is not only gorgeous and super stylish but also supremely talented. I had the opportunity to watch "12 Years A Slave" the other day and I was blown away by her performance in this Golden Globe winning film about slavery. Co-incidentally she plays a character who is the subject of the vile rape of black slaves by disgusting, horny slave masters. It is my hope that her career as an actress prospers, that she isn't a flavour of the month just because she is the latest dark skinned beauty. That, in other words, she isn't simply a subject of awe and curiosity a la Saartjie Baartman just because she is a dark skinned beauty from the "dark continent". It would be such a shame. I was so impressed with her performance that I thought even Jennifer Lawrence will have to sit her ass down as this Kenyan beauty walks up to that Golden Globes stage to accept her accolade for her role in the movie. In my books; she most definitely IS the real deal!IMAGES: Dazed Digital