Another fashion month has come and gone, leaving us with a hoard of questions regarding the current state of fashion week culture as it relates to runway gimmicks and influencer burnout. But beyond The Devil’s Wear Prada of it all, fashion week brings to the front a very important topic: the way we speak about Black runway models.
Recently, the term Eurocentric has been causing quite a kerfuffle online. The term is often used to describe non-white women with features believed to be associated with European ancestry as a metric for desirability, especially in the case of models who some claim benefit from featurism en masse.
Model Anok Yai, who was launched into stardom after a photo of her attending Howard homecoming in 2017 went viral, has been on the receiving end of some of these comments. Well-intentioned (I’m inclined to believe, but have been wrong before) social media users have equated certain features of Yai’s, such as her nose, with the mass appeal of Eurocentric beauty standards that have dominated runways and society at large for years — essentially attributing her success to her mien-proximity to whiteness.
Yai, who this season alone has walked for Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Hermés (the list goes on,) has not taken these comments lying down. In response, she tweeted “Eurocentric my ass,” and “EASTERN F*****G AFRICAN,” an obvious rebuttal to the descriptors.
Even beyond the world of catwalks and campaigns, many Black women have had any celebration of their looks be reduced to their features falling in line with a more white-centered standard. But as many have pointed out, telling women that they look Eurocentric implies that these features derive from white people, when that is historically, geographically and factually inaccurate. There is a wide array of nose shapes and sizes and features of varying proportions all throughout the diaspora.
Of course, this is not to discount the preferential treatment afforded to those with certain features, and there is undoubtedly a link between what is considered beautiful and a Westernized standard of beauty. But to say that these women themselves are or “look” Eurocentric is inaccurate and avoids a larger, likely more impactful conversation that can be had regarding featurism, which may lead to a greater societal understanding as to how we process, understand and celebrate beauty.
Featurism within the Black community is definitely a thing, but to write off every Black model’s success as a result of them themselves being Eurocentric is disingenuous and reductive.