The way in which women of colour are excluded from the beauty industry is a longstanding cause of outrage. From not producing foundations with a wide enough colour range (yet one million different versions of beige) to hairstylists not knowing how to work with natural hair, the beauty market continues to completely ignore a huge section of its audience. For models, this is particularly damaging, because it can affect their ability to work.
This was certainly the case for modeling legend Tyra Banks, who recently revealed that her iconic role as a Victoria’s Secret Angel almost never became a reality thanks to this very problem. Promoting her new book, Perfect Is Boring: 10 Things My Crazy, Fierce Mama Taught Me About Beauty, Booty, and Being a Boss, she gave a tell-all interview to W magazine opening up about the issues black models face, her own experiences and her nose job.
On almost missing out with Victoria’s Secret, she said, ‘I was sent home the first day because the hairdresser didn’t know what to do with my African American hair, so it looked crazy.’
However, she decided to take things into her own hands and upon begging her agent to get them to give her ‘another chance’, she styled her own hair for the next audition.
‘I had my hairdresser come to my apartment in Union Square and wash, blow-dry, and flat-iron my hair’, she continued, ‘and then I wrapped it and put a scarf on until the next day, when I was on my way to Victoria’s Secret and stepped out of a cab and whooshed it off my head, walked in, got my makeup done, didn’t let the hair people touch me, went to the bathroom, redid my face, put on extra lip gloss, and walked on that set.’
Of course, this led to her 10-year contract, and her becoming a Victoria’s Secret legend. ‘I’m the first black woman on the cover of their catalog,’ she said, ‘I’m the first black woman to have a contract, to be an Angel, to wear a Fantasy Bra—all of these different things, because I stopped silently suffering.’
And having garnered the elusive contract, she spoke up about her first experience and demanded change. She continued, ‘I talked to them and said, "Look, my hair is different, I need somebody who can do my hair." After that, they hired people who could do my hair for 10 years.’
And while Tyra’s success allowed for more and more women of colour to enter the modeling industry, she claims that the current climate of modeling is much less inclusive than when she was starting out.
‘I see such diversity in girls that are very known, from Jourdan Dunn to Joan Smalls to Duckie Thot’, she said, ‘but there’s still a long way to go, particularly on the runway. During my day, there was Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb, Karen Alexander, Beverly Johnson, Brandi Quinones—the list goes on and on and on of the black girls who were all over the runways in Milan, Paris, New York, and London, and we still thought it wasn’t enough back then. So now to see no black girls in tons of fashion shows is crazy; there was still a lot of discrimination back in my day, but now I think, damn, maybe we didn’t have it as bad as we thought we did.’
However, just as Tyra stood up for herself when she was beginning in modelling, she has faith younger models will too.
‘The great thing the girls have today is social media, so they don't always have to suffer in silence. We didn’t have that,’ she continued, ‘we had to create the Black Girls Coalition and do a press conference to get our voices out, and now you can pick up a phone and say, "I’m so tired of going to jobs and then not having my foundation and makeup color or hairdressers who don’t know how to do my hair and I’m looking crazy."’
In Tyra’s tell-all interview she also revealed why she decided to open up about her nose job, which was ‘kind of medical and kind of cosmetic’, which came about after her make-up artist raised concerns about how her nose was growing in a strange way.
A consultation with a doctor revealed she had broken her nose years before, and it was healing in the wrong direction, however she waited for years before finding a doctor who ‘specialized in ethnic features’, because she didn’t want to erase her African American heritage.
On why she spoke up about it, she said, ‘I just wanted to be real, because although the procedure was in part medical, I just feel like celebrities do so much work and they just kind of say they woke up like this.’
Citing Kylie Jenner revealing she had lip fillers, she continued ‘People don’t need to tell every damn secret, but I just feel like when it comes to young girls, there are some things we need to talk about and share. So, I want to lead the charge of people now saying, “okay, I did my nose, I did this.” That’s what I like about Kylie Jenner—she was like, "Yeah, I did [get lip fillers].”’
Tyra’s new book promises to divulge even more personal information and stories about the models long illustrious career, focusing on her relationship with her mum Carolyn London. You can buy the book here.
Click through to see all of the VS models who walked in last years show...
An Angel since 2000, the Brazillian beauty is the longest-running model to grace the VS catwalk. The 35-year-old opened the show in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010 and in 2012, just two months after giving birth to her second child. She has worn the Fantasy Bra three times, in 2008, 2010 and 2014.