The Blackout Movement started on social networking site Tumblr in March 2015, when two friends Marissa Rei and Nukirk reached a pinnacle of frustration over the misrepresentation of colour in the fashion industry.
“For people who aspire to enter the fashion realm, whether it is to become a designer or a model, they have to be encouraged by people they can relate to, people who look like them,” said Rei.
The movement quickly went viral after they created the hashtags #BlackOut and #BlackOutDay – causing a buzz on social media, much faster than they’d anticipated.
The core idea behind the BlackOut movement is to create a space for people in the black community to own and celebrate being black, beautiful and successful. To take part, you post a selfie on social media, and using the hashtags, you share something remarkable about yourself. In an instant, your talents are streamed through a virtual network designed to uplift, make connections and inspire.
In the last year, we’ve seen a clear transformation of the global fashion and beauty industry.
In November 2015, Victoria’s Secret’s Maria Hoges made waves by becoming the first black model to rock her natural afro in a Victoria’s Secret show.
Not too long ago, Willow Smith’s name was on everyone’s lips when she became the youngest black Coco Chanel brand ambassador.
Locally, actress Nomzamo Mbatha was named brand ambassador for global skincare brand, Neutrogena, and more recently, world-renowned make-up brand Bobbi Brown announced that songstress Lira had become the brand’s first South African influencer. These are all noteworthy achievements that prove the evolution of black female empowerment, not just in South Africa, but around the world.
Despite the evident transformation, black models still face discrimination at times.
Says model Marchelle Le Roux (30): “The modelling industry in South Africa faces many ups and downs. The challenge is that as local models we hardly get modelling contracts in-season because the city and country is flooded with foreign (mostly non-black) models. Also, because of contracts in place, we can’t really make major changes to our appearance unless discussed and approved with agency.”
“I remember walking into a modelling agency and before I could even open my mouth and introduce myself, they said, ‘sorry you’re not what we’re looking for,’” says model Clarodine Manuel (25). “They called me out on almost all my ‘flaws’ – I was too short, too dark and my hair texture wasn’t ideal.”
“I don’t think we’ve seen enough transformation in the modelling industry. They are still looking for the seemingly perfect model.”
Tina Gogwana (29) agrees that there is more room for transformation. “As a model of mixed race, I have found that my skin is either not dark enough or too light. I once did a lingerie shoot for an underwear brand and they Photoshopped my skin lighter. There is definitely a higher demand for dark-skinned models, but we have yet to incorporate more plus-sized models.”
Whether directly or indirectly, the BlackOut movement has certainly made more women aware of the underlying battle to break through the superficial stigma of what it means to be beautiful.