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Are Black People Allowed To Wear Lingerie?

Updated on June 12, 2010

Put down your pickaxes, wipe away the foam that frothed the moment you saw this article and at least read the first paragraph before you start typing in all caps. This isn't some half witted racist rant, it's an observation I made after reading a reader's comment about the fact that a certain piece of lingerie that I accused of being beige was probably yellow but because the model wasn't quite tanned enough, it didn't look yellow in the picture.

It was then that I realized almost every lingerie model I've ever seen used in online commercial lingerie shoots appears to be exactly the same shade of tan. Now either the online world has one very busy lingerie model, or consumers are biased towards buying lingerie when it is modeled by tanned Caucasian ladies and not men, or indeed, black people.

Flicking through my favorite lingerie websites I spied not a single woman with a skin tone darker than what lingerie manufacturers would probably call 'Cafe' or some other silly euphemism for 'pretty much white, but not really'. That's interesting. That's very interesting. It's even more interesting that I myself never noticed the inequality before I stumbled over a comment that mentioned the model's skin tone.

We could blame the lingerie marketers for this apparent inequality, but I don't think we should because marketers only give us what we want them to give us, indeed, the job of a marketer is to package a product in the most appealing way to the majority of purchasers of lingerie, and apparently, the most appealing way to package lingerie is on the body of a mostly white woman.

It reminds me somewhat of an experiment aired on Oprah where little black girl was shown two dolls, one black, one white, and asked which one was good and which one was bad. The little girl pointed out the white one as being good and the black one as being bad. She was then asked which one she looked like. She picked up the white one before sadly putting it down and picking up the black one in one of the most heart rending displays of racial awareness I've ever seen.

So although we could argue that lingerie is aimed at the majority of the market, and that in most markets the majority is largely Caucasian, the total lack of dark skinned models makes that too facile an explanation. After all, black people undoubtedly do buy and wear lingerie too and they are hardly an insignificant proportion of the population and yet very little of it seems to be marketed to them at all.

At the end of the day, I have to return to the fact that marketers reflect society's ideals back at them, that's why we don't often see advertising featuring overweight people with acne and bad haircuts. Those aren't images we aspire to, and apparently, when it comes to lingerie, we aspire to being trim, toned white ladies with tans. 

Whilst researching this piece I came across this picture of Victoria's Secret models and marveled at the fact that by some act of magic trickery Tyra Banks, possibly the worlds most famous beautiful black woman, is actually not as dark as the blonde standing next to her, thus proving that every rule has an exception or that high end fashion models are not bound by the laws of ordinary men and women.

This image censored because the internet must be sanitized for the sake of the children, who are allowed to watch pop stars gyrating and singing explicit lyrics on tv, but who must never see an uncovered woman online.
This image censored because the internet must be sanitized for the sake of the children, who are allowed to watch pop stars gyrating and singing explicit lyrics on tv, but who must never see an uncovered woman online.

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