The More You Know: Media and Power

Case Studies from UW Bothell Media & Communication Studies

Whitewashing in Modeling

Not only in Hollywood, but Asian Americans are targeted to be underrepresented in fashion industry as well.  To be fair, mimicking cultural gestures and practice could be accepted at some point, however when it cross the line whatever models or designers are doing become more visibly racist.  It doesn’t seem right when Caucasian models are representing Asian culture in Asia with “traditional” wears on.  The idea of it is just overused, disrespectful, and most importantly no matter how they grew up, people should know better than this in twenty first century.  Chinky eye makeups and distressed kimono is not a right way to express art, and moreover in order to use cultural materials, creators need to acknowledge the point of it and also show some respects to Asian culture.  Presenting Asians as vulnerable human being has been the case, and here I suggest some stereotypes in fashion industry from a few magazine issues from the US and a distracting Asian characters on t-shirts back in 2002.


When the magazine is issuing to celebrate diversity, people would expect models with different background/ race.  There’s a need of precision to respect or show how much the cultural content is correctly used in photographs.  However, recent March issue of US Vogue aimed a little differently.  Karlie Kloss (a former Victoria’s Secret model) that every teenager admire collaborated with Mikael Jansson and Phyllis Posnick for this photoshoot didn’t seem to be disturbed for posing with kimonos at all.  This modeling took a place in Iseshima national park in Japan.  The issue was named “Spirited Away” that assumingly influenced by the most known studio Ghibli movie by Hayao Miyazaki.  The title itself is already questionable, but the way the model wears kimono or how her hair is styled here is beyond questionable.  When you look at all the photographs, the Caucasian model wears a huge black wig that’s partially loosen up and with lots of unnecessary hair accessories on the top.  If this photoshoot was influenced by Geisha, professional Geishas in Japan deserve an apology.  The model’s skin is overly revealed and kimonos are not even set right.  Another problem here is that the model herself is not even Asian to represent Asian culture.  This is not the first time for us to see obvious whitewashing like this, but how was she able to feel comfortable for modeling in this issue?  The writer from Angry Asian Man Phil Yu had published a post about this right after the magazine came out.  He claims, “did nobody even consider hiring an actual Asian model? So much for that “diversity” nonsense.”.  The question is, did it have to be a Caucasian model to represent Japanese culture, and the answer is absolutely not.  The number of Asian models are presumably less than Caucasian models, however I assume it was unlikely to not being able to find any Asian models for this photoshoot.  


%d bloggers like this: