The best thing about the Trump Presidency is that it served as a wake up call. The resurgence of organized White Supremacy we all kind of thought wasn’t a thing anymore, and the tolerance of the misogynist slang publicized by our new world leader disturbed everyone enough to step up. Women and men of different backgrounds, races, religions, and sexualities, stood together in protest. We are becoming the change we want to see, and naturally commercial industries have followed.
But how do we know when a company pioneers for change, and when they just want profit from embracing trends? Does it matter? Are we falling like “snowflakes” down the path of over-political-correctness by caring? Is it ridiculous to bitch about this when I should just be grateful for any progressive shifts regardless of motive?
I write this from Salt Lake City, Utah, where outdoor activity remains pretty white-washed. It is refreshing to see non-caucasian enthusiasts on the trails and in climbing gyms. A close friend of mine fits this minority. Every time we venture downtown together she is approached by some guy at the bar, asking casually if she climbs at The Front. It doesn’t surprise me. She is strikingly beautiful, an impressively strong climber, and her dark skin sets her apart from the majority of the crowd, of course she turns heads. What did surprise me, were her dismissive responses to what I perceived as a poor guy’s brave attempt at striking up conversation. It irritates her, being approached this way, a reminder that she stands out. I have asked her about it, but I wonder if I will ever truly understand, as I have yet to live in a place where my skin tone categorizes me into a minority.
A few months ago a local outdoor brand scouted this friend via social media for a photo shoot. They told her they loved her authentic look. One gig developed into regular modeling sessions throughout the season. It felt wonderful to hear someone I care about relay details of this opportunity that had seemed to fall into her life at a time when it was perfectly needed. These gigs gave her a spotlight and confidence in her appearance within an industry that she had felt marginalized in, and it made my heart soar. This subtle shift we are experiencing in commercial content to be more inclusive has been long awaited and fought for. But a piece of her story gave me pause. She complained of how shallow modeling can be, explaining how the second shoot she did was a re-shoot. The photographer casually mentioned that the photos from the previous shoot were not useable because the model had a little bit of a gut, and it ruined the pictures.
Let that sink in.
The more I have thought of this the more bothered I have become. A small inside comment from one professional in a company to an other has up-ended my respect for a brand that has succeeded via obnoxious bright colors and altruistic humanitarian aid. I can’t help but wonder if I am over-reacting. Am I too sensitive, or am I just fed up? Fed up that industry has the power to make one woman feel validated, but at the expense of an other whose body was too “authentic.” Has that model ever noticed her absence in that company’s marketing content? Does it affect her? I am tried of never feeling good enough in my own body. I am tired of listening to my friends express their most vulnerable insecurities as I feel completely shocked and powerless to convince them of the beauty and power they hold in my eyes. I am tired of endless and inescapable marketing tactics that sell product by manipulating our self worth.
I want to tell this story because if we stay silent, we stay complacent. Continuously hoodwinked into thinking one kind of authentic is desired, and an other is still not good enough. Are companies fighting a status quo, or just fooling us by trading around their stigmas? Is diversity really appreciated when there are specific parameters to the type of diversity that is marketable? When do people get to be models because they embody the brand regardless of skin color or body type? When does an LBGTQ+ writer get to just be a writer, a muslim actor just an actor? When will a notable female athlete just be a notable athlete? I find myself wondering when I ponder this, if I am creating the problem. If I refortify walls of the boxes we have been socially trained to place people in, by criticizing the restriction of those boxes. I want to celebrate diversity, and at the same time I feel like we will have succeeded when we no longer see differences as categories anymore. When we all just get to be humans, being. I want to live in a world where women perceive their individuality with jubilation rather than compare it in despair. Is it too much to expect the outdoor industry to sincerely assist this journey? If they want to profit on our passions, they need to see we are passionate about real diversity.