Racism Likely Determines Which Models Earn the Most


Just in time for the end of 2018, Forbes released it’s annual list of the highest-paid fashion models. Leading the pack by a large margin is Kendall Jenner, who raked in $22.5 million between June 2017 and June 2018. Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevigne, Gigi Hadid, and other familiar names follow suit, all with earnings of $8 million and above. While no one is shaming this group of women for having great success over the past several months, the list has created some controversy over the continued lack of diversity in the fashion industry. All of the top-ten highest-earning models for 2018 are thin and cisgender and only two— Joan Small and Chrissy Teigen— identify as women of color. According to Tyler McCall, deputy editor at Fashionista, this continued homogeneity comes down to the issue of runway versus campaign work. In other words, while it’s easier to make runways more diverse by adding more body sizes and ethnicities to the mix, this work rarely pays significantly, and sometimes not at all. The long-term, million-dollar contracts remain limited to a select group of white, cis, thin, and able-bodied faces. (Kendall Jenner alone touts at least three of these deals: Estée Lauder, Adidas, and Calvin Klein.) In a society where women are already unprivileged earners in comparison to men, these roadblocks only put models of color, gender non-conforming models, and plus-size models at an ever greater disadvantage. To disrupt the community of top-earning models, McCall says, it is essential that advertisers start looking outside their go-to pool of women. Maybe then, perhaps, we’ll start seeing more people who look like us not just on the runway, but on our billboards as well.

For Further Reading

Click here to read more about an up-start modeling agency that aims to increase the visibility of dark-skinned women in mainstream fashion.


Discussion Question

Do you think that the identities of the highest-earning fashion models are important? Why or why not?


Action Item

Open a fashion magazine and count how many times you seen the same model in one issue— this includes editorials, ads, features, etc.! This will give you a sense of how few jobs are being given to other, perhaps more diverse individuals.

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