How Jessica Harris made melanin magic go viral this Swim Week
Well Miami Swim Week might be over but all of the photos captured during the hottest week in the 305 have continued to take over my feed. In the mix of all the cute bikinis and bombshell babes, there was one image that kept popping up that always made me stop scrolling and think WOW this photo is STUNNING.
The particular image I’m talking about was taken by photographer Zavier De’Angelo and it’s of a group of 12
models rockin’ their natural hair, serving melanin magic.
After reading the moving caption under the photo I then proceeded to stalk every one of the girls’ IG pages because hello that’s what all of us girls do whether we like to admit it or not (LOL) and I came across Jessica Harris’s page. I realized she was actually the one who organized this photo shoot.
It’s no secret that there has always been an issue of race in the modeling industry and although this image already speaks volumes I was so intrigued by the beauty of it that I just had to get in contact with Jessica to find out what provoked her to do this particular shoot during Swim Week.
What inspired you to organize this shoot?
I was inspired to produce this photo shoot after seeing all these beautiful girls at Swim Week castings. I have a love for curly hair, biased as it may be, and I have never seen so much big hair in modeling in one place, even after years of doing Swim Week.
But I knew even though we were all in one place for castings, there were hundreds of girls auditioning and mostly likely would only be one or two of “us” in each show. It truly made me happy to see models embrace their natural texture even knowing these girls were my competition for one slot.
Earlier in the week, I saw a model friend of mine, Renee, sporting a bag with “Black Models Matter” on it and I loved that she is always proud to represent. From these two occurrences I got the idea to post about it since under representation of black models is still an issue in this industry. I knew that no one would listen to me rant about it (hopefully they are now!) so the photo shoot came into play so I can have an epic piece of art to spark discussion. The idea was very sudden and from there I started finding these girls on Instagram and slid away in the DM’s to see who would be interested in collaborating.
What are you hoping people will take away from these beautiful yet very powerful images?
I’m hoping whatever the reaction to anyone seeing these photos provokes conversation. My intention is to portray art and celebrate all of us brown models are beautiful; collectively and individually. It’s not often enough do you see large groups of black women in media, fashion or art that’s projected positively or as beautiful. I wanted to contribute against that.
Why do you think there is a lack of presence of women of color on the runway?
In runway especially, black women are underrepresented. I think this is because of a variety of factors but mostly due to a racist society that has made leaps and bounds towards equality but we are still not there yet. I question even using that word because it has such drama that comes with it, most people avoid talking about it. But the point remains this is the reason why, even if it feels uncomfortable to say. And as black models we aren’t supposed to address it because do you think we’d get the part when we’re black AND opinionated and out-spoken? #angryblackwoman I feel being biracial gives me a unique perspective and therefore more of a reason to speak out. Usually I play the role of the token brown girl and I’m only half black.
Do you think the era of “Instagram models” has something to do with it?
I don’t think Instagram models have anything to do with the under representation. If anything I think social media gives a platform for the individual therefore the opportunity is there for everyone, equally. It depends on how much you push yourself and put yourself out there but there is definitely an audience for everyone.
Have you noticed any major changes in the casting process within the last few years?
I think with castings for any type of sub division within the modeling world has come a long way. Commercial advertising is certainly much more diverse. Runway lacks still a little bit because size matters so much (samples models must fit in are tiny) and typically black women have wider hips.
Do you believe your skin color has prevented you from booking certain jobs? Do you have an example?
I most certainly believe my skin color (and curly hair) has hindered me in getting certain jobs. Usually when there is one role to be filled you can bet on it being a blonde. When there is a group I have a good chance of getting a slot because my look is more racially ambiguous. There’s usually a slot for an “ethnic” model but that could be Black, Latin, Asian. Anything that’s “other.” As in other than white. For there to be mostly whites and then all of the rest put in the same category is absurd.
I support brands that push the standards we got used to for so long. Like Myra Swimwear. When I walked for her swim week show last year I noticed she had more women of color than caucasian models, and the designer herself is white. I thanked and asked her about this after the show. She wanted curves that will show off a swimsuit.
And when you think of bikini you think tan so she booked naturally brown girls. She’s Australian and outside of the US, different cultures have different perspectives on race. It’s refreshing when people really just don’t care about color. Beautiful is beautiful.
What advice do you have for young girls who would like to pursue a career in modeling?
Any young girl who would like to become a model one day, no matter what background you come from, just be ready to be scrutinized on everything physical. None of which are the important things in life but when your job is to take photos it does matter what you look like. Stay objective and keep your values high and know where you come from.
This source of identity will get you through the tough critics.
Photography by @zavierdeangelo
Interview by Elizabeth Zayas