Measuring up While Black

The modeling industry is highly competitive and can be difficult to break into. As models, we have to build connections, find the right representation and keep our books up to date all while maintaining our stats. Those things are strenuous enough, but what happens when circumstances out of your control prevent you from going to the next level with your modeling career?

Things were not working out with my agency. I wrote a heartfelt letter telling them we needed to part ways. With one final push, I took a leap of faith and submitted to one of the top agencies in LA. Success! I got a response that they were “very interested” in meeting with me. Now there’s interested, then there’s “very interested.” That’s another level! I was renewed by this opportunity and knew that it could be life changing for me.

I had a couple of weeks before the interview to prepare. I took new photos and went over possible questions. I felt ready. The day of the interview came and I was nervous, but excited. I felt confident, prepared and there wasn’t any reason in my mind why I wouldn’t be a good fit for this agency. The meeting went well and they seemed to love me and be very interested in me as talent. They asked me questions like, “Are you ok with eating meat?” “Are you old enough to do beer commercials?” “What’s your availability?” All questions that gave me the impression that I would be signing a contract soon.

I tried to distract myself from thinking about the news, but excited friends and family were contacting me for an update. The agency told me it would be 24 hours before I would get an answer. When I finally received an email, it said exactly what I didn’t want it to. “You’re a conflict with someone else in our agency, so we’re going to pass.” I didn’t even know how to respond. I was in tears trying to wrap my brain around the news I’d just heard. Then, the embarrassment of telling my anxiously, awaiting friends and family that I was a rejected weighed heavily upon me. After the embarrassment, anger set in.

How could they do this? Could they not have looked at their roster and spared me the time and gas? As models and actors, we put our all into getting to castings, auditions and meetings. We exhaust our funds and resources for opportunity. I would have felt better if they didn’t even respond to my submission. I’m a big girl. I can handle no, but I don’t like someone to waste my time and give me the run around.

I adamantly began searching for answers. I went to their site and clicked on the roster to see who I conflicted with. In the ethnic category, there were two black girls and one biracial girl. One of which was a beautiful, black woman with natural hair and a gap like myself, but her vibe and my vibe were completely different. I couldn’t have conflicted with her. Their lack of diversity pissed me off! I saw several Caucasian women who could all go out for the same jobs, but there could only be three women of color. Wow! How one dimensional is that?

So the agent didn’t take into consideration that I was talented, experienced and bookable. She said “Oh ok! “She’s black with a curly fro and a gap like the girl on our roster, so no, we actually have filled our black quota.” I could see if they had at least 10 girls in my category, but there was only one! Reject me because I can’t get the job done or that I need improvement, but not simply because I’m black. That’s devastating! I can work on my cold reading, I can learn to pose more proficiently, I can update my book, but there is nothing I can do about being black.

I never think these situations are going to happen to me, especially in 2015. I don’t submit myself for representation or jobs with the mindset that my skin color will be the deciding factor. You would think people, specifically in the industry, would be more open minded to diversifying the modeling and entertainment industry. Think about it; all races are watching tv and buying the products that are advertised. There should be ads that represent us all, especially if you want our money.

I’m not looking for pity, but I am looking for a solution and change. It’s not my fault that this is what I’m passionate about and I happen to be black. My skin color shouldn’t be a factor unless the role clearly fits that of another race. There needs to be equal opportunity instead of loop holes to get out of giving ethnic girls a chance. No one is asking for a hand out; we’re all working hard, but it’s damn near impossible to get a foot in the door when there can only be 2 or 3 of us per agency and job.

J. L. Stewart is a model and freelance graphic designer residing in Los Angeles, CA. She hails from a small town in Alabama and enjoys video games while cuddling with her dog.

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