Tag Archives: black

Al-Jazeera English’s Malika M. Bilal on the importance of the Ibtihaj Muhammad Barbie

In November, United States Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal for the U.S., was immortalized as a Barbie. The doll was revealed by Muhammad herself at the Glamour Woman of the Year Summit. The doll is part of Barbie’s ongoing “Shero” collection, which honors women who break through glass ceilings and inspire girls around the world.

The Shero collection already has some heavy hitters in its collection–dolls representing director Ava DuVernay, U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, plus size model Ashley Graham, and Misty Copeland have highlighted Barbie’s renewed focus on uplifting and inspiring girls to reach for their dreams. Muhammad’s doll follows in those footsteps.

“Through playing with Barbie, I was able to imagine and dream about who I could become,” said Ibtihaj Muhammad to Barbie.com. “I love that my relationship with Barbie has come full circle, and now I have my own doll wearing a hijab that the next generation of girls can use to play out their own dreams.”

“Barbie is celebrating Ibtihaj not only for her accolades as an Olympian, but for embracing what makes her stand out,” said Sejal Shah Miller, Vice President of Global Marketing for Barbie. “Ibtihaj is an inspiration to countless girls who never saw themselves represented, and by honoring her story, we hope this doll reminds them that they can be and do anything.”

Glamour Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive also said how Muhammad has defied stereotypes to become a history-making Olympian.

“Ibtihaj Muhammad has challenged every stereotype—which to me is the definition of a modern American woman,” she said. “Last year, she was the first athlete from the U.S to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, and today we are thrilled to celebrate Ibtihaj as the first hijab-wearing Barbie. She will play a tremendous role in ensuring that girls of the future see themselves represented fully and beautifully in our culture.”

That role isn’t lost on host of Al Jazeera English‘s Emmy-nominated news talk show The Stream, Malika M. Bilal, who wrote on The Undefeated what the meaning of Muhammad in Barbie form means to black Muslim women and girls, including herself and her niece.

“Her announcement comes at a time in which the erasure of African-American Muslims seems particularly pronounced. A time in which a major black women’s lifestyle magazine released a list of ‘100 Woke Women’ and yet couldn’t seem to find one woke African-American Muslim woman to include among them,” she wrote, adding that the erasure “reinforces the idea that Muslim equals Arab, South Asian, immigrant, anyone other than an athletic, Olympic medal-winning black woman from New Jersey — one with a modest clothing line, hundreds of thousands of social media followers and now a Barbie in her likeness.”

“The introduction of this doll lends support to the reality that a black Muslim woman can be both authentically American and authentically Muslim,” she wrote. ” A notion driven home by statistics that estimate a significant percentage of the enslaved Africans brought to this country were Muslim.”

“It’s not just young girls who are representation-starved. Grown women like myself, and the many who’ve retweeted, reposted and reblogged the Barbie announcement, are just as excited, not just for the next generation of girls but also for ourselves,” she wrote. “…[W]hen the Ibtihaj Muhammad Shero Barbie goes on sale in 2018, I’ll be ordering one to add to my niece’s collection. But I’m not ashamed to admit that another one just might find a home in my house as well.”

Are you going to order yourself an Ibtihaj Barbie? Talk about it in the comments!

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Exclusive Interview: “Charcoal” writer/director Francesca Andre talks colorism

Francesca Andre has a message for everyone with her short film, Charcoal. The main theme of her film is about colorism and its damaging effects on the black diaspora. Her two main characters go through a journey of self-acceptance and self-awareness, and that journey is something Andre hopes is replicated in her viewers.

I’ve had the chance to speak with Andre recently about her film (which you can learn more about in a previous article and the trailer below) as well as her opinions on how colorism affects us. I also asked about the Dove ad that sparked controversy, and how we can heal as a people from our societal wounds. Andre offers clear insight into her own journey towards healing and how we can continue the process of healing in our own lives. Here are highlights from that conversation.

Charcoal can be seen at the Yonkers Film Festival Nov. 3-8.

The inspiration for Charcoal:

Colorism is something that has impacted my life at a very young age. It’s very common in Haiti—it’s not white people versus black people, it’s really lighter skin versus darker skin. At a very young age, I was made aware of that. When I was probably five years old, I received a dark-skinned doll. When I took it home, people started making fun of the doll, saying the doll is ugly. My mother being brown-skinned, my grandmother being lighter-skinned, and my grandfather and my father being darker skinned men, people just made comparisons to the skintones.

Colorism and the lasting effects of racism in the black diaspora:

We’re still dealing with the consequences [of racism] as a people when it comes to economic empowerment, how we are being perceived and anything else—colorism sits right in there. It’s still affecting us, we’re still dealing with it, it’s not a thing of the past. We’re still healing from it. Those of us who are aware and are making a conscious decision to talk about it. You can’t really talk about racism or the advancement of us as a people and not talk about colorism.

Here in America, [the Dove colorism ad] was a mainstream brand that everyone can see, but you have some smaller brands, when you go to Caribbean markets that are selling [similar] products. You have women making skin-bleaching lotion and selling it to other women. I guess for some people here, it’s not as blatant as it is in other cultures—if you go to CVS, you probably won’t be able to find it, right? But it’s happening. It never went away, at least from my experience; as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve always known about these products.

Even thinking about “good” hair,the hair is not closer to our hair texture. It’s something closer to European hair texture. But when you look at our hair and the versatility of our hair, to me it’s like, really good hair! It took me a long time to reprogram myself, my thoughts, and redefine what “good” hair was for me to access [my hair] and accept it, love it, and embrace it…I don’t have any problems with it now.

Francesca Andre

On how to heal from colorism:

I do feel like we need to start having conversations, and an important part of that is the healing part of that. I think you will see that you’ll find more women going natural more than ever. Here’s what’s fascinating: how so many black women did not know their hair period because they just haven’t been dealing with their hair…they did not know how to take care of their hair; it’s been processed. When they find out what products work on our hair and what they can do to make their hair do this and that. Again, it’s knowledge and healing and more women are stepping out. It’s not a strange thing now to see a black woman with natural hair in the workplace. There was a time when this wasn’t a thing. Now, more people are going natural, embracing it and being unapologetic about it. I feel like we’re going forward. Even with skintones, too—[online campaigns and phrases like] “My melanin’s poppin’,” #BlackGirlMagic—we are healing collectively. I hope the men are using those terms as well; I hope the men are healing because they are also victims of colorism. I hope that we as a people stop the vicious cycle.

…First of all, I think [the first step to healing is] knowing what colorism is. Many people don’t even know what colorism means. It really starts the conversation. It’s hard to change beliefs, but one way we can do that as a people is to talk—ask [about it] and dialogue. Increase representation [in the media] to make women more confident in who they are and how they look. As an artist and storyteller, the way I [change] people is including it and showing it, talking about it and not pushing it away…Whenever I see a girl with natural hair, I tell them “I love your hair” or “I love your twists”; I make it my job to remind them because all the messages they are receiving are the opposite.

How Charcoal can start viewers’ journeys toward self-acceptance:

I think there’s a universal aspect to it. I hope people feel inspired and hopeful. I hope people find some sort of healing or be the beginning of that journey. We all can relate to pain, and the characters go through that, but we can see how they overcome that.♦

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

At the beauty salon, Dominican-American women conflicted over quest for straight hair

File 20170905 13783 vgjfdt.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A Dominican immigrant cuts the hair of a customer at her New York City salon.
Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Melissa Godin, New York University

When Chabelly Pacheco – a Dominican-American who moved to Long Island when she was five years old – walks into her favorite Dominican salon on Brooklyn’s Graham Avenue, it’s more like entering a home than a business.

The salon is filled with smoke, hair spray and women of all ages. Everyone in the room greets her: The hairdressers kiss her on both cheeks, while the other customers say hello. Daughters sit alongside their mothers with curlers in their hair, feet dangling from their chairs.

For first-generation Dominican women like Pacheco, these salons can serve as a place to bond with fellow Dominicans.

“I don’t really feel connected to my culture,” said Yoeli Collado, a friend of Pacheco’s who moved to Long Island from the Dominican Republic when she was three years old. “When I speak Spanish, I feel powerful… But other than that I don’t have much I can connect to. So going to a Dominican salon is part of my culture. For me, it’s one of the only ways I can identify.”

Other diasporas have a wide range of cultural public spaces. There are Chinese community centers and Indian music venues, Russian tea rooms and Ghanaian restaurants.

For Dominicans, the salon plays an outsized cultural role.

Fascinated by these spaces – and as a scholar studying women’s issues – I wanted to see how salons and Dominican beauty regimens influence female Dominican-American identity.

I found that although Dominican-American women I interviewed spoke warmly of the salons they frequent, Dominican hair culture is far from glamorous. In many ways, it’s a pricey, burdensome ritual steeped in a colonial beauty standards – a contradiction that young Dominican women are grappling with today.

‘The hair carries the woman’

As in many cultures, Dominican female beauty standards can be burdensome. Though most Dominicans tend to have curly, textured hair, the culture favors long, straight hair. Curly, frizzy or kinky hair is called “pelo malo,” which translates to “bad hair,” and many women feel pressured to treat it.

“I hear my mom say it all the time,” Pacheco said. “‘The hair carries the woman’ – that’s the mantra in my family. If your hair is fine, you’re fine.”

Despite the lively atmosphere of the salon, it’s not all fun. It can be costly, painful and time-consuming.

Sociologist Ginetta Candelario has found that Dominican women visit salons far more frequently than any other female population in the U.S., spending up to 30 percent of their salaries on beauty regimens.

Many Dominican kids don’t have any say over how to style their hair; their parents force them to get it straightened. This was evident in Pacheco’s salon, where young girls tugged at the tight curlers in their hair, complaining that the dryers were burning their scalps.

“You’re taught from a young age that your hair has to be straight to be pretty, to get a job, to get a boyfriend, to be called pretty by your mother,” Pacheco told me.

It all stems from a strict hair culture in the Dominican Republic, where young women can actually be sent home from school or work if their hair isn’t worn in the “preferred way.” Women with untreated, natural hair can even be barred from some public and private spaces.

Though discrimination against curly hair isn’t as pronounced in New York, many Dominican-American women told me that they nevertheless feel the same sort of pressure.

No such thing as black

The Dominican tradition of straight hair has it roots in colonial rule under Spain; it eventually became a way to imitate the higher classes and to separate themselves from their Haitian neighbors, who once occupied their country and championed the négritude movement, which was started by black writers to defend and celebrate a black cultural identity.

Dominicans believe that Haitians are “black,” while Dominicans – even those who clearly descend from African heritage – fall into other nonblack categories.

The process of differentiation is referred to as “blanqueamiento,” which translates to “whitening,” and hair straightening is simply one of many ways Dominicans try to distinguish themselves from Haitians. In fact, even though the Dominican Republic ranks fifth in countries outside of Africa that have the largest black populations, many black Dominicans don’t consider themselves black.

“[Blackness] is a taboo in the DR,” Stephanie Lorenzo, a 25-year-old Dominican-American from the Bronx, explained. “You don’t want to be black.”

According to Yesilernis Peña, a researcher at the Instituto Tecnologico de Santo Domingo who studies race in the Latin Caribbean, there are six established racial categories in the Dominican Republic, and they tend to correlate with one’s economic class: white, mixed race, olive, Indian, dark and black.

Meanwhile, a light-skinned elite has consolidated most of the political power, while many of the country’s black people – who make up the majority of the population – live in extreme poverty. So straightening one’s hair can be seen as an attempt to climb the social ladder – or at least imitate those with money and power.

“When people relax their hair or bleach it, they do it because they want to be closer to the people who hold the power,” Dominican salon owner Carolina Contreras told the magazine Remezcla in 2015.

‘But I like it straight’

Given the fraught history of hair, it’s clear that Dominican salons, with the beauty regimens they perpetuate, are complex, contradictory places.

Pacheco – who grew up in America and loves spending time at the salon – is aware that she’s also tacitly succumbing to beauty norms steeped in racism.

“Obviously it’s a construct, and it puts pressure on women and sometimes I feel conflicted about getting my hair straightened,” she said. “That deeply rooted colonial oppression is still there. But then I’m like, ‘I like it straight.’”

In sociologist Ginetta Candelario’s study “Hair-Race-ing: Dominican Beauty Culture and Identity Production,” she wonders if beauty can be a source of empowerment, even if it means using time and resources, while suppressing one’s “blackness.”

Through her extensive research in Dominican salons in New York, Candelario did find that women can, in fact, empower themselves through these beauty norms. By physically altering their appearance, they could get better jobs and use their beauty as “symbolic and economic capital.”

But she points out that in order for this beauty regimen to exist in the first place, it requires “ugliness to reside somewhere, and that somewhere is in other women, usually women defined as black.”

Reimagining beauty, reinventing space

In 2014, Carolina Contreras opened up Miss Rizos, a natural hair salon located in the colonial city center of Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital.

The 29-year-old Dominican-American wanted her salon to champion “pajón love” (Afro love), and to reimagine what a Dominican salon and a Dominican beauty regimen might look like. The salon, which caters to Dominican-Americans, encourages women to wear their Afro-textured hair with pride.

It was at Contreras’s salon where Stephanie Lorenzo decided to do “the big chop” in 2015: She cut off her chemically altered hair, leaving her with a small Afro.

“Around the same time, I was becoming more in touch with my African roots as an American woman,” she said. “[Cutting my hair] was part of acknowledging that we are also black.”

Back in Brooklyn, Chabelly Pacheco’s hairdresser said that during her 30 years working in salons in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and New York, she’s noticed more women asking for natural hair treatments. In fact, many older Dominican women are now starting to change the way they see their own hair. Carolina Contreras’ mother told me that she decided to go natural to be closer to the way God imagined her.

Contreras, however, is quick to note that the natural hair movement isn’t meant to shame women who do choose to straighten their hair. Instead, it’s simply about making textured hair accepted, appreciated and celebrated.

The ConversationPerhaps by embracing all different kinds of hair, salons – which bring Dominican women closer to their culture and to each other – can also bring Dominican women closer to their natural selves.

Melissa Godin, Rhodes Scholar Studying Development, New York University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to dress like Cinderella for your wedding day

If there’s one picture I’ve been obsessed with lately, it’s this press photo from 1997’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, starring Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters and Paolo Montalban as Prince Christopher (aka “Prince Charming,” the only way we’ve ever identified the character in Disney’s 1950s animated version).

I love how candid it looks (especially since some versions of it online clearly show a Fujifilm border). It could very well be a great candid shot—something about its energy seems highly off-the-cuff, and usually it’s the off-the-cuff pictures that turn out looking the best. The picture captures what could have been a random moment after Cinderella and Christopher’s wedding (even though she didn’t actually get married in the iconic blue dress in the film). The energy of it makes it one of my favorite pictures ever, not to mention one of my favorite pictures from the amount of PR photos I’ve seen.

It knocked this one down to number two, and this one is actually showcasing the actual wedding scene:

But like the picture above it, this one captures the feeling we’re told to expect from a wedding–pure happiness. I’m sure little girls of color all around the country imagined a wedding day that looked as magical as the one Cinderella and Christopher had, and certainly I’m sure many (like me) were hoping they’d be able to find a Prince Christopher of their own. I’m not even big into the showiness of weddings, but even I have found myself wondering what a huge Cinderella-esque wedding would be like. Not to mention, the film just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Thus, this post was born.

This post doesn’t have to be all about weddings—this post could be very useful for other big events in your life in which you need an elaborate ballgown (like prom, a Quinceañera, a huge cosplay event, etc.). But, if you’re a person who wants to go all out for your wedding or a fancy reception party, then maybe my suggestions could help you out. I’ve scoured the interwebs to find the perfect Cinderella dress and Prince Charming/Christopher suit, accessories and decorations, and even invitations.

Keep in mind: I’m no wedding planner, but I am an artist, and that counts for something. Please feel free to alter my suggestions for a Cinderella-themed wedding how you see fit. This is your big day, after all—I’m just offering my two cents.

(Note:  This post isn’t intended just for heterosexual couples; whoever’s getting married can use this and have fun.)

Dressing as Cinderella

First of all, if you are a seamstress or know someone with wild tailoring/sewing skills, you could have someone custom-make this dress for you. With some of the options I’m about to show you, it might cost just as much (or maybe a little less) to have someone to make this dress for you. As you can probably already surmise, there’s no completely identical dress like this on the market.

HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some pretty close dresses online. There are three ways you can go about doing this–get a Quinceañera dress or ballgown of some type, try Etsy, or find a white wedding dress of a similar style and pay extra to have the store dye it ice blue.

Option 1: Quinceañera dress

If you are as lithe in figure as Brandy, you might be able to get away with getting a Quinceañera dress to serve as your fanciful wedding dress. Yes, Quinceañera dresses are usually made for 15-year-old girls. But, because it’s for the day they finally reach womanhood, these dresses are made exactly the same as lavish ballgowns, but are much easier to find and purchase. But, like lavish ballgowns, they cost an extremely pretty penny.

The brand of Quinceañera dress that I’ve found several types of dresses can could work for a Cinderella themed wedding is Vizcaya by Morilee, an imprint of designer Madeline Gardner’s Morilee brand of wedding, evening, and party dresses. These dresses are the most opulent Quinceañera dresses I’ve seen during my search, and they are also the most mature looking. If you didn’t tell anyone this line was actually made for 15-year-olds, people would believe these were regular ballgowns, meaning that no one will be looking at you like you’re wearing a teenager’s dress on your wedding day.

This one is by far the closest I’ve seen to Brandy’s actual blue dress:

There are some extra straps, but it’s got everything you could ask for if you’re looking for a dress similar to Brandy’s blue dress. If you’re handy with tailoring, you might even be able to snip those straps away or hide them within the off-the-shoulder straps.

Some other good choices from Morilee:

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4

I didn’t check the sizes for any of the Quinceañera dresses, so I’m only assuming you have to be skinny teenage-size to be able to wear these. There could be plus sizes for these, but you’ll have to check.

Option 2: Actual wedding dresses

In the event there aren’t, I found some real wedding dresses that are good for both smaller and plus size women. You can certainly dye these dresses ice blue (or pay someone to if you’re not into DIY with such an expensive dress), or you could just wear it as-is, which would be just like Cinderella on her wedding day in the film.

These designs are by Oleg Cassini, and they capture everything you want in both Cinderella’s ball gown and wedding dress.

Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (some links are for sale prices)

These two are by Morilee, the same designer as the Vizcaya Quinceañera dresses.

Links: 1, 2

With the ready-made items out of the way, let’s talk about Etsy. One shop, ieie bridal, makes gorgeous, made-to-order dresses. All you have to do is offer your measurements. These three in particular are great for Cinderellas-at-heart, especially the first one, which is a copy of the dress found in the recent Cinderella live action movie starring Lily James.

Option 3: Etsy

If you’re down with Etsy, I think it’d be worth inquiring if the middle dress could be made in an ice-blue fabric. I don’t know what the designer/seller’s rules are for specifications like that, but since it’s a custom dress anyway, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Links: 1, 2, 3

Glass slippers

The glass slippers are paramount to a great Cinderella wedding, and while no one can actually wear glass and expect not to end up with cut-up feet, here are some (expensive) shoe choices.

(It should be apparent by now that everything in this post is expensive. If you want a Cinderella wedding, you’ve got to pay the price.)

What I’ve found are two shoes from Jimmy Choo–from the Cinderella collection, no less–and a shoe by Betsey Johnson.

links: 1, 2, 3

The shoe search was by far the easiest part of this post. I only took about 15-20 minutes to find these shoes. You don’t even want to know how long it took to find the right wedding dress options. You especially don’t want to know how long it took to find something suitable and similar enough to work as Prince Christopher/Charming’s clothes.

Makeup

I do like makeup, but I’m not someone you should turn to for makeup advice, since I tend to stick to the same five products/brands that either work or simply get the job done. (Shoutout to Fenty Beauty for getting into my makeup rotation–I finally have my perfect foundation shade!)

So instead, turn to makeup guru PatrickStarrr, who released a video celebrating Cinderella’s 20th anniversary.

Dressing as the Prince

This picture, while gorgeous, is misleading. In this shot, the prince’s jacket looks like a pearlized white. However in the shot below, it’s the same ice blue color as Cinderella’s dress.

I’m going with the latter, since it makes the most sense–I’d think the groom might want to be coordinated with the bride in this instance. However, the choice is yours.

If you decide to go with blue, then…you’re up a creek without a paddle if you’re looking for a traditional tuxedo or even an 18th century cosplay jacket, because I’ve scoured the internet looking for an ice blue ornate tuxedo only to come up with nothing. As with Cinderella’s dress, if you want something exact, then find a costume maker who can make this to form. However, if you don’t feel like hiring someone or if you just want some options that could be quicker in the long run, here’s what I’ve got.

Option 1: Sherwani

I had to do some out-of-the-box thinking to come up with some of these options. For instance, the below options are Indian wedding clothes. These sherwani weren’t easy to find–even with sherwani, which come in all the colors of the rainbow, it was still hard to find ice blue–but I think if you wear them unbuttoned with a vest and some black slacks, you’ll come out looking great.

Note that some of these are the Indowestern style of sherwani, meaning they’ve got elements of both traditional Indian and Westernized clothes. Some sherwani are made like ornate tunics, and since these are button down, that makes it easier to imagine them operating like Western-style jackets. These three are from G3 Fashion.

links: 1, 2, 3

I should note that some of these, if not all of these, come with pants. If that’s the case, I’d suggest swapping out the original pants with tuxedo pants or slacks, as I mention above. Not because the pants aren’t cool (they are), but because the prince actually wears black pants with his blue vest-jacket combo. However, it’s your wedding–do what you want to do.

Option 2: Baroque couture

As you’ve seen in the picture near the top of this article, the prince wears gold on his wedding day. If you want to go that route, then there are actually Western-style tuxedos you can wear.

These three are made by Italian designer Ottavio Nuccio for his Baroque collection. And man, are they baroque.

The only prices that are listed on his site are in Euros; I don’t know if there is international shipping. But I think there is a button you can click to inquire about pricing, so maybe more information will be there.

Option 3: Sherwani (part two)

You could also go back to the sharwani for your gold outfit. Utsav Fashion has a lot of great gold options. Again, take care with the pants–swap them out for Western pants or slacks if you so choose.

links:1, 2, 3, 4

There you have it–some creative ways to get your Cinderella wedding right and tight. I’d be excited to know if anyone uses these suggestions for their wedding, Quinceniera, prom, or any other event that requires a huge, frilly ballgown. At any rate, if you’re having a wedding, make sure to outfit your bridesmaids in appropriately ornate dresses. The dresses don’t have to outshine you, but just don’t make them look like your ugly stepsisters.

If you do that, expect the fairy godmother to turn you into a pumpkin.

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Meet Zelda Wynn Valdes, the woman behind Hugh Hefner’s iconic Playboy Bunny

Hugh Hefner, the founder of the long-running Playboy Magazine empire, has died at age 91. I haz a sad.

First of all, before anyone decides to come for me for saying I’m a little bummed, YES, I know that Playboy is based on a sexist and, frankly, racially-biased interpretation of feminine beauty–regardless of Hefner wanting to appeal to the James Bond “lascivious gentleman” aesthetic of the 1950s and 1960s, Playboy, and the aesthetic it played upon, showcased women from the male gaze, and that’s putting it mildly. Also, despite Hefner being a supporter of civil rights and providing a platform for Malcolm X (who was interviewed for the magazine by none other than future Roots author Alex Haley), the track record for notable black Playboy models is bleak. The first black Playmate of the Month, Jennifer Jackson, made her debut in 1965, 12 years after Playboy was founded and first published. The first black Playboy cover model was Darine Stern in 1971, and according to Wikipedia, there are only 29 black Playboy Playmates of the Month (not counting Playboy‘s regular pinup shots), and the first black Playmate of the Year was Renee Tenison in 1990. (Complex has a good article on 25 of those Playmates.) In case you need more proof that Playboy has been behind the eight-ball in the area of representation, the magazine has only just had its first Mexican-American Playboy Playmate of the Year in 2013 with Raquel Pomplun.

I understand all of the issues surrounding Playboy and Hefner. And yet, I am a little downtrodden. As horrific as it might sound, generations have grown up with the presence of Hefner in his Playboy Mansion. For better or worse, he was a huge part of our pop culture fabric. And, despite all of the facts I laid down about Playboy‘s racial issues (and some I didn’t, like the fact that the majority of the black Playmates of the Month range from light beige to toffee-colored, further pushing a colorism narrative), there’s one Playboy fact involving the black image that goes routinely unnoticed–the iconic look of the Playboy Bunny comes from the mind of a black woman.

Zelda Wynn Valdes is who you have to thank for the classic Playboy Bunny costume, a costume so ingrained in our psyche that the silhouette alone tells you what you need to know.

Valdes, who died in 2001, opened the first African-American owned boutique, Chez Zelda, in Manhattan  in 1948 (the shop later moved to Midtown in 1950). She dressed some of the biggest names of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, including Dorothy Dandridge, Mae West, Ruby Dee, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Jessye Norman, Gladys Knight, the entire 1948 bridal party of Nat King Cole and Marie Ellington, and “the black Marilyn Monroe,” Joyce Bryant. She also served as the President of the New York chapter of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD), an organization founded by Mary McLeod Bethune. Later in life, she also designed costumes for the Dance Theater of Harlem. She started working with the company in 1970 and continued there until she died at the age of 96.

http://ambitionzazastylist.tumblr.com/post/155720712339/joyce-bryant-in-one-of-zelda-wynn-valdes-gowns

http://dorothydandridge.tumblr.com/post/84783602930/she-had-a-gorgeous-figure-she-was-a-person-you

http://books0977.tumblr.com/post/73613191543/dorothy-dandridge-at-piano-wearing-a-red-mermaid

http://januarybryant.tumblr.com/post/69071247961/eartha-kitt-photographed-by-gordon-parks-as-she

Valdes’ flattering, sexy, body-hugging designs garnered Hefner’s attention, particularly because, I’m sure, he was opening his Playboy Clubs and needed costumes for his waitresses. The original idea for the bunny costume might have been conceived by the Playboy’s director of operations Victor Lownes, but it took Valdes’ flair and artistic eye to bring that idea to fruition. Also, Valdes’ Playboy Bunny costume became the first service uniform registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, furthering Valdes’ legendary status.

http://empiricalblackness.tumblr.com/post/102352513351/the-playboy-bunny-costume-was-made-by-a-black

Or, rather, it should be a legendary status. Valdes’ contributions to Playboy, and to fashion in general, seem to go unnoticed by society at large, and that’s a shame. Valdes helped shape the idea of a glamorous woman through her high profile clients, and for better or worse, she helped shape the ideal image of the the Playboy Bunny and the conversation we have about beauty and body image.

This is where the history of the costume gets into the weeds, since, ironically, the image of the standard Playboy Bunny is this:

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Despite the fact that the design was brought to life by a black woman.

There’s also a ton that can be said about the rigorous dieting the Bunnies must have had to be on to be able to successfully make it through pre-shift weigh-ins (wherein they could only gain or lose a pound), not to mention dealing with blatant objectification. Activist Gloria Steinem famously wrote about her time as a Playboy Bunny in an article called “A Bunny’s Tale,” which was published in Show Magazine in 1963. In the article, she outlines how degrading and sexually exploitative it was to work as a Bunny. Some of those awful working conditions seemed to be alluded to in the 2011 failed NBC Mad Men-esque drama The Playboy Club. Despite the fact that the show never quite got off the ground in terms of storytelling, it did, however, provide our best modern look at the Playboy Bunny costume in action, giving us an idea of what it must have looked like to see the costume at work in its heyday. Despite the awfulness surrounding the clubs themselves, you can’t deny that these costumes don’t have a touch of glamour, and even mystery, to them.

Naturi Naughton in “The Playboy Club” (Photo credit: John Russo/NBC)

The instantly iconic look of the costume is why you always see it every year at Halloween or any type of costume party. Heck, if you’re an anime fan, you’ve probably seen this costume on several anime characters, the most notable character possibly being Bulma from Dragonball. 

The Playboy Bunny suit has not only domestic, but international appeal. To me personally, it just looks cool. Somehow, Valdes was able to imbue playfulness, sexiness, allure, and a coquettish sensibility all in a corseted teddy, black sheer stockings, and bunny ears.

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Playboy, the Playboy Clubs, and all the other trappings of Playboy Enterprises all revolve around the salability of the woman as a product, it’s true. There are tons of articles that can be (and have been) written about Hefner and his sordid, yet weirdly marketable empire of T and A. While the news of Hefner’s death is fresh, you should be able to find tons of articles out there that can supplement this one with all of the hot takes you need. Twitter alone will provide you with multiple angles on Hefner’s life and the complicated legacy he leaves behind.

At the end of the day, though, if there’s anything that can be said about Hefner, it’s that he didn’t build his empire alone. He, like most American “self-made” men, built it with the help of a talented black woman. One of these days, I’m going to don the Playboy Bunny costume to a Halloween party in Valdes’ honor. If only I could get over showing my upper thighs. 🐰