#RevolveSoWhite: Racial Aftertaste

“Taste” is defined is a reflection of a person’s social status through styles of dress (fashion), buying choices, mannerisms, behavior etc. This concept of taste applies to wide varieties of likes and dislikes, especially in the realm of fashion and beauty.

In her book, Minh- Ha Pham details the history of Western “taste” for racial diversity in the field of fashion. In the early 2000s, an economic downturn in the West and an uptick in fast fashion production shifted the fashion gaze onto Asia. A new marketplace and center of labor formed. Asian super bloggers, hugely popular bloggers from Asian countries with upwards of 400, 000 followers, became the new face of fashion labor in Asia.

Much like the female garment workers that came before them, these Asian super bloggers participated in a system of unpaid, exploitative labor for a chance at exposure. The mid to late 2000s can be described as a post-capitalist entrepreneurship focused gig economy. Bloggers in particular were, and still are, subjected to hours of unpaid work, in the form of content creation that pays social media platforms in money and pays bloggers in exposure.

The exploitative labor economy aside, the fashion world, publications and designers alike, grew a ‘taste” for the up and coming Asian super bloggers. They represented a type of safe multiculturalism (all of the super bloggers are conventionally beautiful in that they are thin, able-bodied, and fair- skinned) and digital democracy proving that anyone can be successful on social media. However, after several years of acceptance of diversity, Asian super bloggers were forced back into racial stereotypes in a move towards racial aftertaste. The taste for diversity was dismantled by a reassertion of the fashion hierarchy. Post-2010, the multicultural appeal of “slightly- strayed from the norm” Asian bloggers lost its appeal. Media publications like Vogue began to describe some of these bloggers as gaudy or cheap, furthering racial stereotypes of Asian people and specifically Asian fashion work by harkening back to female garment factory workers.

Today, representations of bodies outside the white, skinny, beautiful norm are rare and hard to come by. The Aftertaste of diversity can be seen most clearly in the Instagram page and website of the online store Revolve. Revolve has cornered the market on influencer promotions through partnerships and trips around the world. Both Allure and Refinery29 have written about the overwhelming representations of whiteness on their page and the social media backlash that created the hashtag #revolvesowhite. As the promoter of some of Instagram’s biggest influencers, Revolve’s problematic racial aftertaste aesthetic reflects the fashion industry’s inability to stray from Western ideals of beauty, despite public support for more inclusive representations of race, gender, and beauty.

 

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