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Polishing Brown Diamonds African American Women, Popular Magazines, and the Advent of Modeling in Early Postwar America

This article examines the advent of modeling as a profession for African American women. This new career resulted from two developments in early postwar America: the needs of advertisers and the rise of African American photographic magazines. While modeling expanded the economic opportunities open to African American women, the profession proscribed those careers within a middle-class value system of marriage, motherhood, and domesticity. Despite the conservative definitions of feminized beauty and heterosexual appeal, the image of the “Brownskin” model—an exemplar of social, sexual, and racial parity—challenged white representations of African America. At once liberating in its redress of racist stereotyping, and confining in its narrow dictates of racialized gender expectations, this postwar visual discourse allows an understanding of an era when African America began to visualize a different public racial reality. (Read More)