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“One designer rejected me. He told me that I was too dark to be a model”

By Innocent Mutanga

“Why Wan Chai though?”, I asked Harmony as  she came out of Exit A4. ‘You are a bad girl now, haha’. “You, Innocent, you will never stop speaking rubbish I can see”. I had arrived 30 minutes early, and upon coming out the mtr station I was greeted by a rather usual scorching heat and humid weather. During the time I waited suddenly a refreshing breeze swept across the city. It was later in the evening that I only figured out the fresh breeze I had enjoyed was one of the consecutive deadly typhoons Hong Kong had been experiencing. I was interested in learning how it is like for Harmony being a black model in Hong Kong.

We walked across the streets to a park sandwiched between the Immigration, Revenue & the Wan Chai Towers. It took us a few minutes to find an ideal spot to chat. There was a green and grey sculpture in the middle, we decided we would face it as it appeared be the ritual. Behind us was a rather familiar song to me; "Goyang Dumang" by Indonesia’s Cita Citata. And further beyond the sculpture were Filipino models doing a photo shoot. "Just a  perfect place for doing this interview", I thought to myself.

“How did you get the name Harmony?”. “When I came to Hong Kong, my dad was already here. I had not seen him for a while, and upon living together again for a bit, he was like I am too tidy, too clean, and that I am harmonized and I will also harmonize. Since then I adopted the name Harmony as my social media identity”. I felt indeed she has lived up to her name. I had literally just picked clothes randomly from my wardrobe as I had to rush to teach in Children’s church, but for Harmony it didn’t appear to be the case. She stood tall with black braids, big earrings I do not know how to describe, polished nails, white top, a bergie skirt and the shoes which I can’t recall, but all I remember is that it all looked in harmony.

“You see my understanding is that in HK the concept of beauty is that of being thin, light-skinned,....", then Harmony jumped in immediately indicating that I didn’t had to finish my question as she guessed right where it was going.“In HK, the standard of being beautiful is that you really have to be white, it's not even being light skinned. In secondary school everybody had a different skin tone than mine, there was another black girl who is my best friend now. The lighter skinned were considered beautiful and I was black. I find out that black is not considered beautiful, it is even considered a curse to people in HK, " 

"To really gain the confidence as an aspiring model was very hard at first. I remember I struggled until I got to form 2 and out of no way I looked at myself in the mirror and I figured I was also beautiful,  and until today I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and I remind myself that I am a black girl and I consider myself really beautiful. The best time I find myself beautiful is when I wake up, when I have no make up. You see Innocent,  I just had to accept myself as that; I was born in Africa, I was born black and there is a reason why God made this way. Now I get to love myself, I am not going to wait for someone to tell me that I am beautiful anymore, even if others say I am not, I don’t care about their opinion, I know I am beautiful.I believe I am beautiful and I don’t give a shit."

Before form two, I was trying to be accepted, I started to become someone I was not and I wanted people to tell me that I was beautiful. It was hard, because since coming to HK, some people have made fun of my skin tone, they look at me differently. I remember this other Chinese boy at school, he called me a monkey, it really hurt me, but I don’t blame him, I mean he sees these things on T.V about black people, and sometimes I don’t know to explain to people like him and everyone who made fun of my skin tone.”

Even if others say I am not, I don’t care about their opinion, I know I am beautiful.

I could empathize easily with Harmony as someone who also is black and interested in black experiences. I was curious how he got into modelling and if she has had to deal with certain obstacles. This part broke my heart as a friend and someone who strongly believe with every bone in my body that people shouldn’t be judged based on their skin color. Also I find it inspiring.  

“I have always liked modelling since childhood back in Africa. But how I got into modeling in HK was really interesting. I used to post pictures on social media and didn’t see much reaction, I was trying to do everything by myself then. One day there was this girl, she was also from my secondary school and she studies design. She was doing her project and called me to be her model and this was my  breakthrough. After we had a photoshoot, I uploaded the pictures on social media and people started liking them. After that, I decided to join the fashion shows in international schools. I also do walking, so I auditioned and I got accepted, "

"Though I also got rejected and I suspect it also has to do with how international schools looked at us from local schools as somehow lower than them. I didn't want to even try to do an audition before because I was not confident about myself. In the 15 fashions shows in international schools, I got rejected twice, and I got to meet other people and was introduced to other people as well as other fashion shows, "

Then I did Runway Asia, Firstlook Fashion show and many other fashion shows. I also did Manish Malohotra’s show, an Indian celebrity,  it is one of the big ones. You see, Innocent, modeling is mostly about selling clothes. They choose because they consider you are beautiful already, but one of the things right now which I find a bit problematic is that modeling is about selling the body. I do modeling because it is my passion, though I also get to present the clothes, but one thing I find meaningful is that I also get to present the black beauty in Hong Kong. One designer rejected me and  told me that I was too dark to be a model.  He spoke in Cantonese, though I understand some Cantonese,I was not sure and another model confirmed that yes he said that. I was hurt, really hurt.”

I believe diversity is beautiful. What makes a rainbow beautiful is because it has several colors.

“Some designers didn't like me because I was black. I have done hundreds of shows, but they give priority to white people, and it really hurts me as a person and as a model. There one Chinese designer who is so open about it, they only choose white people, and my friend is so brave. We asked why they don’t even choose Chinese people, and the designer said to us, ‘you see white represents expensive and other skins represents cheap’. This is what is in their minds when they give white people priority, Innocent. It hurts me, it really hurts even though I want to show them what I can do, mostly I feel like I am not giving them back the same as white people. That is why I really want to represent black beauty in HK. I believe diversity is beautiful. What makes a rainbow beautiful is because it has several colors, and I think these designers should know this and not discriminate based on skin tone.”, she finished her sentence as a dark cloud covered the park. As Harmony was narrating this part, the sun had come out of the clouds.

“Innocent, everyone is beautiful in a different way. We shouldn’t be having standards of what is beautiful. We lose confidence because in our generation we are told a certain standard is beautiful. Take for example Kylie Jenner, I respect her and all that.” I immediately jumped in and asked, “You  mean Catlyn Jenner?”. “No, haha, she  also one of the Kardashians”, she laughed at my ignorance, and wanting to cover up and show her that I knew something else, I was like  ‘oh, I only know Kim Kardashian’. She laughed again looking me into the eye with that assurance that I didn’t had to prove myself, it is okay was okay not to know.  I felt embarrassed for not knowing what was possibly supposed to the obvious. In my mind a loop had been created, "Who the hack is Kylie Jenner?"

“A lot of us as kids we look at her as beautiful and that is what beauty is”, Harmony continued.  “Social media is influencing us, but sadly a lot of those images on social are a result of a lot of photoshop. We know this as girls but it still affects us, but we still fall for it though we know  it's not real, they could even be plastic surgery. We lack good leaders who can influence us in being confident in ourselves and to love ourselves. But what I realized was that once I got to love myself everything around me changed for the better.”

“I think there was one show which made everybody feel good, we all felt treated equally. It is called Scad and oh, also Lam Tai college fashion show. They make all of us feel we were equal. And this is what we want as models. I won’t mention any names, but there are some shows that I felt left off because of my skin tone.  I love the other shows not because they made me feel beautiful but because they made me feel accepted. I felt beautiful as a result, even with my curly hair but it's beautiful.  I don't usually share with other models my struggles for two reasons: other non black models will not really understand what I am going through and also they really are not going to change what is happening in the industry. In the end I just have to believe in myself, work extra hard to show them how much can a black girl also give. Other models who are preferred because they are white  is not their fault, it's the industry, and they also can’t do anything about.”

I asked Harmony as to where she think she is as a model now and what keeps her going. “I am still on the shores in this industry, and I am hoping to get bigger with time, but what really keeps me going is that I see how blackness is viewed in Hong Kong and I am empowered to represent blackness and to show people that black beauty is a real thing.I hope people can come to realize that we all need to accept each other.

As black girls in Asia, we do not have that one black woman to look up to and  I hope I can be that girl to all the little black girls here who feel unwanted and forced to hate their skin. I hope to inspire them to realize that self-love is very important. It's better to love yourself then waiting for the society to be nice to you.


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