Nicole Fox strikes a pose on "America's Next Top Model." Photo courtesy of The CW

Continuing the resurgence of a makeup practice long considered taboo, "America's Next Top Model" featured a number of models painted with dark makeup to resemble bi-racial women.

On the episode, which aired tonight (Oct. 28), host Tyra Banks said the goal was to create an editorial celebration of the "Hapa" (that's Hawaiian for mixed-race) children of immigrants who relocated to Hawaii to work as sugar cane farmers in the mid-19th century. Barack Obama is the most famous Hapa.

Banks tasked models with interpreting exotic racial combinations like "Russian-Moroccan," "Native American-East Indian," and "Botswanan-Polynesian," photographing them herself in the green reeds of a sugar plantation on the island of Maui.


The models -- Jennifer An, Nicole Fox, Laura Kirkpatrick, Sundai Love, Brittany Markert and Erin Wagner -- were styled in clothing stereotypical to the ethnicities they were asked to portray. For example, Markert, who was "Native American-East Indian," was dressed in a feathered headdress and a sari. And Love, as a "Russian-Morrocan" was styled with Russian Ushanka hat and a large walking stick.

Then, the models were sent to makeup, where each was painted with varying degrees of dark body makeup to match the perceived skin tone of the corresponding race they were conveying.

This is the second time models have been shown in dark makeup in recent weeks.
French Vogue photographed model Lara Stone in blackface for its October issue, which was particularly disturbing because the offending pictures were part of an issue celebrating models, but had nary a black model in the magazine.

Instead, they chose to paint a blonde model black in a botched attempt to squeeze out a drop of artistic diversity.

Currently, out of "America's Next Top Model's" six remaining contestants, one is black, one is Asian and four are Caucasian. The show started out with four black models in a group of 14.

We asked experts to weigh in on the issue. Here's what they had to say:

Susan Stiffelman, Marriage and Family therapist and author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: "While the images shown on 'America's Top Model' were interesting and compelling, our culture is still quite young in terms of its ethnic maturity. Promoting women of color in traditional -- stereotypical -- attire and settings may have been motivated by a desire to celebrate diversity, but the photo shoot runs the risk of perpetuating stereotypes that women have long been working to dismantle.

"It's especially important to consider the effect on young women (the show's primary viewers) of having Caucasian models made up to simulate women of color, rather than having -- well, women of color being celebrated for their beauty. It could be considered a rather significant throwback to a time when people of African descent were excluded from mainstream theater and the arts, with white actors and performers substituted, with blackface.

Jennifer An in a headdress on "America's Next Top Model." Photo: Courtesy of The CW


"I would hope that a program that showcases the extraordinary beauty of women from every background would emphasize the beauty of each individual with the unique features, coloring and characteristics they were born with. This helps young girls and women embrace their own look, rather than fueling their desire to look like someone other than themselves."

Deborah Padilla, New York City Makeup Artist: "I think Tyra was using it as a platform to bring awareness to the issue, and not be offensive. There was an obvious theme. I thought she came up with a concept and executed it. The pictures were beautiful! But it's so easily for these things to get lost in translation.

"But I find it weird and question the motive of the photographer who shot the issue of French Vogue. The aim was to celebrate black models. So, why not use models of color? They are tons that are readily available. It's like a slap in the face. To not use black models and use blackface puts a different spin that makes it weird."

What do you think? Did you find this episode offensive? Was it in poor taste to feature models in dark makeup or was it all in the name of celebrating diversity? Take the poll, and leave a comment!