In her article "Polishing Brown Diamonds,” Laila Haidarali addresses, as the subtitle indicates, the postwar advent of African American women’s modeling, particularly in popular magazines. Haidarali shows how the newly developed niche of photographic magazines , such as Ebony, geared to African American audiences grew alongside directing consumer products toward the so-called “Negro market.” As advertising played a key role in selling images and merchandise, a need for Black models was identified. As modeling professionalized for African American women, a “polished” image of dark-skinned beauty was standardized—a concept known as “Brownskin” beauty. The article details the role of charm schools and modeling agencies in smoothing a woman’s supposed rough edges to bring about this new ideal.
Haidarali focuses on the multi-faceted contradictions that models encountered as well as the growth of the magazine industry. On the one hand, a smooth, upscale vision of Black women challenged white stereotypes of minority femaleness. On the other hand, although such magazines were oriented toward Black consumers, the aesthetic was often tailored to coordinate, rather than overthrow, mainstream expectations. She also shows how the growth of modeling as a profession advanced alongside the expansion of a Black middle class. While this model of success had special significance for African Americans, the values promoted also resonated with the domestication of women, promotion of motherhood and housewifery, and consumer revolution that characterized the postwar years. In the magazines’ crucial early years, the promotion of respectability and conformity largely corresponded with avoidance of “political” themes, such as civil rights.