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“Caribbean Fashion Week: Remodeling Beauty in “Out of Many One” Jamaica”

by Carolyn Cooper

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The elitist Jamaican motto, “Out of Many, One People,” privileges racial hybridity as the quintessential marker of national identity. Conversely, populist constructions of Jamaican identity acknowledge the primacy of the African majority. The “mixed-race” ideal inscribed in the national motto becomes the aesthetic standard for judging “beauty” and “ugliness.” Beauty contests, for example, become sites of contestation in which competing representations of the face of the nation jostle for recognition. Identifying with marginalized African-Jamaican aspirants who often fail to win these competitions, discontented patrons routinely claim the right to assert alternative models of beauty that challenge the authority of the “out of many one” aesthetic. The emergence of a modeling industry in Jamaica that valorizes idiosyncratic style has opened up a space in which black images of beauty take center stage. Caribbean Fashion Week is the major platform for displaying internationally acclaimed Jamaican models. Showcasing a high percentage of decidedly black male and female models wearing spectacular designer clothes, Caribbean Fashion Week enables multiple readings of the body as cultural text.

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