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Beauty Politics and Why I Started Lorde Inc.

I’m often asked why I started Lorde Inc. and the stock answer goes something like, “I guess it mostly came out of feeling like a lot of my contemporaries were infrequently including models of color.” And although that’s true, it’s a boiled down version of what really motivated me to start Lorde Inc.

Lorde Inc. was originally a friend’s idea. We started working on the project together but he quickly got too busy and it became my baby. When he first texted me saying “We should start an entirely People of Color modeling agency,” I didn’t know if he was serious or not but I was very down. I had already been coming up with ideas for visuals and models I wanted to shoot with but didn’t really have a reason to, and this was the perfect project. I wanted to shoot with models that are my friends, people that I think have extremely beautiful looks, but are often overlooked or aren’t the type of people you would normally see in a fashion setting. It’s important to know that this wasn’t something that I was pursuing because I felt like it gave my work an edge. I often find that stylists choose to work with models of color or cast non-conventional models for a sort of edge, that spice factor. I started casting models of color, models that look like my friends and I, because it’s a social injustice that we don’t see more of these faces more often. I was and am furious that models of color make up a dismal amount of models presenting at fashion weeks when some of the most outstandingly beautiful people I know are people of color. It just doesn’t make sense.

Evy at Lorde Inc.’s Canada Roster

Shortly after I just signed a new model, she made a post on Instagram about what Lorde Inc. meant to her and one of the things she mentioned was, “It’s bigger than feelin pretty—it needs to become normal to see identities that are not white/ablebodied/skinny/cisgender repped in our culture”. And I completely agree with her. One of the motivations to start the agency was to try to normalize viewing non-white bodies on a regular basis but I started to think more about it being “bigger than feelin pretty” ’cause to me, the motivation has always been to feel pretty. Feeling pretty in a lot of ways can be synonymous with normality and when you’re constantly made to feel different, like you don’t belong, like you’re the Other, how is it possible to feel like you have any right to be beautiful? Beauty isn’t something that inherently belongs to people of color, not in the same way it does to white people. White women often disagree with me because they feel that they also deal with body image issues and at times they don’t feel inherently beautiful either. I completely agree, that aspect of sexism is certainly there. There is a specific type of pressure women have to uphold a certain standard of beauty. But the relationship between being a person of color and feeling beautiful is not the same thing. As long as we have dark skin, coarse hair, or flat eyelids society will keep telling us to bleach our skin, straighten our hair and widen our eyes. There are multi-million dollar industries that exist to erase POC features—to make us more white.

Tiph at Lorde Inc. NYC Roster

I guess in some ways Lorde Inc. started as a proclamation for me to say, I am beautiful! and to show that I know this is a feeling I’m entitled to. I’m sure by looking at any photo of me you’d be like, What? How could Nafisa never see herself as beautiful? But realistically, I haven’t really, like many other women and men of color. This is a feeling we have to fight for. Something like Blackout Day on Tumblr is extremely powerful because it’s a direct form of resistance. Proving that black people are going to express how beautiful they want to feel despite what society normalizes. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the idea of beauty and desirability politics because it’s made me think about how I’ve had terrible experiences with white men as a woman of color. I’ve fallen for white dudes (like, too many white dudes) and I’ve always ended these relationships feeling like I was an experiment. As Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff debriefs in her article Women of Color get No Love on Tinder, “Out of the hundreds of conversations I’ve had on the app, about half of them have involved a man tokenizing me for my ethnicity”. Chong-suk Han explains a similar feeling as a gay Asian male in the queer scene in his essay They Don’t Want to Cruise Your Type: Gay Men of Color and the Racial Politics of Exclusion. I know that I’ve obviously wasted my time on the wrong dudes, but the point is that I have to sift through the dudes that call me Indian princess, hold my hand just to ogle at the contrast of the color of my skin, and tell me, “you should act more Indian” (literally, yes, this has happened).

I started Lorde Inc. because I wanted to draw attention to representation. But mostly, I started Lorde Inc. because I wanted to make a point that People of Color are people too. We’re not a monolith, your fetish, your type. And not only did I want to draw attention to how beautiful we are, I wanted to make a point that we shouldn’t need to have to keep fighting to prove that.