Ms. Dore assigned her Advanced Photography Seminar class a project called “What Do You Want to Be?” where they represented their aspirations in a body of images or a video. The students were able to show what they wanted to be as an emotion, an idea, or a future career. Jadeen Samuels’16 garnered a lot of interest around Hewitt for her spin on this assignment. The Hewitt Times spoke with Jadeen for more information about her project.
Hewitt Times: How did you take what Ms. Dore assigned in your own direction? What were you inspired by?
Jadeen Samuels: For the project, Ms. Dore asked us the question, “What Do You Want to Be?” My answer was that I wanted to be proud of what defines me. I struggled a bit with the first few rounds of photos because I knew that I wanted to focus on a more conceptual idea rather than a literal one. Eventually, I chose one of the biggest factors that defines me, not only to myself, but to society as a whole: my skin. Although I have learned to be comfortable in my skin, there are way too many women like me who are not. Society does not push them to think otherwise because it sticks to its old-fashioned and “culturally normal” idea of doing things. One of these things is the color nude. The question “What is Nude?” then popped into my head. I remembered a campaign from Nubian Skin a few years ago and realized how important it actually was. That is why I went out into the field of popular women’s clothing stores to document my experience through photos.
JS: After presenting my project to my class and hearing my friends’ opinions on the topic, I thought it was important to share beyond the Hewitt community. I wanted to explain my experience to speak up for those that are too afraid to speak for themselves. This issue is important to me because as a lighter-skinned black woman, I have had a different experience when it comes to my skin color than darker black women, white women, Hispanic and Latina women, lighter and darker Asian women, and many more. However, I can say that we all have to deal with all the enchantment as well as the grief that comes with simply being a woman. We all deserve the right to be heard, be comfortable, be confident, and be represented in ways that we feel define us as individuals.
Dear Victoria’s Secret,
I am a frequent customer at your stores. However, it has come to my attention that you sell “nude” and “light nude” bras, but do not sell any “dark nude/brown” ones. I am aware that you used to sell brown bras a few years ago, but they were discontinued due to the negative sales reactions. My name is Jadeen Samuels and I am a junior at The Hewitt School, an independent school for girls in Manhattan, New York. I am a third year photography student and I recently completed a project examining the misconceptions about what is nude when it comes to bras.
A few months ago, my teacher assigned my class the project, “What Do You Want to Be?” I focused on one of the biggest factors that define me, not only to myself, but to society as a whole: my skin. There are way too many ways to explain how this physical and social identifier has and may hold me back or push me further throughout my life. Although I support the movements of equality in my country and around the world, I am still fully comfortable being black. However, there are a multitude of women that look like me who are not comfortable in their own skin, and society does not push them to think otherwise because it sticks to its old-fashioned and “culturally normal” idea of doing things.
The question “What is Nude?” then popped into my head. I remembered a campaign from Nubian Skin a few years ago and just realized how powerful it actually was. The idea of nude bras that were the color of different black women’s skin then seemed normal and I felt proud.
Then to begin taking photographs for my project, I went into the field to gain some information firsthand. My first stop was Target. There I found a few brown bras. My next stop was Victoria’s Secret. Overwhelmed by the scents and the men shopping with their partners for Valentine’s Day, I asked an associate for help.
“Can you show me the brown bras?”
“We have a whole bunch of nude bras over here.” She then led me to the nude bras.
“No, like one that is my skin color brown.”
“We don’t sell those. They were discontinued years ago.”
“They were not popular amongst our shoppers. Only women with our skin color (she pointed to her and my friend’s dark-skinned hands) wanted to buy them.”
After this experience, my teacher and I did more research on the definition of nude. It is defined as “having no clothes on,” “of or involving people who have no clothes on,” “naked,” and “having the color of a white person’s skin” by Merriam- Webster. Then we went to Victoria’s Secret’s website and typed “brown” in the search bar. No results. Next we typed in “nude” and almost every result came up. When we examined the “nude” bras we discovered that there two types of “nude”): “light nude” and “nude” as defined by Victoria’s Secret were actually colors close to white. They did resemble the definition “naked,” but only for someone with lighter skin. What’s the harm of creating nudes for everyone?
We all deserve the right to be heard, be comfortable, be confident, and be represented in ways that we feel define us as individuals. Unfortunately, the shades do not match my skin, but the names tell me that they should. This makes me and women who look like me feel that we are outliers of the norm. That is why this project has fueled me to continue my research and to email you all today to explain my avocation for the return of brown bras, or simply the elimination of the word “nude” to describe the color of any bra in Victoria’s Secret stores. I look forward to hearing what steps you are going to take to solve this issue.