A picture is worth a thousand words

Many people characterize Washingtonians as living in a bubble. Maybe. But if we do, there is diversity in that bubble. I live in a section of Washington, DC —Capitol Hill, Ward 6— that is 45% African American, 42% white. When I walk through my neighborhood, I see people who look like me. Older African American women are among the early morning walkers, exercising around the park near my home. Some people appear to be Asian American or Latinx. There are people speaking languages I recognize, and many I don’t. There are young people pushing baby strollers and folks, young and old, on scooters and bikes and dining in outdoor restaurants. The diversity of my neighborhood is one of the many things I like about it.

Eastern Market
Capitol Hill neighbors at the Eastern Market flea market

It is true, Capitol Hill has become whiter over the years that I’ve lived here. Gentrification is a term used regularly when discussing my part of DC. Still, lately, I’ve noticed black and brown young couples also choosing to move into this community, not just white families. And while the economics of living in DC don’t make my neighborhood, or any other in DC, an ideal retirement community, about 34% of my neighbors are over age 45.

Regularly in the Capitol Hill Corner, an online neighborhood newsletter, you learn of new shops, restaurants, condo buildings, and grocery stores coming to the Hill. And this week, I learned of a new women’s clothing store moving into my neighborhood. That’s great, I thought and was excited until I clicked on the link to their website.

So glaringly unexpected, it took my breath away.  I had to look twice. There were 22 images on the opening page (yes, I went back and counted). Shocking in its whiteness, there was not one black or brown model. The models all presented as young, slim, and white. Judging by this store’s marketing message—conveyed by their images—I was definitely not their desired customer. Wow. I felt excluded. I was excluded.

I get it. This store is marketing to young women. As I reflected on it, I realized it wasn’t the lack of age range in the models or even the lack of varied body types I found so disturbing. It was the lack of Consumer-Response-Lack-Diversity-in-Ads-Sept2019racial diversity. When clothing stores and advertisers across the country are recognizing diversity in size, shape, age, and, of course, race, this store has stepped back in time. It seems entirely out of step with what I hope to see in my neighborhood.

So, I contacted the store with my concern. The owner responded in less than 24 hours. She noted that she was an immigrant and wrote: “I deeply value inclusivity and take pride in our mission and commitment to diversity — it’s the heart and core of our company.” She then referred me to the company’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Both sites had more diversity — nominally. But I stand by my initial reaction. What the owner says she values is not reflected in the primary image projected by the company, the home page of its website.

No, this store’s marketing is not a big deal in the fight for racial equity, but the look and feel of your neighborhood grows one business, one school, one grocery store, one family at a time. We are all responsible for taking steps, large and small, for building the racially just and welcoming community in which we want to live. Just a reminder: when you see something, say something.

P.S. — I don’t believe that public shaming is the most effective first strategy to affect change. For that reason, I chose not to mention the store’s name in this post. I hope that my note will open the eyes of the boutique owner, leading to new thinking and actions. I’ll let you know.

8 Replies to “A picture is worth a thousand words”

  1. My main reaction to this is: Did the owner even hint at taking your feedback seriously and making changes? We all need to be patient with mistakes and constructively help people change (e.g., your feedback and willingness to watch hopefully to see if it helped). I hope the owner had the wisdom to appreciate the time you took. Many wouldn’t take the time.

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  2. Bravo for contacting the store owner, gathering the information, and sharing your concerns with her. I think your decision to to avoid shaming the store shows restraint and class. Why don’t you offer to do some modeling for them ~ expanding their demographics to include “stylish women of a certain age” and a strong woman that reflects the diversity of your neighborhood.

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  3. Another thought-provoking blog, and an important concept that may be accidentally overlooked by business owners. I think it’s great that you took the time to talk to the owner. Hopefully, after the opening of the store has settled down, she will be able to address the website.
    Clearly there needs to be more diversity on websites but also more representation of the Baby Boomer generation. I second the suggestion by Barbara Brown….after all, you are a very talented woman, and you’ve had modeling experience!

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  4. Here is the correct version to post:

    I’d like to call the store and let them know I care about the images too. Not shaming, which you said you don’t support, but I’d like her to hear that I care about this as well. Images and words matter. A lot. Please let me know offline who to call – if you’re willing.

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  5. You would make a wonderful teacher for businesses and Chambers of Commerce! While this commentary as a stand alone may not manifest as a big deal in the fight for racial equality, it’s the widening lens and zeroed in optics shared that is so impactful. I hope the store owner gets it, too.

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