Joan Smalls is one of the industry’s top earners ($4.5 million this year), landing on Forbes’ highest paid models list. But although she walks plenty more runways than most of the other models on the roster, her earnings can be attributed in large part to an Estee Lauder contract that dates back to 2010 and numerous clothing campaigns from high end designers to streetwear brands but apparently there’s one area she just can’t seem to break into; hair campaigns.

During a BoF Voices panel on diversity in modeling hosted by Tim Blanks, Smalls and transgender model Hari Nef went in depth about the discrimination they’ve faced in the industry over the years. The 28-year-old who’s highly sought after — and just walked in her seventh Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for the record — shared:

“I’ve always had a struggle trying to get a hair campaign. It’s mind-boggling. I’ve been on option, and they dropped me at the last minute. And the excuse was, ‘We were afraid to try something new.’ And by ‘new,’ they meant ‘We’ve never shot a black girl.’”

Like many African American actors and actresses who are told they can’t take in an international audience at the box office, Smalls shared she’s often been included and excluded from certain campaigns depending on the region of the world where the images will be used.

“For campaigns, it’s like, ‘Okay, Joan’ll do this region, but in the group shot, Joan, you are excluded because you don’t sell, you don’t fit in that quota,’” she explained. And even when Smalls was chosen for campaigns, she never understood why she was often the only nonwhite model. “I was like damn. I saw a lot of beautiful women that fit a different description. Why are they not here? Why are they not being represented? They are your consumer, so why not paint that beautiful picture?”

What are your thoughts on Joan’s difficulty landing hair campaigns? Surprising or no?

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