I recently asked AussieBum, the men’s underwear and swimwear label, on their Facebook page why all of their models appear to be white. AussieBum never replied, and I thought that would be the end of it.
And then the internet went crazy. My post was flooded with likes and comments, it sparked a heated, sometimes ugly, debate, and it got others asking: Why are all their models white? Why no Asian, black or brown Aussie bums, AussieBum?
The reason this is irksome is because few brands are as tethered to promoting the ideal of Aussie-ness as AussieBum. The company routinely utilises Australian icons in photoshoots: lifesavers, Akubra hats, surfers, shearers, flannel shirts, cheekiness and so on (the last link is nsfw but you can guess what’s there).
Some of these images are drawn from the idea of the "bronzed Aussie" and they date from an era before Australia was multicultural, a time when Australia was vehemently anti-multicultural. But is their whiteness still intrinsic to their Aussie-ness? AussieBum is willing to tweak these icons to make them gayer. Why isn’t it willing to tweak them to make them racially diverse? Simply put, AussieBum is in the business of selling Aussie-ness, and the fact that AussieBum’s vision of Aussie-ness seems to be exclusively white is troubling.
Further, it is a shame that a brand associated with beach culture would depict our beaches as a whites-only landscape, because it is on our beaches that racism and white privilege is a particular problem. The Cronulla riots are an obvious example, but everyday on our beaches a punch or slur is thrown at an Aussie of colour, who then has to make extra effort and spend extra money to travel to a beach where they will not be harassed. ("Un-Australian" is not a great term, but I can’t think of anything more un-Australian than making someone have to pay extra, and work harder, to enjoy the beach). It would be nice if swimwear brands like AussieBum made an effort to show a diversity of Aussies enjoying our beaches.
Alright, Jeremy Fernandez, take it down a notch, I hear you say. This is not your Rosa Parks moment and it is not a huge outrage worthy of a big crusade. It’s drop in the ocean sort of stuff. And you are right. Any effect that AussieBum’s imagery has on its audience is intangible, and marginal at best. But the problem of racism and white privilege in Australia is cultural. And the problem with culture is that it is not one simple glob that can be fixed with one simple blow. Aussie Culture does not come with a vulnerable thermal exhaust port you can just fly a tie fighter into. Instead, our culture is made up of millions of small parts, and AussieBum is just one of them. To change the problematic aspects of our culture has to be done one small part at a time.
And the thing is? What I am suggesting — for AussieBum to add some Asian, black and brown Aussies into the mix — is not a big deal. And I am sure a lot of "ethnic-looking" models, often overlooked, would appreciate the work. If it is a big deal, and it is something that makes AussieBum or their audience uncomfortable or feel the need to fight against, then that really does suggest a racism/white privilege problem. If AussieBum wants to argue that adding diverse models stifles them artistically or commercially, then they can let me know. I am still eager to hear from them.
If you would also like AussieBum to reply to these concerns, contact them via their Facebook page.
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