On Styled Shoots, Exclusivity and Exploitation

The wedding industry is overwhelmingly white. In the Twin Cities, attend any workshop or networking event; scroll through vendor Instagram accounts and industry hashtags; flip through Minnesota Bride Magazine — it’s a sea of white people with the occasional exception. It’s a thin, white woman with a thin white man most of the time.

How can we be an industry revolving around love and be so harmfully exclusive?


Before I start sharing my own voice, I want to point you to two really important and wonderful resources and urge you to sign the first and to register for the second.

1. Sok Vision, Model Paper and Team’s Inclusivity Pledge for Wedding Vendors, Brands, & Publications

2. Celisia Stanton‘s webinar on June 30th: “More than a Moment Masterclass: How to build sustainable anti-racist practices in your wedding biz”


I’m a white girl. I date guys. I can find my clothing size at pretty much every store. Other than feeling perhaps a bit more round and plain than the people who grace magazine covers, I have never struggled to see myself positively represented in the beauty (or wedding) industry like so many other people have for all their lives.

Queer couples, Trans folks, gender-nonconforming people; couples who are Black, Indigenous or people of color; people with disabilities; fat folks — are are left behind by the media. Positive representations of anyone other than conventionally “beautiful” white people are lacking. The wedding industry is very guilty of this.

After George Floyd’s murder and the national uprising against police brutality and systemic racism, more white people in this industry are speaking up. Everyone is at a different point in their learning journey and recognition of white supremacy. And, we white people, are all too late. I am, was – too late. A flurry of resources have been circulating, brands are being called out, white businesses are making promises to donate, learn, listen, act, change…. I need to step it up, you need to step it up – we all do.

One thing I am sure will result of this is a change in the way wedding vendors conduct styled shoots. I want to share a little about my journey into these types of photoshoots and pass along some things to consider.

My first year in business, I said yes to any opportunity for a photo collaboration that came my way. I got galleries back, began posting… and noticed my feed was becoming that harmful kind of repetitive; I was sharing images of people who looked like most models – cis white women with smaller bodies. Anyone who didn’t look like that wouldn’t be receiving the message “You belong here” or “You are beautiful, magical, holy” — and that’s my goal. But instead, I was upholding white supremacy; plain and simple. I decided to make guidelines for accepting and rejecting asks to collaborate and began saving money for a photoshoot of my own to disrupt this pattern.

So in two years of working on this, resolving to put helpful vs harmful images into a world over-saturated and obsessed with whiteness, I’ve taken what I’ve learned from Queer communities, people of color, folks with disabilities, Trans and non-binary people, and Black voices and applied it to styled shoots (though I acknowledge I need to, can and will do better). Here are some thoughts:

Pay Black and Indigenous women, and women of color for their time, creativity, resources and talent.

If your shoot “doesn’t have a budget,” then you shouldn’t be asking BIPOC folks to be a part of it (which in my opinion means you shouldn’t be planning one). Some people will disagree with me. I am echoing what I have heard BIPOC womxn say. If they want to collaborate, offer your service at no charge, give them a giftcard to a BIPOC shop or maker, something.

To ask a non-white person to work for free so that your brand or feed can look “diversified” is exploitation. Maryann Reid writes on Forbes that “Black women are paid 21% less than white women.” And on top of that, 80% of Black women bring in the main source of income in their households. So the money that our businesses have, as white women, have room to pay Black women and other non-white people. The fact that we even have these businesses is proof enough of that claim. We pay for all kinds of meaningless crap like branded pens and fancy coffee. Time to re-prioritize.

Porte Model Agency is a BIPOC centered model and talent agency founded by my friend Vanessa Lawson; you could start there when planning your next shoot.

Hire Black and dark-skinned photographers and begin learning about both the racist history of color film as well as how to properly photograph different skin tones yourself.

Syreeta McFadden, Black writer, editor and photographer, offers a wealth of insight and history in this Buzzfeed article “Teaching The Camera To See My Skin: Navigating photography’s inherited bias against dark skin.” Here’s a six minute interview between her and NPR on the subject as well.

Erica Marlene, a photographer based in San Diego and owner of SoCal Standard, has created an amazing course called Light + Melanin to discuss race and photography. The video series will be released soon! You can read more and sign up here for updates.

When planning a Queer shoot, find a Queer couple (and vendors!)

Don’t toss two women models together for a “Pride shoot.” To ask people outside a community to play roles like actors, to falsely represent someone, for the purpose of “representation” feels like a serious insult. It is certainly disingenuous. I would call it exploitation.

I’ve also heard from people who have had terrible experiences with wedding vendors… can you imagine planning this beautiful celebration only to have that process interrupted by being ignored or feeling unwelcome?

Be cognizant that some folks’ experiences with hair and makeup and in salons are very, very different than our own, and their humanity and comfort is what matters most.

Many Trans folks, Black people with natural hair, or folks with dark skin tones have had unpleasant experiences in white or mainstream salons. Below is an excerpt from Funmi Fetto‘s piece in the Guardian called “The Beauty Industry is Still Failing Black Women”:

“At a recent beauty industry dinner, I complimented a fellow editor on her hair. She told me she’d just had it done at a high profile salon loved, lauded and frequented by every beauty editor I know. I had never been, I admitted. Another editor overheard and was aghast. “What! You’ve never been?” she said. In my head, I responded: “I can barely find suitable hair products from mainstream hair brands, let alone finding ‘white’ salons or stylists to cater for my hair. Most approach my coily texture with trepidation, as if a pet alien has just sprouted from my scalp. Or they view it as an unruly beast that requires bashing into submission. Or, I’m simply turned away. And so for the sake of my self and hair preservation, I now stick to black-hair stylists, or those situated in so-called ethnic areas, who don’t find my hair such a terrifying aberration.”

“But I didn’t say that, because I didn’t have the energy. I have had these conversations many times before. They are exhausting. So instead I simply shrugged and said: “I don’t go because they don’t do Afro hair.” “Oh,” she mused, “I never thought about that.” Of course she hadn’t. This is an advantage afforded by white privilege. It is a small privilege, but a privilege nonetheless. It is a privilege I don’t have. So, despite the current talk of diversity and inclusivity, I am constantly reminded we are not there yet.”

…So ask models if they have preferred hair and makeup vendors; have a conversation about it; be willing to let go of control of whatever “look” you as a white person has picked out for someone of a different culture. Seek out Trans, Queer, Black stylists (and not just for Trans, Queer, and Black models). Choose a muah and then ask if they have a client who might make a good model…there are different ways to make sure that this interaction feels safe and joyful for both parties.

Make sure the venue is going to be a safe(r) place for everyone on your team.

Ask your venue about accessibility (are there stairs, elevators, etc.) and if there are gender-neutral bathrooms. Make sure you send this information out to your team ahead of time or when you’re asking folks to be a part of the project (I learned this practice from MN artist Heather C. Lou and fermenter/activist Pickle Witch when Support Local Hustle BIPOC market was still happening). If you’re working with a new vendor and aren’t sure where they stand, ask them what steps they take to work against racism, homophobia, and transphobia – their answers will hopefully let you know if you should or shouldn’t be working with them.


As far as Twin Cities BIPOC Wedding Vendors: Ergo Floral has a neat Instagram post compiling many Black-owned wedding businesses in the Twin Cities. Below is a list of Twin Cities BIPOC florists I know of:

Muse Flora, Medusa Botanica, Party Girl LLC , NuNu Decor, Bouquets by Carolyn

These lists will be a work in progress, and I hope you expand on them in the future to include Queer and Trans-owned or staffed salons, etc. You can always comment below or message me with additions and edits.

Photo Credit: Feature Image on main page is of Vanessa Lawson, taken by Brittany Nash of ID Photography, makup by BreezyMakeupArt at Studio Apparatus, with florals by me.