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Invisible Beauty

Bethann Hardison stepped into the fashion world by chance but dominated it with purpose. The subject (and co-director) of filmmaker Frédéric Tcheng’s (“Dior and I,” “Halston”) newest documentary, “Invisible Beauty,” Hardison has proven to be an icon across all avenues, from model to agent to activist. With archival footage and photographs, personal testimonies, and day-to-day documentation during this film's making, “Invisible Beauty” paints a full portrait of fashion’s indelible figure.

In the first few minutes of "Invisible Beauty," the magnitude of the celebrities who hail her—Zendaya, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tyson Beckford, Whoopi Goldberg—instantly points to a career of influence. They dedicate the world to her, from their careers to the whole state of fashion itself. Even as we watch the documentary, with recorded phone calls of Hardison discussing her opinions on the film’s format, we’re served a meta reminder that her hand is perpetually at play. While today we don’t blink twice at racial diversity and inclusion in fashion and beauty campaigns worldwide, the industry Hardison stepped into was homogenous, white, and guarded.

Hardison had no problem taking the reins in white-dominated spaces. When desegregation bussing began, she was selected to go to a new integrated high school. She became the first Black cheerleader, joined clubs and organizations, and cemented her spot as a figure in the school, just as she would in the global fashion industry.

Starting off working in the garment district in the 1960s, Hardison was discovered on the street by fashion designer Willi Smith. Eventually, she transferred to print and runway—befriending icon Iman in the process. And while Hardison saw success, it was measured against the swaths of white models who worked more, earned more, and were respected more. Her presence as a Black androgynous model was a shift, but she knew she was a drop in the pond of deserved but underserved Black women in fashion. This prompted her to start her own modeling agency and co-found the Black Girls Coalition with Iman to advocate for better representation and address racial pay disparities. 

“Invisible Beauty” paints Hardison as a stubborn force and looks at her from every direction. It lauds her without pedestalizing. She is a fabulous and flawed human subject, not a symbol with the cracks glossed over. The film points to how her determination and unmoveable grit in fighting for change shifted a rigid industry and how it came at a cost to her personal relationships. While supermodel Naomi Campbell tearfully declares her as a mother figure, her son, actor Kadeem Hardison, sighfully notes her absence and cold support. Hardison herself contributes to the conversation, adding to the film’s (and the subject’s) authenticity. She notes her stoic “momager” attitude, noting Kadeem’s room for improvement rather than pridefully congratulating him on his successes. 

“Invisible Beauty” is a full, immortalized image of Hardison’s influence, her no-nonsense approach, and the love and power of one woman’s desire to thrust the beauty of Blackness out of the shadow cast by the mainstream. And while she revolutionized the industry, she paved the way for a new generation of fashion activists to continue. Aurora James, a Canadian designer, is an activist who now advocates for Black women to be on a label’s board, not just in their advertising. 

In capturing Hardison's breakthrough as a model to her trailblazing as an activist, “Invisible Beauty” is profoundly inspiring and thoroughly adoring. Her impact is impossible to overlook, from the industry’s biggest names to the normalization and demand for diversity in fashion. With intimate interviews with colleagues, friends, family, and the woman herself, “Invisible Beauty” expertly highlights the origin and legacy of a woman who is arguably fashion’s most vital figure. 

Now playing in theaters. 

Peyton Robinson

Peyton Robinson is a freelance film writer based in Chicago, IL. 

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Film Credits

Invisible Beauty movie poster

Invisible Beauty (2023)

Rated NR

115 minutes

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