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Black Beauty Pioneers: 70s Bald Model Pat ‘Running Bear’ Evans — Radical Agitator & Ohio Players Album Cover Girl
MODEL PAT EVANS was catapulted to success in the 70s Blaxploitation era. But fashion's rejection of her bald-headed beauty brought her career to an abrupt end. By Ben Arogundade. Mar.16.2021.
BALDHEAD BEAUTY: 70s fashion model Pat Evans was the one of the stand out beauties of the Blaxploitation era. Of African American and Native American ancestry, she protested against the industry’s racism. Photographs by Anthony Barboza.
70s FASHION MODEL Pat Evans was born in Sugar Hill, New York City. She is of African American and Native American heritage — a mix of Nanticoke Lenape and Cherokee. She is also known by her tribal name, “Running Bear”. Evans started off as a dancer with Nigerian percussionist, Olatunji at the tender age of 16. At the time she had long, straight hair, and he persuaded her to cut it into a short crop for his energetic live performances.
She was still sporting this look in 1969 when she was spotted in New York’s Washington Square Park — where fellow black fashion model Tyson Beckford was also discovered — and invited to test with a local photographer. She then took the resulting pictures around to the city’s model agents. She was turned down by specialist black agency, Black Beauties, but was finally taken on by Stewart Models, a white women's model agency that represented British supermodel, Twiggy amongst their roster. “I thought there was no way I would get in there,” Evans recalled. “But they took me the same day. Aside from Twiggy, I was the highest paid model at the agency.”
MODEL PAT EVANS HEAD TURN
But from the very beginning Evans was troubled by the model industry’s pre-occupation with straight hair, and the pressure placed upon women of colour to conform to white beauty values. She decided to make the strongest aesthetic protest she could — by shaving her head bald. But with a failed marriage behind her and two small children to support, Evans still had to work, and so she wore a wig to her modelling castings instead. “As a black model in this game you cannot be yourself,” she said. “Leave those cornrows and bald heads at home. Straighten your hair and carry your “natural” in your pocket book.”
PAT EVANS HAPPY ACCIDENT
One day, at a go-see for a Stephen Burrows runway show, Evans’s wig accidentally slipped off while she was trying on a dress, revealing her bald head. But Burrows liked the look so much that he asked the young model to keep it for the show. “I said, ‘My agency would fire me if I take this wig off,’” Evans recalled. “But I did it.”
OHIO PLAYERS ALBUM COVERS
After the show the bald-headed beauty became an instant hit. “I did all the TV shows, all the magazines,” she said. “People were coming from Japan and Germany to photograph me.” She appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and became the face of Astarté, a line of cosmetics for black women. She was also adopted as the muse of R‘n’B band the Ohio Players, who featured her on the covers of their suggestively titled albums “Ecstasy”, “Pleasure”, “Pain”, “Climax” and “Orgasm”.
HEAD MODEL OUT
But suddenly, just as Evans was at the peak of her success, she dramatically pulled out of modelling. In January 1974 she published a scathing article in Essence magazine attacking the industry’s racism and its discrimination against black women and their beauty values, lambasting not only white advertisers, but also black models and black photographers along the way. “The black model business is like slave trading — only more refined,” she said. “Black models rely on white agencies. When you go to a white agency, nine times out of ten you are turned down because your features aren’t perfect, or you look like some other black model in their agency. Yet, in one agency, they will have at least 85 per cent white models that look alike. One well-known agency continues to tell girls, ‘If we take on another black girl, it will be a black agency.’”
The piece effectively ended her career. The end of the article read, “Pat Evans, a model, is no longer affiliated with any modelling agency.” She quit, reinventing herself as a stylist and make-up artist. In 1980 she briefly opened her own agency, Pat Evans Models, one of the first to promote Asian and Hispanic beauties amongst its roster. But it closed soon after.
Hi there. I am a London-based author, journalist and broadcaster. Pat Evans features in my illustrated book, ‘Black Beauty’, released in 2000 (now sold out). Discover more about me and my work at Ben Arogundade bio.
ON THE COVERS: 70s model muse Pat Evans graces the covers of the Ohio Players albums, Ecstasy, Orgasm, Pain and Pleasure.
ECSTASY, BY THE OHIO PLAYERS, featuring Pat Evans on the sleeve
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