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Critics Pan French Mag's 'African Queen' Spread With Darkened White Model

ABC News' Deborah Roberts, Jennifer Pereira and Suzan Clarke report:

A French magazine has come under fire after it darkened the skin of a white U.S. model and photographed her for an editorial spread titled "African Queen."

The magazine in question is Numéro, and the model in the spread from the March issue was Ondria Hardin.

Images of the spread that have been picked up on many websites show the normally pale-skinned Hardin with her entire body dramatically darkened. She poses in a variety of costumes that are at times accessorized with elaborate head wraps and heavy jewelry.

Critics were quick to bash Numéro, many questioning why it could not have used a black model. Black models are underrepresented in the industry.

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In a blog on Jezebel, a website that focuses primarily on women's issues, Laura Beck wrote: "Maybe it's because the magazine just couldn't find a black model? Maybe there are none, and it's just not a profession that appeals to anyone but young, tall, skinny, white girls? They're probably the only ones who enjoy traveling around the world and getting paid tons of money to be pretty?"

Former model Cynthia Bailey, who is black, told ABC News that she thought the model was simply bronzed until she read the title of the editorial.

"That's when I questioned, is this a black girl? Or is this a white girl? Once they decided to make the concept of the story 'African Queen' there are so many beautiful African-American models or African models that they could have used for the story," added Bailey, who runs the Bailey Agency School of Fashion in Atlanta.

The magazine issued a lengthy statement to the media in which it apologized for any offense but strongly denied the allegation of racism or racial insensitivity.

The spread was the "artistic statement" of photographer Sebastian Kim and was in line with his previous photographic creations that insisted on the melting pot and mix of cultures, "the exact opposite of any skin color based discrimination," the statement said.

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The magazine also said it has always supported the artistic freedom of photographers who worked to illustrate its pages, adding that it did not take part in the creation process of this particular editorial.

Saying it had regularly demonstrated its deep attachment to the promotion of "different skin-colored models," the statement added that upcoming issues of Numéro Russian magazine would feature Naomi Campbell on the cover and its Numéro for Men issue would have Fernando Cabral on the cover.

Campbell and Cabral are black.

"This demonstrates the completely inappropriate nature of the accusations made against our magazine, deeply committed to the respect for differences, tolerance and more generally to non-discrimination," the statement said.

Photographer Kim issued his own statement to ABC News in which he also apologized for any misunderstanding resulting from the spread, but said he never intended to portray a black woman in the editorial.

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The shoot was based on 1960s style icons such as Talitha Getty, Verushka and Marissa Berenson, but with Middle Eastern and Moroccan fashion as the inspiration, Kim said.

"We at no point attempted to portray an African women by painting her skin black. We wanted a tanned and golden skin to be showcased as part of the beauty aesthetic of this shoot. It saddens me that people would interpret this as a mockery of race," he wrote.

"I believe that the very unfortunate title 'African Queen' (which I was not aware of prior to publication) did a lot to further people's misconceptions about these images. It was certainly never my intention to mock or offend anyone and I wholeheartedly apologize to anyone who was offended."

Hardin's agency, DNA Models, issued its own statement in which it said Hardin does not control the creative outcome of a shoot for which she poses. It also said the headline of the story was the sole responsibility of the magazine.

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