A black and white issue
According an article from Tune Groover, some of the most popular women’s fashion and beauty magazines are Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Essence, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Marie Claire, Redbook, Seventeen, Vanity Fair and Vogue. These magazines are influential in representing lifestyles, trends and news in the women’s fashion world. The November 2017 covers for these magazines tackle diversity in a way that has become all too common in American culture— by making it a black and white issue.
Half of the magazine covers for November 2017 feature women of color. Of these women, five are black or biracial with black and white ancestry and one (a very airbrushed and whitewashed Chrissy Teigen for InStyle) is biracial with one white parent and one Thai.
It is easy to look at these covers and believe that the media is improving on diversity. In an industry that was once almost entirely dominated by white representatives, we now see women of color on six of the twelve top selling magazines for the next month. The issue we run into all to often in America is viewing diversity as black and white. As if featuring individuals from both groups fills the quota, and the job is done.
The magazine covers for November 2017 do not feature any Latina women. There are no Middle Eastern women, Indian women, Native Americans and very minimal Asian representation. We have diversity in the sense that the cover models are not all white, but we are still greatly lacking.
Women’s fashion magazines are not the only media to struggle with this lack of diversity. The 2016 Oscar’s Awards featured several black and white nominees, but very few individuals of other races. Actress Octavia Spencer spoke to USA Today about the lack of diversity in the awards show.
“I don’t feel there’s a lot of diversity. There’s black and white. But there are a lot more people of color than African Americans. There’s so much more to diversity than being black or white” –Octavia Spencer
While this quote pertains to the award show, it rings true for the fashion and beauty world as well. We have made improvements in the representation of black women. It is in the representation of Latinas, Asians, Native Americans and Middle Eastern women that we still have work to do.
Women age, too!
A form of diversity far less discussed (and granted, arguably less important) than race is age. The women on the November 2017 covers range from age 17 (Yara Shahidi on the cover of Seventeen) to age 50 (Julia Roberts for Harper’s Bazaar and Laura Dern for Elle).
According the Fashion Spot, women age 50 and above were featured on 34 covers in 2016, which totaled approximately 5 percent of all bookings. With this statistic in mind, November of 2017 almost isn’t looking too shabby. There are two women age 50, and at least one— but usually two— from each decade before it down to age 17. It is in the push above 50 that we fall short.
If one were too look at only the fashion and beauty world, it would be easy to believe that women cease to exist after age 50. Thank goodness this isn’t the truth.
There are women in their fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties (hello, Betty White!) who are still prominent figures in the media. These women still do great work and are just as worth of magazine covers as their younger counterparts, but we simply don’t see them represented all that often.
The conversation about diversity in magazines is largely dominated by the lack of racial representation. It’s an important conversation to have, and I believe should be the most urgent issue we address in how women are represented. Beyond this, though, we can improve on diversity in age as well. There are women above 50 who do some pretty awesome things in society, and we have done a disservice by not showcasing them.