Magazines: Colored Ink, Only White Models

A good magazine cover is like a piece of art. It stops you in your tracks, whether it’s cradled in a busy Times Square magazine kiosk or buried under stacks in an extensive bookstore. The very best thing about finding a beautiful magazine—one with perfect features, engrossing articles and captivating fashion editorials—is the knowledge that you can actually walk away with it; it doesn’t need to remain hanging on a wall.

I know I’ve found a keeper when the cover model speaks to me. I’ll have a terrible time deciding whether to buy two copies: one that I can keep in pristine condition and the other with which to tear out my favorite editorials and pictures for my inspiration board and scrapbooks.

One of my favorite Instagram accounts is
@Fashion_Mags, which exclusively posts magazine covers from around the
world, ranging from the obscure
indies Violet and Porter to obvious picks Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar

Scrolling through the photo stream the other day, I noticed a common pattern, although one not altogether surprising. Most of the cover models
were white, and either American or European. This
was standard across the board, regardless of the magazines’ publishing and distributing locations.

Don’t get me wrong; Kate Moss, Karlie Kloss, Coco
Rocha, Jessica Chastain and Nadja Auermann can do awesome work on their
cover shoots, but let’s be honest: The only true diversity among these faces is
that Jessica has red hair and is an actress instead of a model. The part
that really stung was that even in China, Japan, Korea, Brazil and
India, magazines seem to show only white models, actors and musicians on their
covers. 

When magazines in these countries do publish cover models of color, they are usually the most fantasized, and in some instances, fetishized versions
of what the Western world would prefer an Indian or Korean woman to look like.
Most models are not dark skinned—the darkest most magazines seem to be willing to go
is the likes of Naomi Campbell or Liya Kebede.

The unwillingness of magazine publishers
to portray cover models with darker skin colors, curvier
bodies, natural hair and un-surgically enhanced faces effectively silences and shames the exploration
of beauty found in all cultures. It also supports the rise
of advertisements found plastered on rural and city billboards advertising lightening creams, hair
relaxers and surgical enhancements. The ideals held high by such magazine covers have a deep and impressionable effect on a woman’s subconscious. I can
attest to this fact; I still (regrettably) question
if I’m good enough because I don’t meet the standards that are staring me in
the face.

Let’s take a quick look at the covers for the month of
November. W magazine features Kate
Moss, Lara Stone, Daria Werbowy and two other less famous models, all of whom are white. There is one black model on the “third” cover, where you will often find the models of color—a frequent magazine tactic. Presumably because such women don’t sell as well but are still talented, they are slapped on the third
cover, tucked in accordion-style behind the first page. 

Malibu features Barbara Palvin, a white woman. T, the style magazine of The New York Times, features Channing Tatum, who, while divine, is still white, and still proves my point. 

Let’s keep
going: Elle Poland, Out, Violet,
Harper’s Bazaar Germany, Glamour Germany, Glitter Japan, Elle
Netherlands, Maxim, Elle Russia, Vogue UK, Elle UK, Harper’s Bazaar Australia, Elle France, the list goes on. Common
denominator: Not a single magazine in this list features anyone but white
people! 

November marks Elle Japan’s
25th anniversary. Anniversaries are big regardless of the specific occasion, whether it be a
50-year wedding anniversary or successfully surviving rent in NYC for a
month. Anniversaries in the fashion world are no exception—these folks love a
good party. To celebrate, Elle Japan
hosted a variety of parties and created a special magazine to mark the
milestone. 

I would think that the editor-in-chief and creative director would
want to chose someone who exemplifies Japan’s current fashion, cinematic or arts scene, but no—they decided to grace the cover with a no-name white model. The model does, in fact, have a name—Hollie May Saker to be specific—but
she isn’t in the high-fashion wolf pack like Cara Delevingne or Karlie
Kloss. 

Is it too far-fetched to think that Elle Japan would want to celebrate the
achievements of its own culture? Personally, if it were Vogue’s
anniversary issue, I wouldn’t want to see Kate Moss on the cover. I would want to
see an American of remarkable achievements staring back at me. I know I sound a bit nationalistic, but I
promise this is a rare occasion.

Fashion magazines have cultural capital and a real
tangential power. I wish they would reconsider their own ideals of beauty and
who can sell a cover, and start imagining how fantastic it would be to walk up
to a magazine kiosk and see fifty different faces, each of whom would represent
a different culture, style, gender and
body type. That reality would be beautiful, and, more importantly, it would represent an uplifting opportunity to allow everyone a chance to relate. 

Last thought: I’m tired of
seeing various magazines satiate the need for color by slapping Rihanna across
the cover. The girl indisputably slays every cover on which she’s featured, but she alone is
not enough and neither is Naomi Campbell, Freida Pinto, Lucy Liu, Joan Smalls
or Liya Kebede. To me these women are tokens, and I can’t wait for the day when it
is no longer a surprise to see a black, Asian or Hispanic face looking back at me, but a norm. 

Chabrina Bruno PO ’15 is a religious studies major with a minor in studio art. She loves to collect vintage clothing and jewelry. 

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