Every year, the Fashion Spot does an in-depth analysis of diversity on fashion magazine covers. In some actual good news for once, 2016 was the most diverse year in recent memory, with WOC on 29% of magazine covers. Yes, there could and should obviously be more, but it’s still a 6.2% increase from just last year.
Some magazines were disappointing. For example, Love, which is currently riding a wave of press for its annual video advent calendar, has only used all white cover models for the past three years. Several international editions of Vogue also only used thin, white, straight, cisgender models, as did Harper’s Bazaar US. Cosmopolitan, which is one of the most successful women’s magazines in the world, only put one Black woman on its cover, Zendaya.
But other mags embraced diversity, and didn’t stick to the same exclusionary status quo. Let’s take a look back in the year of #blackgirlmagic in America’s biggest fashion magazines.
Teen Vogue is bae. Under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth, one of only two Black EICs at Conde Nast, the magazine, in addition to being the most innovative and fashion forward publication for teens, has become a trusted source for excellent political and social commentary. Last week, they took over the internet with a “scorched-earth” editorial about Donald Trump, and over the past year the publication has become a truly inclusive magazine, with interviews covering urgent issues in race, gender and intersectional feminism.
The magazine is transitioning into a quarterly publication, but this year they still presented 12 covers, and six of them featured Black women: Amandla Stenberg (who also identifies as bisexual and nonbinary) in February, Willow Smith in May, Zoe Kravitz in March, gymnasts Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles in August, and black-ish star Yara Shahidi in December, featured alongside Girl Meets World actress Rowan Blanchard. So much hipness, so much wokeness.
Paper also featured WOC on half of their covers this year. Blac Chyna and Naomi Campbell separately covered the magazine’s “Most Beautiful” issue. Beyonce protégés/singing angels Chloe and Halle Bailey also got a “Most Beautiful” cover, making it their debut cover of a major magazine. The musicians consistently rep #blackgirlmagic, and they’re also best friends with Shahidi. Can we hang?
Elle’s February “Women in TV” covers featured two of the most popular, accomplished, iconic women on television: Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis. For March, they took on the other most popular, iconic, accomplished woman on television: Kerry Washington. Beyonce gave a rare interview for one of May’s “Women in Music” covers. July’s “Women in Comedy” issue featured the women of Ghostbusters, and their lovely cover of Leslie Jones felt especially significant, as it came at a time when Jones was receiving an onslaught of vicious racist and sexist online harassment.
In August, the cover star was ethereal angel FKA Twigs. Their eight covers for the November “Women in Hollywood” issue included Aja Naomi King and the omnipresent Lupita N’yongo.
For their January cover, InStyle tapped Viola Davis. April brought Lupita N’yongo, who is the year’s sixth-most featured magazine cover star (i.e. the most popular woman besides supermodels). For September they shot Kerry Washington with gorgeously minimal makeup; October was FLOTUS. It’s important to note that seven out of their 12 issues were covered by women of color (including JLo, Priyanka Chopra, and Jessica Alba), and that unlike Elle, they only used one cover per month, meaning there were no alternative covers featuring white women.
Glamour’s covers also did not show a single Black women until July, when they featured America’s greatest athlete, the icon Serena Williams. One of their three October covers included Joan Smalls. And that’s it.
Vogue only ran three covers featuring Black women this year. The mag has a tendency to feature the same super-famous Black women over and over again, without extending much generosity towards newcomers, as they often do for white starlets ( for example, Sienna Miller is not exactly a superstar, and she’s been on the cover about 80 million times). But the cover models — Rihanna, Lupita N’yongo, and Michelle Obama — do look stunning, and the Obama cover story, which sadly reminds us of the first lady to come, is kind of tear-inducing. Loving star Ruth Negga will be covering the January 2017 issue, which is a nice step forward.
Look, at the end of the day, who magazines arbitrarily choose to put on their covers can’t outshine Black Girl Magic. But representation is essential, and it’s great to see an overall improvement in 2016. Beyond the covers, magazines included more diversity within their pages, like stories on Black Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, and a new focus on young Black actresses like Keke Palmer and Skai Jackson. Smaller indie mags also did their part for diversity — Laverne Cox’s gorgeous cover of Ladygunn was one for the books.
2016 was decent, but we’re hoping for even better next year, with more options for women who also may not be thin, straight or cisgender. And the same women tend to be featured over and over again — while they’re fantastic, let’s also make room for rising stars. Let Black Girl Magic onto the newsstands.
(Photo: InStyle Magazine, April 2016)
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