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Not Fair: Why are there so few women of colour on our magazine covers?

January 13th 2015 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru / 6 comments

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Vogue UK

With Jourdan Dunn gracing the cover of this month’s Vogue, our Not Fair columnist asks why there aren’t more women of colour fronting our magazines

As I stand in front of the newsstand at Waitrose, I notice that one thing is missing. A colour spectrum. All with the exception of two magazines that catch my eye that is. The gorgeous Jourdan Dunn on the cover of this month’s British Vogue and Khloe Kardashian on the cover of Cosmopolitan UK.

Looking glowing, radiant and every inch the New Year's beauty, Jourdan’s Vogue cover is by far one of my favourites this year, due in part because I can relate to it as a fellow woman of colour and also because it’s simply, a beautiful shot - to say I liked it solely because we shared the same skin colour would do the image, styling and photographer a great disservice. It’s a stunning picture that speaks to a wide range of different demographics, much in the same way a cover of Cara Delevingne would (who incidentally, graced its cover twice last year).

With that in mind, it has to be asked why more women of colour aren’t gracing more of the covers of our favourite glossies? Considering the UK’s reputation for being Europe’s cultural hot pot, to anyone looking at this month’s magazine selection, it appears anything but.

The fashion bible’s February cover girl proves to be an interesting choice after the publication came under fire at the end of last year when The Fashion Spot’s Diversity Report on the subject was published. Raising some serious questions about the lack of racial variety on Vogue UK's covers, the magazine came under some serious scrutiny. So, what in fact did the stats reveal?

Having looked at 44 major print magazines from around the world, they found that out of 611 covers (including those with multiple covers), white models accounted for 567 of them, whereas women of colour featured 119 times during the year - a disparity that meant that almost five times more white models were featured compared to models of colour.

Shockingly, some of the biggest titles around hadn’t used models of colour at all during 2014: Vogue France, Vogue Netherlands, Vogue Ukraine, Vogue Russia, Vogue Japan, Vogue Korea, Teen Vogue, US and UK Harper’s Bazaar, Numéro, LOVE and Porter to name but a few...Vogue Italia, Vogue Taiwan and Vogue India showcased a much more diverse selection over the year in comparison.

Vogue UK though was the biggest culprit, having not featured a model of colour on a solo cover in over 12 years according to the findings. That particular honour went to Naomi Campbell back in 2002. It should be pointed out though that Jourdan Dunn did appear on the cover of April’s Miss Vogue and Malaika Firth, (Prada’s first black campaign model since 1994) joined a duo of light-skinned models for a group cover for the October issue. A trio of celebrities have had a slightly greater degree of solo success in years gone by - a notably meagre 3 over a 12 year period I hasten to add though. Beyoncé, Rihanna and Salma Hayek were those who made the cut.

Some interesting figures I’m sure you’ll agree, but which led to me asking three very important questions:

a) Why not more?

b) Is change on the horizon?

And...

c) WHERE THE HECK WAS LUPITA NYONG’O?

ci) THE WOMAN WON AN OSCAR FOR GOODNESS SAKE!

cii) SHE WAS AWARDED ‘PEOPLE’S MOST BEAUTIFUL’ TITLE THIS YEAR

ciii) ...AND SHE BECAME A LANCÔME AMBASSADRESS!

Rant over. (Had Beyoncé been excluded from the list too, no doubt this article would have been written entirely in capitals). If there was anything to counteract the belief that women of colour on magazine covers don’t sell, mark my words - had British Vogue put Lupita on its cover post-Oscar triumph, that definitely would have sold.

MORE GLOSS: Lupita Nyong'o, Jourdan Dunn and Mindy Kaling on diversity

Vogue US seemed to have received the memo though, having featured the actress on the cover of its July issue this year. Again, another example of how our American counterparts seem leaps and bounds ahead of us when it comes to catering to a more far-reaching roster of skin tones.

So could Jourdan’s cover herald a new era where a wider range of skin tones are painted on more of our mainstream covers? Only time will tell. However, with Jourdan at the helm of a new generation of articulate and assertive models unafraid to share their thoughts on the problems of diversity in the modelling industry, her stunning new Spring Summer 2015 Campaign with Naomi Campbell for Burberry and being so in-demand at London Fashion Week that she had the luxury to choose to walk in only two shows, there seems to be a palpable change in the air. It’s about time preconceived notions about what sells are challenged. It seems simply outdated and dare I say lazy for those who are in positions of editorial power to stick with an archaic belief of what women want when their covers aren’t reflecting in fact, all women. This is particularly discouraging at a time when the faces of beauty, journalism and what’s ‘trending’ are changing by the minute.

Speaking to Vogue UK about racism in the modelling industry, Jourdan said, “It’s hard being a model regardless, and then being a black model. I have heard, 'Oh, we haven’t shown any black models this season.’” She added, “So blasé...it’s messed up. Another time my agent told me, ‘They don’t want any black models this season,’ I have been very outspoken about it, but I feel someone needs to pose these questions to the people who can give the answer about why. There’s a lot more to be done.’”

With the look of our magazine covers intertwined with the demand of models on the runways, demand by beauty brands and designers’ varying aesthetics for how they want their new collections showcased, it almost seems that the real problem lies with selection - those who cast for the most influential Fashion Week shows, with the designers themselves playing their part. Only then will a wider breadth of models be afforded a fairer playing field from which to chase and share some of the spotlight.

But hey, that’s another column altogether...

We have some exciting projects in the pipeline for Not Fair. Stay tuned...

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  • Ayesha Muttucumaru
  • January 24th 2015

Thank you Cara for your comment. I know how you feel. The vast majority of women's publications base so many of their features on encouraging better self-confidence and better self-image, that to not have a breadth of different women on their covers seems wholly contradictory. That message has to be consistent on all of their channels. Fingers crossed this issue is something that will be rectified in the not too distant future.

  • Ayesha Muttucumaru
  • January 19th 2015

I completely agree Emily - hopefully in 5 years' time, an article like this will have a very different headline.

  • Emily McBean
  • January 16th 2015

Agreed. I am a picture editor and try my best to offer up a variety of ethnicities at all times - A lot of publications do stipulate that we do this anyway, however, like any business it has to make money and sell issues to secure advertising. Consumers need to start buying these issues so that in turn we can keep up the good work.
It's a marathon not a sprint, but I think we'll get there in the end.
As for me? I'm off to buy this issue of Vogue.

  • cara douglas
  • January 13th 2015

I think this is a very important topic because at times it feels like the beauty industry completely forgets about the whole other groups of complexions almost to the point of making 'you' as a person feel that you're not beautiful and that shouldn't be how it is. Beauty and fashion should be fun and empowering to all women and not leave groups of races out because of what sells and what doesn't. I really appreciated this article and your column Not Fair hopeful things will eventually improve so that every race of people from palest to the darkest see that their beauty is truly seen.

-Don't use write comments but there we go!

  • Ayesha Muttucumaru
  • January 13th 2015

The industry needs more people with your mindset Emily! I feel if it was a concerted and consistent effort across all editorial, fashion, beauty and publishing platforms and teams, we could really help signal change so a cover like this (showcasing Asian and mixed-race women too) would become more the norm, rather than the exception.

  • Emily McBean
  • January 13th 2015

Because sadly they don't sell as many copies!
This is an issue very close to my heart. I work in publishing, and have put black girls on the cover of our magazines, and we'd like to do it more often if only people would buy them.

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