Why representation really matters... (pass me a croissant)

Representation in the fashion industry has been a hot topic since 2020. While the inclusion of Black models in editorials and print has been gaining traction, the gatekeepers: editors, photographers and the faces that grace the important covers like the September issue of Vogue (it generates the greatest ad revenue) have FINALLY started to shift towards less performative. 


As the Brits say, it’s about bloody time.

Did you know that it wasn’t until 2018 that 23 year old Tyler Mitchell photographed Beyonce for the aforementioned Vogue September cover, (see image above) making him the FIRST black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover in its 131 year history- that is more than 2,850 Vogue covers shot by mainly (surprise! surprise!) white European men.

Here is what Beyoncé had to say: “Until there is a mosaic of perspectives coming from different ethnicities behind the lense, we will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like. That is why I wanted to work with this brilliant 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell…If people in powerful positions continue to hire and cast only people who look like them, sound like them, come from the same neighborhoods they grew up in, they will never have a greater understanding of experiences different from their own. They will hire the same models, curate the same art, cast the same actors over and over again, and we will all lose."  Here is another Tyler image:


Similarly, the first Vogue cover shot by a Black female photographer didn't happen until London-born Nadine Ijewere (Nigerian-Jamaican heritage) shot Selena Gomez in 2021. She is the FIRST woman of color to shoot the cover of any Vogue in the magazine’s 131-year global history, shocking huh?

As a teenager growing up in Dallas. Tx in the pre-internet era I spent hours combing through fashion magazines, yet nobody ever looked like me. I immigrated to the US with my mother at age 5, and (true story) when she initially told me we were moving there I asked her if it meant I would have blond hair and blue eyes. Somehow in Ecuador I had already I internalized beauty standards because all of the movies and dubbed ads featured gringuitas who matched that criteria. In Ecuador when someone produces a lighter skin child I remember people remarking they "mejoraron la raza" literally they "bettered the race." And when I accompanied my mother anywhere as a child I begged her not to speak to me in Spanish. Now I thank her daily for having sent me to live with my grandmother in Ecuador during the summer. There were only two, maybe three Latin kids in my entire school, and it was not until much later that I understood that being bilingual is the ultimate privilege. I wish I had seen more Latinas represented during all those hours of sitcom viewing as a kid, as a latch key kid I learned English thanks to the 1970 era after-school PBS programing. But aside from Maria on Sesame Street nobody else looked familiar.

And this is why representation, whether in TV, movies, politics, Academia, or on the cover of Vogue, matters, a lot.  Collective ideas of beauty are nurtured by what we see on these covers, and if the industry is only promoting thin white women shot by men, then we are left with a pretty narrow and distorted idea of what constitutes beauty. Below is another fav, this time it is a Spanish Vogue shot by Nadine Ijewere that features Paloma Essler. Another milestone is seeing women that look like her ( P.S. I loathe the term plus size because once again it implies that the norm is thin) on the cover of magazines. Let's all normalize diversity of body sizes, colors, genders and shapes! She is mixed race and not rail thin, thus promoting not only a less punishing beauty standard but hopefully ending the tyranny that one has to not eat in order to make it as a successful model. Or as she stated, “being more conscious that when someone’s killing it, they might literally be killing themselves.” 

Because I mentioned gatekeepers earlier I will end with Ghanian-British Edward Enninful, the Editor in Chief of British Vogue. Recently Time magazine called him the most important Black man in the fashion industry. I recently re watched the 2009 Documentary "The September Issue" (which I highly recommend), where you will see a younger Mr. Enninful cowering (like every other person in the industry) to a very Cruella de Ville Anna Wintour, who is now his equal as EIC of American Vogue. For a really long time Wintour pretty much dictated who made the cut, and to out it mildly, her reign looked pretty white and skinny. I think times are changing, and what is deemed "normal" and desirable is finally being shown through a different lens, no pun intended. I love this quote by Enninful describing his admittance into the higher echelons of global taste makers: I was always othered, you know, gay, working-class, Black. So for me it was very important with Vogue to normalize the marginalized, because if you don’t see it, you don’t think it’s normal.”

 This last image was styled by Enniful and shot by 30 year old Brazilian photographer Rafael Pavarotti who grew up in the Amazon Rain Forest and left for London at age sixteen. His work is drop-dead stunning and his Afro-Indigenous Brazilian heritage is reflected in the richly saturated images he produces. I leave you with a final quote by this rising star in the world of fashion:

“The celebration of Black and indigenous experience specifically will always be a part of my work, because it’s also a part of me. As an Afro-Indigenous Brazilian photographer, my existence and work are already political,”

Representation matters, and images are never neutral.

#blackhistorymonth #representationmatters #inclusivity #theonikas #vogue @voguemagazine #tylermitchell #britishvogue

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