How Publications are Catching Up When it Comes to Representation in 2017

How Publications are Catching Up When it Comes to Representation in 2017

2017 has seen some key steps forward for representation in the publishing industry—amidst a few in the other direction.

2017 has seen some key steps forward for representation in the publishing industry—amidst a few in the other direction.

Text: Jake Viswanath

As minorities and immigrants become even more marginalized due to the political climate (not only in the U.S., but worldwide), the media's role in spotlighting issues of diversity is more crucial than ever. Fortunately, it seems that so far in 2017, the publishing industry is stepping up when it comes to representation—mostly.

While there have always been independent magazines championing representation (DAZED, V, CR), bigger glossies (Vogue, Elle, Glamour), and more have started making efforts to prominently feature people of all races, colors, genders, sexualities, religions, and sizes. But this surge of diversity is proving to be more than a fleeting trend—it signals an important shift in the publishing industry that changes the norms of what to expect on covers worldwide.

A study conducted by The Fashion Spot shows that diversity on magazine covers across the board has increased by an encouraging margin in 2016; 29 percent of all covers depicted women of color, a 6 percent increase from last year, while women ages 50 and above accounted for 5 percent of all covers.  Unfortunately, transgender and “plus-size” models accounted for only 0.7 and 0.9 percent of all bookings, but it’s a start (albeit a much belated one).

While special covers like L'Officiel's Gang of Africa issue featuring all black woman and Vanity Fair's 2016 Hollywood issue depicting proudly older women certainly helped these increases, it is concerning that some issues featuring large diverse groups seems to be more of a marketing gimmick rather than a genuine celebration of cultures.

Photographed by Inez and Vinoodh

Another example of this trend is American Vogue, which recently made waves with the cover of their first ever Diversity Issue. Liu Wen, Vogue’s first Asian cover star, stands alongside black models Adwoa Aboah and Imaan Hammam, as well as Ashley Graham, Kendall Jenner, Vittoria Ceretti, and Gigi Hadid, in an embrace of sisterhood and unity. While it was a step forward, the cover story appeared alongside a problematic editorial with Karlie Kloss appropriating Geisha culture. Unfortunately, when it comes to representation, progress is often two steps forward, and one step back.

V also featured Graham in V105, where Steven Klein captured the boundary-breaking model and body image activist in all her unapologetic glory, proving that women of all shapes can rock any type of clothing. In an effort to highlight diversity outside of the usual realms, Nick Knight also photographed Caitlin Stickels, a model born with the rare chromosomal disorder Cat Eye Syndrome, for a future issue of V and aired the shoot in an online live stream. Stickels does not let the physical effects of her disease prevent her from modeling like anyone else could, and V was proud to highlight her resilience.

CR Fashion Book is set to debut the first editorial with Halima Aden—the first hijabi model signed to IMG. Considering Trump's rampant xenophobia toward the Muslim community, this was a deeply commendable move.

Photographed by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott

Transgender models are more prominently featured than ever in magazines, something that is especially welcomed given what the trans community is up against. Vogue Paris is the latest publication to join the charge, proudly making Valentina Sampaio their first transgender cover model with the March issue. In the editors letter for the issue, editor-in-chief Emanuelle Alt explains why it was important to her: “Instead of being in a constant evolution, which is what should happen, human rights . . . they’re not going in a good direction. This cover is about the importance of those rights, and that we still need to make progress on an awful lot of stuff.”

Elle UK also featured Hari Nef for their September issue cover series. While smaller independent outlets have been featuring transgendered people for years, it's reassuring to see wider-reaching publications finally following suit. Now we need to focus on getting trans people of color into the spotlight.

These editorial choices have the potential to benefit more than just the publications, too. Research shows that women of all colors respond more favorably to advertising and press which emphasizes diversity and inclusion. This not only results in better sales and profits, but more importantly, it gives these women confidence and reassurance in their beauty no matter what problems they may face. Every person is worthy of receiving recognition and celebration for their skin tone, disability, shape, or any other trait that society could knock down—after all, magazines have always been mean to reflect the times and culture, and in today's fast-paced climate, we just have to work a little faster and a little harder.

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