I feel as if I have spent a lot of time talking about fashion publications and their new found love of Blackness. It is something to watch unfold and it makes one a little uncomfortable knowing the short attention span of the fashion industry and how quickly things turn into fads and trends before they move on and I hope this is not one of those instances. The latest round of September Issues features an awesome array of beautiful Black women on the covers; Rihanna on Vogue UK, Beyonce on Vogue US, Lupita on Porter, Slick Woods on ELLE pregnant, gap toothed and big smile; this is possibly one of the best pregnancy shoots since Demi Moore’s. Zendaya on Marie Clare US, Tiffany Haddish on Glamour US… to name just a few.
There have been questions about the validity of the “journalism” and articles that have followed certain issues, in particular, Vogue US and the free reign given to Beyoncé for the cover. Debate about whether it is historic or iconic. But really, who gives a shit? I am all for magazines trying something new, something that includes, something that takes them outside the box. So who really cares if something is historic and iconic? That is a matter of personal opinion and we are all entitled to it but making a grand declaration or kerfuffle over it is missing the entire point here. Vogue, in ts 125 years in print has never hired a Black photographer. Ever. This was the first time that happened with Beyonce on the cover. If that isnt both historic and iconic i don’t know what it. This is the first time in her tenure as Editor in Chief the Anna Wintour has relinquished most control of her magazine, the much anticipated September Issue, to the reigns of its cover star, and Black woman- BEYONCÉ if that isn’t iconic I don’t know what it. We look at the whole and the sum of its parts, we take the words and the colours inside… this means something. Simply because its different from the norm it makes people uncomfortable, fearing the passing of the norm and you know what? They should be uncomfortable because it is change, until this becomes the norm, until Black women on covers of magazines front beauty campaigns, take on more lead roles in movies and TV series, have an equitable chance during award seasons… until the default includes us, it should make people uncomfortable.
Slick Woods pictures are as enchanting as they are mesmerising, especially the photograph with a close up of her with her gap-toothed smile. That picture takes me back to America’s Next Top Model, Cycle Six, Danielle Evans and her gap tooth which Tyra helped her “fix” because the industry would have taken an averseness to it. I despised the episode so much, and kudos to Danielle for wanting to stick to her guns, albeit without success because she ended up having the toothed “fixed”. She knew then what her gap tooth meant to her, it was her, a part of her personality, her identity, so why should she take it out to fit into an industry that would find something wrong with everything else anyway, being a Black woman. And the most significant why, in hindsight was; Why should Tyra, a Black woman she has looked up to, insist that she go through with this? The answer may not be as simplistic but it is a reflection of all that is wrong in the industry today. And has been for too long a time because in 2018 we should not be applauding Vogue using its first ever Black photographer, we should call them out on the bullshit because it is bullshit. We should not be applauding Prada on the first Black model to walk the runway in twenty-some years as progress it is disgraceful. When you look at the consumer base of these brands, Black people are a significant part of the core therefore that they only want our money but cannot be bothered to represent us in their imagery, is lazy and prejudiced and exhausting. And racist.
Representation matters. Not simply on covers but further beyond, in words, in colours, in scenes, in textures. It matters that our words are written and read, that our faces are seen and a part of the norm. It matters that if you have a Black model on set you have the right foundation for her skin tones, the right hair products for her hair, the right lipstick shade for her undertone, the right products her base. It matters that when decisions are being made to mass market products, the products take into account the population not just white washing the base, thereby speaking to one skin tone, one race. It matters that Barbie now has a Black variation, with an afro, a fuller figured Barbie. It matters that as a designer if you choose to focus on a culture or a look from a culture of an ethnicity or race for your collection, you reference that culture, understand that culture and in your show notes explain why you chose to represent that culture because any thing short is an erasure of that culture. Do your homework, show your reference point and above all else, have respect for that culture. It matters that we see ourselves in the images being projected by the main stream media and not just because we are immigrants or being killed by police, but because we are worth celebrating. Our stories are worth telling, and knowing and listening to and learning of. And if it means making people uncomfortable then so be it. The premier issue of Edward Enninful’s Vogue UK with Adwoa Aboah on the cover, was and will always remain significant, hugely because it was not just the cover but the pages as well represented the Britain I grew up in and live in today. This kind of representation is essential to the fibre of society’s narrative.
It also matters the Black people in positions of power and influence not only talk the talk, but represent and walk the walk. It means wearing Black designers on the red carpet as opposed to the mainstream which is white. It means searching out Black creatives and engaging in their services, it means surrounding yourself with a tribe of people like you because you know what it felt like to get to where you are, you know the journey. It means making spaces at the table whilst you are at the table not after you have left it. It means moving said table and if it comes to it, upending it to make a change to the system even if it makes people uncomfortable- change never comes from a place of comfort. It means enjoying the spoils together because, as our culture is not monolithic, the space we occupy cannot be singular. There is space enough for more than one Black person at the table. It means making our presence felt in every sense of the word. And that matters, it matters a lot and until it is the default we can never stop trying to make it happen or making it matter.