January 18, 2022
Nine dark-skinned black women on the cover of British Vogue’s February 2022 issue: According to the editor, the cover is intended to celebrate the emerging success of models from African countries. Models Amar Akway, Majesty Amare, Adut Akech, Akon Changkou, Maty Fall Diba, Janet Jumbo, Abény Nhial, Nyagua Ruea and Anok Yai pose in Balenciaga suits. But what is behind this supposed celebration of diversity?
I am a light-skinned black woman and cannot speak for dark-skinned people, but I can summarize the discussion below and refer to the people who have spoken.
we have to make mistakes
This cover is important because, in addition to all the praise, it shows what can be done and where work needs to be done. It is essential to talk about these issues and learn from criticism to avoid mistakes. But as a first step, it is relevant to make these mistakes in the first place. Include blacks in the work process and continue to work on the problem of structural racism to improve and gain experience. This cover does some things well, others need to be addressed in the future.
I can see what you can’t see
We see nine dark-skinned black women in black Balenciaga attire. What we don’t see is fashion from a brand from an African country. Why Balenciaga of all things, if the celebration of African cultures should also showcase fashion from African countries? Designers like Kenneth Ize or Lisa Folawiyo are there and have a perspective that is often missing in the world of fashion. It is about the question of who makes money from this type of marketing and who is offered a stage and who is not. @theunplugcollective rounded up some of the top criticisms and posted them on Instagram.
Many comments on British Vogue’s Twitter account are critical. The women are not well lit, it does not complement the skin properly and the women are not recognizable enough. Black photographer Rafael Pavarotti has shot for Vogue in the past and this style seems to permeate his work. In other examples, however, the patterns are much easier to recognize. However, the question I ask myself is: who decides when dark-skinned black people are supposedly too dark for a cover just because they wear black clothes? It’s definitely an interesting decision that raises some questions.
Why isn’t Afro hair celebrated here?
We need to talk about Afro hair: Afro hair is diverse and beautiful. There are different types of structures of curls, braids, protective hairstyles and, and, and. Behind this there is a long tradition that plays a central role in what we as a society perceive as beautiful. For example, the fact that Afro hair is stigmatized as ‘wild’ and ‘messy’. The women on the cover? They have straight hair and that is a problem. Celebrating African cultures should also mean celebrating the long tradition of hair texture and how it is handled. The fact that women wear straight hair, probably wigs, seems strange to me as a black woman. It is a Eurocentric version of beauty and denies itself the opportunity to celebrate more than women’s faces and bodies.
Representation is important so that marginalized groups also have a variety of identification opportunities. In the case of the British Vogue cover, dark-skinned women also receive positive attention. It’s definitely important to note, because with all the criticism, there’s also some sort of appreciation going on here. Some commenters express concern that the cover may seem exotic and alienating, but the question is: why do they feel that way? It is important to include these thoughts to not only performatively design diversity, but also to understand it.
Celebrate black hits – we’d love to have more of them!
It is also important to acknowledge the work of Edward Enninful, British Vogue editor-in-chief and European director, who was a key influence on the cover. “These girls are redefining what it means to be a model,” he told Vogue.
Besides all these criticisms, one thing is very important: we also have to celebrate the cover. Because for many people who are not in a diverse bubble, it is the first cover with dark-skinned women. The women who appear on the cover have come from a path probably marked by sexism and racism and, despite everything, they made it to the cover of British Vogue. Regardless, the success of these women and the team should be recognized and celebrated. I can only continue to admire and listen to this process: They become dark-skinned kings and queens!