It's official: The "all black" issue of Italian Vogue is a hit. According to Time magazine's Jeff Israely, "After the original run of the July issue sold out in the U.S. and U.K. in 72 hours, Vogue Italia has just rushed to reprint 30,000 extra copies for American newsstands, another 10,000 for Britain and 20,000 more in Italy. The only complaints about the reprints might come from those currently trying to sell copies on eBay for $45 apiece." But not everyone thinks the issue is ground-breaking enough. Writer Priyamvada Gopal has a column in today's Guardian in which she claims black women actually have "little to gain" from the issue. So for whom should we chalk one up?Gopal writes:
Well, it certainly is one for the inalienable right to be tall, thin, and airbrushed… Black models? Sure. But there's not a "natural" or "kinky" in sight, indeed, barely even a mop of curly hair. This is black girls-as-white girls: all aquiline noses, large eyes, oval faces (bar the standard exception of "unusual" Alek Wek), hair coaxed into silky straightness or carefully turbaned away in shot after shot. As for "black", it's more latte than americano. By simultaneously marking blackness as "special" and yet ensuring conformity to dominant (white and European) ideas of sophistication and beauty, the "black issue" tells us a great deal about race and ethnicity in the media today. To be non-white is to be constantly relegated to a "special issue", while the regular edition remains determinedly white.
She has a point. Magazines are not inclusive. There's absolutely a euro-centric point of view; a Westernized, Caucasian standard of beauty. But I'll argue that without the "special" issue, some people would not be talking about the race problems in the fashion industry at all. Model mogul Bethann Hardison spearheaded conversations about the lack of black models last fall; I attended her "Out Of Fashion" discussion in October. Then another one in January. The number of people at the events grew; the number of news outlets discussing the issue grew. By June, Vogue had acknowledged the problem. Italian Vogue may be but a hammer blow to the wall put up around a billion dollar industry; a fortress to which, for years, only willowy Eastern European 16 year-olds had access. It wasn't always so; black models worked in the '70s and '80s more than they do now. Does Italian Vogue solve the problem? No. But every little bit helps. A dialogue helps. And the next wall to break through just might be weight: With the exception of Toccara, all of the models in the "all-black" issue held to the slim standard. Unfortunately, according to a study by business professors at Villanova University and the College of New Jersey, ads featuring thin models made women feel worse about themselves but better about the brands featured. Writes Jack Neff for AdAge, "Despite the negative effect on their body image, women preferred ads showing thin models and said they were more likely to buy products featured in those ads than in ones showing 'regular-size models,' said Jeremy Kees, a business professor at Villanova." Why do we expect magazines to embrace women of all colors, shapes and sizes, when we, the women reading them, fail to do so? Vogue Italia Is a Hit in Black [Time] Vogue: All White Now? [Guardian] Study: Skinny Women Better for Bottom Line [AdAge] Earlier: Italian Vogue's "All Black" Issue: A Guided Tour Is Prada To Blame For the Lack Of Black Models? Modeling Matriarch Continues To Demand Diversity On The Runways Vogue's Not Racist; Three Black Models Prove It!