The change we’ve been waiting for is here.
In its annual audit of women’s magazine covers of 2016, Fashionista reported “sizable lifts in cover star diversity across the board.” Out of the 147 covers reviewed, 35.3 percent of them featured people of color, an extensive improvement from 19.8 percent in 2015. Slow clap?
With newsstand sales still in decline and an industry-wide push/demand for representation, there’s no reason any of these brands should stay stagnant and many of them haven’t. While a handful of women’s mags that had been diversifying (InStyle) keep reverting to ancient whitewashed habits, the best of these titles have advanced past consistent whiteness. Following up my mid-year report from last year, here’s a breakdown of the women’s magazine covers of 2017 so far.
Vogue began 2017 with Loving star Ruth Negga on its January cover for the Oscars and followed that up with a more vanilla subject: Dakota Johnson doing promo for Fifty Shades Darker.
Despite an effort to branch out further on its March cover, which featured seven models—Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Liu Wen, Ashley Graham, Adwoa Aboah, Imaan Hammam and Vittoria Ceretti—readers had a valid complaint that no darker skinned women were chosen for the cover and that most of the models are the same size. (For an example of fairly better execution, see Allure’s models of color issue below.) Vogue reportedly refuted a rumor that Hillary Clinton was supposed to be on the March cover and had to be replaced after the election loss.
I’m throwing Vogue half a chewed-up bone here, since they’ve published way more exclusionary or directly offensive covers in the past. Selena Gomez landed the April cover, which means they’ve had three non-white covers at the top of 2017, and the magazine is on pace to either tie or best its 2016 cover diversity numbers.
In 2016, I handed Allure an A- for its mid-year cover selections. By the end of the year, five of its 13 covers had featured women of color. The magazine is on a similar track this year, with four of its six so far featuring women of color. There’s Zendaya, Alicia Keys, Zoe Kravitz, and the magazine’s April cover gave the spotlight to three models of color, along with horror stories about racism for a broader feature.
Elle’s impressive portfolio of 2016 covers featured nine women of color, an anomaly that needs to be (and is slowly becoming) the norm. After putting Michelle Williams on its January 2017 issue, the magazine devoted February to the stars of Big Little Lies, which meant Zoe Kravitz got a cover. The May issue is split between six models, including two black women.
The best decision Elle made was giving Solange a solo look for March and giving us Missy Elliott (paired with an outstanding cover story), who split the June Women in Music issue with Lorde. To that point, some of these magazines have figured out that a simple formula for achieving diversity is with split covers. Of course, multiple photo shoots tend to fatten production budgets, but the cost is worth it.
Unlike its competition, Cosmo seems content to be a remnant of a very white past/present, from Hilary Duff to my omnipresent nemesis Meghan Trainor. Despite the mag’s apparent progressiveness in the arena of uncomfortable sex illustrations, its covers sit squarely on the nexus of white and boring.
Last year, at least, four of its issues featured women of color. Right now, Cosmo is the fashion magazine world’s version of that white creature in Game of Thrones.
The magazine that markets to international women earned a C grade in 2016 for its lack of diversity and has since not only done an about-face, but done so with a broad lineup. For the top half of 2017, Marie Claire gave covers to Gina Rodriguez and Priyanka Chopra, who’s becoming a regular commodity in the women’s mag cover rotation.
Janelle Monáe and Aja Naomi King are among the women on Marie Claire’s Fresh Faces May issue, another split cover. Look at this as a blueprint for how women’s publications and magazines in general could benefit from expanding their idea of diversity beyond the obvious subjects.
Bizarrely, InStyle looks like an exact replica of a certain country you know whose president is a large beached elephant seal. In total, InStyle ended 2016 with seven women of color on its covers, a remarkable feat when you compare them to Elle. By this time last year, the mag had three non-white celebrities on covers and it’s completely backtracked from that progress.
It’s likely that high fashion women’s magazines are, logically, willing to take more calculated risks than mainstream general interest women’s mags. In my experience, publishers tend to point to their predominantly white reader demographics as criteria for choosing covers, under the thinking that these subjects more accurately meet the taste of each magazine’s respective audience (i.e. Who does Jane Doe in Alabama want to read about?). My simple, perhaps naive take is that magazines aren’t selling anyway so why not devote some of that low-selling newsstand room to non-white stars and stop being conceptually lazy.
Rihanna blessed us with a chill Amelia Earhart tribute for Harper’s Bazaar’s March issue. The mag has also featured Gigi Hadid and Paris Jackson, who it should be noted considers herself black because of her dad.
In 2016, Harper’s featured just one non-white subject and it was KANYE WEST sharing a cover with Kim Kardashian. In fact, Fashonista notes that nine of Harper’s’ 2016 cover stars were blonde, so they haven’t even been diverse when it comes to white people! This is a sad tradition for Harper’s, whose wretched diversity numbers for the past three years are finally turning around.
After putting Barbara Streisand on its January 2017 cover, W did some intriguing covers for its Hollywood edition, which included Ruth Negga nearly kissing Natalie Portman and Mahershala Ali cradling Nicole Kidman. Similar to 2016, W is consistent this year, and another magazine that’s benefited from split covers.
Aside from Felicity Jones and the Girls cast (an issue for which all the photos were “commissioned by women”), Glamour has featured Alicia Keys, Chrissy Teigen, Kerry Washington and Priyanka Chopra on covers—an excellent and broad mix (similar to one of its direct competitors, Marie Claire) and already ahead of 2016, when three of Glamour’s 14 covers had women of color. Also notice the softened aesthetic shift in its covers, which feels like an attempt to skew younger.
For the first half of 2017, Redbook has given covers to Eva Longoria and America Ferrera, which puts the mom bible ahead of 2016, when it had zero women of color on its covers at the mid-year point. This is another magazine that seems to tailor its covers to a white suburban demo, so kudos for starting to see the light.
Teen Vogue, last year, was one of the few women’s magazines that grasped the definition of diversity in a way that didn’t seem forced. In their increasing focus to digital, the mag went from publishing nine issues a year to four, which makes it harder to grade.
Bella Hadid covers Volume 1, and Volume 2 split Paris Jackson, Solange and Chance the Rapper.
Just as Teen Vogue reduced its frequency in 2016, Seventeen also adopted a bi-annual publishing schedule. One of those covers was given to two stars of Empire, a show I’m no longer watching.
Fitness publications have traditionally shown an even smaller shift than general women’s interest magazines when it comes to breadth of cover subjects. Reflective of the fitness world’s limited range of healthy body types, Shape got an F for diversity at the mid-year point in 2016.
A year later, the mag has improved (with two out of five non-white covers so far), maybe as a result of watching other magazines surpass them. Both Shape and Women’s Health’s grades take into account that there’s a double issue (so five covers instead of six).
The same can be said for Women’s Health, a magazine that’s needed work finding fit cover-worthy subjects. This year, they’ve got Gabrielle Union and Vanessa Hudgens, a step up from 2016, but maybe it’s time they start giving covers to all the Instagram-grown fitness gurus out here making us feel bad. Congrats on beginning to find your range.