Taraji P Henson and Viola Davis were featured on the covers of Elle’s Women of TV January issue. Having Davis, Henson, along with Priyanka Chopra, another woman of color, is a step forward in representing diversity in magazines and television shows. However, this fight for equality in representation is nowhere near being finished.
Fashion magazines are known for their melanin unfriendliness. It took American Vogue 82 years to feature its first Black women in 1974. In 2010, Elle magazine lightened Gabourey Sidibe’s skin. During that same year a Vanity Fair cover, celebrating the rising actresses of Hollywood featured only young, white actresses. Skip forward four years, in 2014, Elle had only one woman of color featured in the Women of TV issue. It was Mindy Kaling but her cover was filtered to black and white and then cropped. Kaling’s cover differed from Amy Poehler, Allison Williams, and Zooey Deschanel–all of their covers were full length and in color. Overall in 2014, out of all the major fashion magazines, only 17.3% of the covers featured women of color. In 2015, the percentage rose to 22.8%.
Starting 2016 with three women of color on the cover of Elle forces the entertainment industry to both recognize the diverse and talented women in television, and also the manner that they are represented in our society. During her interview with Elle, Davis highlighted how the media constructs an image of what desirable women look like, and in this ideal image of beauty, Black women are rarely included.
“We’ve been fed a whole slew of lies about women. “ [According to TV’s standards] If you are anywhere above a size 2, you’re not having sex. You don’t have sexual thoughts. You may not even have a vagina. And if you’re of a certain age, you’re off the table.” (Davis)
Her words are transantagonistic but the sentiment is clear.
With these covers, Davis and Henson are fighting against the image of anti-desirability that society has created of Black women. Featuring them on an issue highlighting women of television helps other women of color realize that beauty and talent does not equal blonde hair and blue eyes.
Even though Elle is making strives toward representing diversity and recognizing Black beauty, there are still guilty of pitfalls in 2016. Elle.com ran an article this week that heavily criticized #BlackGirlMagic. The article highlighted how #BlackGirlMagic works to isolate Black women by placing them back in the stereotype of a strong Black woman, and furthermore forces for them to feel like magical beings who have no faults.
Although 2016 is starting positively when it comes to representing Black women in media, 2016 will also have its side-eye worthy moments. An article criticizing #BlackGirlMagic won’t be the last criticism against movements that aim to empower Black women. But, it doesn’t mean we have to stop being magical in 2016.
Photo credit: Elle January 2016 magazine covers