Is 2016 the Year That Fashion Finally Embraced Diversity?
According to new figures, the number of women of color gracing the covers of glossy magazines is increasing.
2016 is shaping up to be the most diverse year yet for the fashion industry, according to a new report tracking racial representation on glossy magazine covers.
Released Wednesday by the Fashion Spot, a 70,000 invitation-only community of industry insiders, the annual report found that more women of color were featured on glossy covers this year than the past three years (the Fashion Spot began conducting its annual report in 2013).
The report tracked 679 cover appearances from 48 top international fashion publications and found that 29 percent (197 covers) featured nonwhite women. Fashion runways have become increasingly diverse as well, suggesting a shift in the industry at large.
In October, the Fashion Spot’s biannual report gauging diversity on the catwalk found that 25.4 percent of nonwhite models walked the runway during Spring 2017 fashion week in New York, Milan, Paris, and London, making this season the most diverse in history.
New York had the most models of color (30.3 percent) this year, while Milan scored the lowest points for diversity on the runway (20.9 percent).
That glossy magazine covers are featuring more women of color coincides with a larger cultural demand for more diversity in the entertainment industry, particularly in Hollywood and on network television.
Last year, some of Hollywood’s most famous black actors called for a boycott of the Academy Awards when it was revealed that—for the first time in two decades—every single acting nominee was white.
The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag began trending with the controversy, prompting the Academy to announce an initiative promising greater diversity in its future voting body.
Actresses and entertainers make up a large percentage of fashion magazine cover models, and stars like Beyoncé, Zendaya, and Rihanna are regulars on top glossy covers. While the Fashion Spot has no data on how covers showing women of color affect sales of magazines, it’s clear that famous women of color—Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Michelle Obama, to name a few popular cover stars—sell.
Still, the only nonwhite woman in the report’s list of top 10 cover models this year was actress Lupita Nyong’o, who graced five covers. By contrast, top model Gigi Hadid snagged 14 covers, while her Instagram-famous peer Kendall Jenner and sister Bella Hadid landed 10 and 8 covers respectively.
“I think nonwhite actresses are seen as a ‘safer’ bet over traditional models of color in terms of sales,” Jennifer Davidson, the Fashion Spot’s editor in chief, told The Daily Beast, noting that Zendaya, Zoe Kravitz, Selena Gomez, Jessica Alba, Rihanna, and Beyoncé were “more likely to earn multiple cover appearances” than models of color.
Among the worst diversity offenders were Harper’s Bazaar, Love, Marie Claire U.K., Porter, Vogue Germany, Vogue Netherlands, Vogue Paris, and Vogue Russia (all failed to feature a single woman of color on their covers this year).
I-D, InStyle, Paper, Teen Vogue, Vogue India, Vogue Korea, and Vogue Taiwan had the most racially diverse cover stars, though the fact that Vogue Indian, Korea, and Taiwan featured nonwhite models is likely owed to their buying demographic’s predominantly nonwhite ethnicities rather than a conscious effort to be more diverse.
The website Fashionista released a national diversity report on Wednesday, examining 147 covers from the top 10 U.S. glossies, which had greater representation of women of color than the Fashion Spot’s international pool. Roughly 35 percent of the 147 covers they reviewed starred women of color, marking a 15 percent rise from last year’s report (only 20 percent of 2015’s cover stars were nonwhite).
Fashionista cheered the surge, but its figures are even more encouraging than the website suggests: The 35 percent of nonwhite glossy cover stars on U.S. publications nearly aligns with the 38.5 percent of nonwhite women in the U.S., according to a 2015 American Community Survey census report.
In addition to women of color, Fashion Spot’s report examined plus-size, transgender, and older cover stars and found that the rise of transgender women on magazine covers likely corresponded with their increasing prominence in pop culture. Hari Nef, star of the Emmy award-winning television show Transparent, landed four covers. Laverne Cox, model Andreja Pejić, and YouTube star Jazz Jennings also had covers this year.
“As more transgender women rise to prominence we’ll hopefully see more covers from them as well,” said Davidson, noting that many magazines didn’t distinguish their transgender cover girls from other women. “Even more promising than the number of transgender cover stars this year is the fact that they can be featured without being called out as transgender.”
Body acceptance and positivity has been a similarly big talking point in entertainment and fashion industries in recent years, and that conversation is beginning to play out on glossy covers. This year, Ashley Graham became the first plus-size model to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated’s storied Swimsuit Edition.
She also featured on several fashion glossy covers, though British Vogue’s Alexandra Shulman wrote in her editor’s letter that several fashion houses “flatly refused to lend us their clothes” for the magazine’s January 2017 cover shoot with Graham.
“It seems strange to me that while the rest of the world is desperate for fashion to embrace broader definitions of physical beauty, some of our most famous fashion brands appear to be travelling in the opposite — and, in my opinion, unwise — direction,” Shulman wrote.
As for the debate over whether we should do away with the “plus-size” label entirely (Melissa McCarthy has been vocal about her distaste for the term), Davidson defended it as a category.
“I think we should normalize it rather than do away with it,” she said. “The plus-size label helps women when they’re shopping for clothes. What we need are more options for plus-size women, and not relegating the plus-size department to the back of department stores.”