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American Vogue’s diversity problem: what can it do to improve?

I would like to preface this article with a disclaimer: I am not a fashion expert, and in fact know very little about the fashion industry. However, one does not need to be remotely knowledgeable about fashion to be able to take note of the blatant diversity issues present within the industry.

Although specifically referencing US Vogue in this piece, this magazine is one of many problems in the industry. The publication is notorious for its lack of diversity. Statistics collected by blogger Caroline Hirons reveal that, since April 2012, only 24 of the 96 covers released featured a Black model on the front of the magazine, equating to 25%. The vast majority of these 24 covers feature models who have previously been on a Vogue cover. Rihanna for instance, has graced five covers, with Lupita Nyong’o shown on four. Beyonce and Serena Williams have both had three appearances since 2012. Not only is the diversity of models on Vogue covers lacking tremendously, there is also a lack of diversity within those very communities being marginalised by Vogue. The same few notable token Black figures are repeatedly being given the spotlight.

Anna Wintour, Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief, has recently been prompted to apologise for the lack of diversity at her magazine, saying that the publication has “not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators”. But, after so many years in the position, I am not really convinced by this apology. She has been in the role since 1988, which in my eyes is plenty of time to make changes and truly pioneer the inclusion of diverse models and creatives, especially given the importance of Vogue’s power in the industry. Further to Wintour’s apology, many former employees from ethnic minority backgrounds have also criticised the magazine and its operations, commenting on the inherent racism in the workplace.

The wider fashion industry is taking steps to become more diverse, demonstrating even more that there is no excuse for US Vogue to continue its current lack of inclusivity. With Edward Enninful at its helm, British Vogue has become increasingly diverse in recent years. Caroline Hirons’ study shows that in the year after Enninful took over, seven Black models featured on the cover of British Vogue, a staggering statistic when compared to only four Black models being featured in the year prior. This allowed the publication to celebrate a wider range of Black models and celebrities, rather than just a token few. Rihanna holds the record for most British Vogue covers given to a Black woman, with three to date, but Lupita Nyong’o, Zoe Kravitz and Oprah Winfrey are just some of the many others worthy of mention.

One of the most noteworthy steps towards greater diversity was British Vogue’s Forces for Change issue of September 2019. Guest edited by Meghan Markle, herself a person of colour, fifteen women from a range of communities and professions were showcased, celebrated for the inspirational work they do and embody. Iconic figures like Laverne Cox, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adwoa Aboah, Francesca Hayward and more, graced the cover and magazine alongside world leader Jacinda Ardern, activist Greta Thunberg and acting royalty Jane Fonda. Adut Akech and Ramla Ali, former refugees, were also included alongside these huge names. British Vogue shows us that a fashion magazine need not limit itself to models and actresses known for their beauty – as US Vogue seems to advocate. Authors, dancers, former refugees, and activists are all shown by British Vogue to be worthy of gracing the cover the same way a model does.

US Vogue can learn a lot from British Vogue. The moves Edward Enninful has made toward greater diversity at the magazine shows it can be done, and there is no reason not to. So why aren’t they? Anyone, regardless of their career, background, or ethnicity, should be able to front a cover, or be featured as fashionable in a magazine. I struggle to understand why this is not being emphasised.

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About Author

Sam Hewitson

Travel Editor - 2019/20

Editor-In-Chief - 2020/21

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May 2022
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