HOW THE #VOGUECHALLENGE HAS REIGNITED THE CONVERSATION OF DIVERSITY IN VISUAL MEDIA

HOW THE #VOGUECHALLENGE HAS REIGNITED THE CONVERSATION OF DIVERSITY IN VISUAL MEDIA
By: Escher Walcott

The July 2020 issue of British Vogue celebrates workers who have found themselves on the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic. Featured on separate covers, photographer Jamie Hawkesworth offers an honest gaze into the daily routines of train driver Narguis Horsford, midwife Rachel Millar, and supermarket assistant Anisa Omar. Shining a light on these people comes as yet another ground-breaking move from British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, who continues to incorporate diverse subject matter into the publication. This pandemic has alerted us to the people who truly uphold society, and so seeing this represented so beautifully immediately struck a chord. These covers have since sparked the now-viral #VogueChallenge throughout social media, in which anyone posts their own Vogue cover shots as the call for diversity in publications continues.

Enninful posted his favorite shots so far which have included a masked woman brightening up her subway trip with a purple tulle gown amongst other captivating content. The recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has unleashed a loud call for diversity within industries and the arts. Originally, black photographers and stylists recreated their own Vogue covers to support this call after Enninful’s issue was released, making space for black creativity by starting the #VogueChallenge. As a black fashion blogger, I’ve loved gazing at these beautifully diverse covers filling up my timeline, and even tried out the challenge myself on my own fashion feed!

Inspiring as these photos are, they also highlight Vogue’s failure to include diversity in its publications. Before Enninful was appointed editor of British Vogue in 2017, I’ll admit, I had no interest in buying the magazine due to its blatant exclusion of other races. Rihanna was the only person of color on the cover in 2016 and in 2014, British model Jourdan Dunn was the first individual black cover star to feature in 12 years after pioneer Naomi Campbell in 2002. In between this time, Dunn only managed to share a cover with a group of white models – a tactic the publication has used to credit themselves for ethnic inclusion. This was repeated in 2017 when models Imaan Hammam and Nora Attal, both of Moroccan descent, were cast aside a group of white models on separate covers. When confronted by the Guardian in 2014 about the lack of black models featured, the Vogue press office simply answered, “We have put Beyoncé and Rihanna on the cover…” So, we’re supposed to be satisfied with these two women – as iconic as they both are – representing all black culture with every cover appearance? What an insulting response. 

British Vogue was declining in sales at the point of former editor Alexandra Schulman’s departure, due to the fact that she hadn’t any faith in women of color selling covers – a hesitancy based in bias, not fact, as Enninful has since proved. I was happy to purchase his first cover in December 2017 featuring British model Adwoa Aboah in full headwrap glory and have enjoyed many more diverse covers which have included plus size models and age-defying icons. The #VogueChallenge has added even more culture to the mix as Naomi Campbell highlighted in her recent Instagram posting of creative Vogue Africa covers. The publication has launched in countries across the globe with Vogue Arabia being its latest venture, however, Africa is noticeably missing from its titles. With the luxury goods market booming in such cities as Nairobi and Lagos, there is an appetite for fashion that Vogue Africa could certainly benefit from, so hopefully, this challenge gets the gears in motion. 

US Vogue editor Anna Wintour has recently found herself in hot water as her version of the publication has been exposed for lacking diversity. She acknowledged this in her own statement released in the wake of the BLM protests, promising to do more to include and validate the black community within her own empire. Former black employees came out accounting their bad experiences working at Vogue and at one point, the stability of Wintour’s position seemed threatened. However, it’s since been confirmed that she is not resigning and so one can only hope new lasting changes will be put into action at the publication from now on. 

What’s old becomes new again

Essence is a magazine that has always stood for black culture, proudly celebrating men and women of color on its covers since 1970. While the #VogueChallenge has grown to encompass all aspects of diversity, the #EssecnceChallenge was created directly encouraging black people to shine brightly in their own representation of beauty. The publication has picked a stunning selection of covers so far, including natural hair goddesses, a woman in a bright red hijab and men unafraid of flaunting their individual style and flair. Self-made Ebony covers have also cropped up on social media in tribute to the publication created by publisher John H. Johnson in 1945, dedicated to positive African-American news. Established in different (yet arguably more of the same) trying times, these publications are reconnecting with younger generations like millennials and Generation Z find themselves experiencing similar issues of systemic discrimination decades apart.

In order to keep this connection going, these publications should acknowledge not only the struggles of young people but also the triumphs, recognizing us as a stronger community making our own individual differences in society one day at a time. All these challenges have been a great boost for black people as we find ourselves in trying yet inspiring times of protest in various forms. These images aid reassurance that we are worthy – we always have been, and we always will be.

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