Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Black Beauty as a Bankable Commodity

com - mod - i - ty (noun): something of use, advantage, or value.

The magazine industry has taught us for decades that beauty brings in the bucks. And while most men's magazines are just now catching up to this fact, women's magazines and the men behind them have known it for eons... like since the dawn of breasts and the age of ink.

But what isn't quite so comparable is Black beauty. Can major magazines make money off of a real Black face, even if it is light in complexion?

Apparently the answer is hmmm.... maybe????

I give you exhibit A....

And now exhibit B.....

As the Beyonce cover headline makes it plain, the time difference between these two beautiful Black women covering Vanity Fair is eight years. I'd like to also mention that within those eight years these are the only two Black women who have covered Vanity Fair solo. 

Eight years. 

I'll let that sink in...

When I google the names of popular white actresses and musicians and Vanity Fair these are the results I get (with no particular bias or scientific data)
  1. Kathryn Heigel -- 1 Vanity Fair Cover
  2. Gweneth Paltrow -- 4 Vanity Fair Covers
  3. Angelina Jolie -- 8 Vanity Fair Covers (that I counted)
  4. Lady Gaga -- 3 Vanity Fair Covers (Two were for the same issue but had different pictures)
I've seen Kathryn Heigel in the same number of romantic comedies as I've seen Gabrielle Union but apparently she is only good enough to attend the Vanity Fair Oscar party (looking stunning I might add) but not good enough to cover the actual magazine itself. Halle Berry has been named world's most beautiful woman more times than I can count but has yet to grace the cover of Vanity Fair while this year's recipient of the vacuous title has four covers. 

This of course tells the Black community what we've known since slavery; in the racialized society we live in we are not equal in any capacity when it comes to our fairer skinned, less ethnic, and melanin deficient mainstream counterparts. 

In the antebellum south White women were prim and pristine, procreation was a duty of marriage and a fulfillment of a Biblical requirement to win God's favor. Meanwhile, the wenches of the plantation could be sexed into further submission to ease primal urges in masters between the thighs of the property they considered sub-human. 

The chains have come off, plantations turned into farms, bras burned, integration legalized, and feminism an entire movement, yet on magazine covers segregation and colorism is the norm. 

You ever notice in the grocery store when you get to the checkout line how the magazine stand array is organized. There is a hierarchy by the type of magazine and who is on the cover. If it's a Kardashian it's normally put on the shelf that's eye level where a person will look naturally. Ok Magazine and Touch among other gossip rags go below the A-list mags because their cover stories while compelling are often times false. Then we move to the interior of the magazine stand array --right above the conveyor belt -- occupied by Reader's Digest, Soap Opera's Digest, a few cooking magazines, and the tabloids that make no bones about being tabloids, hello National Enquirer (no the First Lady on the cover of the Enquirer does not count as a Black face on the cover of a mainstream magazine. Sorry.) At the bottom of the array near the candy -- conveniently low to the ground for children -- we have the naughty magazines (read: Cosmopolitan) with it's racy headlines covered from the innocent eyes of kids who have long ago mastered the internet. Then right there next to those magazines deemed NSFRW (respectable women) we have our Ebony, Essence and Jet and maybe a fitness magazine with Serena Williams on the cover. Maybe. 

Again the profitability of Black beauty is not only doubted but is decidedly disregarded for no other reason than it's Black. I mean why have Black models with a Black face when non-Black models can get the same job done with a little cork and a few brillo pads.

The arrays of grocery store magazine stands, the time between Black cover girls on the front of major magazines, and even the historical stain of slavery can't take away from the fact that Black women are beautiful. These prejudicial excuses also don't take away from the fact that the concept of the ideal beauty has shifted slightly toward features that are found dominantly in the black community. Angelina Jolie's lips and Jennifer Lopez's butt are hot commodities on everyone except a sista with whom it probably originated. 

And for this the women's magazine industry should not only be ashamed of itself but they should also recognized their incredible stupidity. Black people may only make up 13 percent of this country but our buying power is on tap to hit $1.1 Trillion in two years, and as Dave Chappell said in The Nutty Professor... "women be shopping."

When was the last time you saw as many Dark and Lovely commercials for hair relaxers as you saw commercials for natural hair products promising to keep your kinky curls from shrinking.

You thought about it? 


That ladies and gentleman is what we call Black buying power. The so-called natural hair movement has breathed new life into hair companies who have found a whole new niche market to get women with character rich hair textures to drop major dollars on products whose promises of maintaining a Tracee Ellis Ross type mane are nothing but a pipe dream. 

Black women take beauty seriously. We're already willing to drop hundreds of dollars on our hair which begs the question to women's magazine executive's, "How much do you think we're willing to drop on our other maintenance routines if you would just include catering to us?" 

Women's magazines set the standard for not only what is beautiful but also for that elusive thing we call "hot." While Black women may be able to get their "hotness" fix from the Black blogosphere, no blog will ever have the power or the name recognition of a Vanity Fair or Vogue. Yet these magazines either don't realize it or simply don't care. 

Mainstream women's beauty magazines make headlines with their once a decade Black benevolence: an all Black issue, a Black cover model, or an editorial on the lack of Black models in the beauty industry. But rarely are these entreaties sincere steps toward diversity. 

Kerry Washington covering Vanity Fair is historic. Not only is she the first Black woman to do so alone in nearly a decade, but she is also the first Black woman to have a hit TV show on a major network in nearly half a century. 

We all know history always repeats itself, which means even if Kerry's cover of Vanity Fair moves millions of copies in the country it will remain just a blip on the historical timeline of fighting for equal access and representation in all industries; even ones as fickle and frivolous as Beauty. However, if the executives behind women's magazines are ever serious about maximizing their bottom line, moving units, and not losing flighty clients to video bloggers on YouTube, they might want to think about putting more faces like Kerry's or Gabrielle Union's on their covers, opening up their beauty doors to their darker pigmented sistren, and they might want to think about doing this before the next decade. 


1. Do you think Black beauty models can sell magazines (and I'm using the term model loosely)
2. Why do you think the beauty industry covets the assets of Black women but not Black women themselves?
3. All things considered -- society, history, our current First Family etc. -- will Black women and White women ever be considered equally beautiful in America?
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