Brown Skin Girl…
Fun fact. I’ve bought exactly three copies of Vogue in my life. Beyonce’s September issue, Meghan Markle’s September issue of British Vogue, and one with Gugu Mbatha Raw on the cover. In fact, if you were to look at all the magazines I’ve saved over the years, they have a common theme: On the cover is a woman who looks like me, who is black, like me. Shockingly, whenever I’m browsing the magazine racks, to see a woman like me on the cover still revolutionary, because most of the time, they’re nowhere to be seen. But is it revolutionary or is it representation?
It’s funny how something as simple as a magazine cover can actually make us feel some kind of way about ourselves…
The issue is that when the default is white, thin, able-bodied, and straight, well… you feel invisible. For as long as there has been any kind of industry, whether beauty, or fashion, or even Hollywood… anyone who exists outside that box is basically told they don’t matter.
The thing is… we exist. We live life and we have stories, and we aren’t going anywhere. The world I live in isn’t pure white. So I make an effort as a consumer, to give my money to where the representation is. And not just ‘let’s jump on the bandwagon and showcase a few black people but not actually change the ethos of our company’ kind of representation.
It’s why I picked up those copies of Vogue, or watched Belle as many times as I have. Why I read Queenie in a matter of hours. Why I still listen to (and rewatch) Beyoncé’s Coachella performance (hello, African American culture on the mainstage at historically white festival… I’m here for it!)
Because I want to see people who look like me. It feels like a visual confirmation that I have a right to exist. That I am enough. That I am human.
Being a black woman, race is where I tend to focus. When I see women of color playing great roles it’s empowering. Even more so if race isn’t some involved plot point. We exist in the world outside of stories about racism, slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.
Representation is about a lot more than just race.
While I largely notice the racial disparities, it’s important to look for all kinds of representation, whether it’s age, body type, sexuality, or disability… After I went to see Crazy Rich Asians, I sent a tweet out asking followers what representation means to them.
Reena talked about validation and self-esteem, pointing out that the lack of representation can have a negative effect on both.
Kat told me that it’s often not until she see a woman who looks like her that she realises how starved she is of images which reflect her in the mainstream.
Ria pointed out that pop culture, no matter how trivial, feeds into societal & political perceptions of minority groups, and representation has an effect on that.
Where Do I Fit In?
Maybe you’ve never given it much thought. I certainly don’t blame you if that is the case. All it says to me is that you’re probably in the group of people that is considered the norm.
But take a minute and think about how you would feel, growing up and never seeing yourself on the cover of a magazine. Think about what it’s like to not be able to buy makeup because the brand doesn’t make anything in your shade. Or doing into a hair salon, and being told, ‘we don’t do your hair here.’
Those of us who aren’t the ‘norm’?
Well, we always notice when we’re not included.
Even in the world of blogging, I feel like representation leaves a lot to be desired. I swear people think they can only do one thing at a time, as opposed to being generally representative. ‘Okay, we’ve got one person of color hanging about, so we’ve ticked the diversity box! Woo! No need to include anyone else!’ Honestly, that’s not enough.
Talking about representation is so incredibly important (I’ve brought it up on Twitter thread here and here) and one that shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet. I know I have been more vocal about it recently.
The fact that this post has been sitting in my drafts for well over a year should tell you it’s not a new thing. Because on one hand, it’s nuanced and complicated, and runs really deep. On the other hand, why should I have to ask to be included?
Finding the words to explain how I’m feeling is really difficult. I don’t even know if I’ve managed it here, but it’s a start anyway.