British Vogue Cover: Feb 2022
Updated: Feb 14
I have to admit that I am incredibly conflicted in how I feel about this cover having read the way different people, in particular, Black people have reacted to this game-changing British Vogue cover for their February 2022 issue.
When I first saw this cover about three days before I posted it on my Linkedin last week Friday, I let out an elated scream. I thought the images were captivating, beautiful and powerful. But above all, for me, being a dark-skinned Black woman, I thought it was giving the middle finger to what society sees as “acceptable” and “coveted” beauty. This to me looked like manna from heaven.
I wanted to shout about it which is why I posted it on my LinkedIn, and, even though the majority of the reactions and comments my post received was positive. It was the challenging ones that had me thinking more about what this cover and the other photo means.
First, admittedly all I saw was beautiful dark skin. In all honesty, I was so happy I didn’t pay much mind to their hair. My good friend Yinka first pointed it out on my post and I thought “damn!” I replied back to her with this emoji > 🤐
What I should have followed that emoji with was this one > 🤦🏾♀️
That’s because I was so caught up at first glance that I missed an important part, which was the fact that the models were not rocking their natural hair. There were no afros, no plaits and no cornrows. Instead they had weaves and wigs.
I agreed this was a little frustrating so I edited my post because I do wish the models had shown off their natural hair so we can appreciate their magnificence in all their glory.
I rationalised it in my head and tried to play devil’s advocate. I thought there’s just no way that Edward Enninful would miss out on such an important part of this storytelling? Surely, it had to be part of this vision and the vision of the creative/artistic director. As a Black man, Edward would know something about hair love and how Black women's natural hair have been discriminated against in the past and present? Surely, he wouldn’t overlook something so paramount to our identity?
Then in another comment, someone said they weren’t impressed that all shades of Black weren’t represented in the images. This did annoy me because I thought “well obviously”.
I’m the darkest woman in my immediate family and all my sibling are fairer than me. One of my sisters was so fair when she was born people thought we had different mums! Imagine!
So this person pointing out to ME of all people that these Vogue images didn’t represent all of us was jarring. We already know there’s no such thing as one monolithic tone. Again, to play devil’s advocate, I really don’t think this was the objective of the fashion shoot.
In my mind, I thought we rarely see women of such dark/almost Black (as in the colour) on magazines so that was the point of this. Whilst they are few and far between, I have seen the representation of my skin tone before and I didn’t want to play struggle olympics. I just wanted to celebrate the photoshoot and the covers for what I thought they were. A celebration.
But after doing some reading, learning and listening to various Black people this past weekend - I’m now thinking I may be completely wrong?
I had an inkling that not all the models were as dark as the photos suggest, so I had a look at behind-the-scenes footage from the photoshoot and though the models are dark-skinned it does look to me like they have been edited to look darker for some and significantly darker for others. Now, I don’t necessarily feel duped because I already suspected this but I do feel a little > 😬 < this is the emoji that makes the most sense to use. Why did they need to be made darker at all? Surely, if you're going to do something like this then you'll do it properly?
Then I saw this tweet on Twitter on Sunday evening and I froze...
"Black Skin Porn". "Black Fetish". "Reverse Bleaching". WHEW!!!!!!!!!
Is that criticism a little harsh?
This is why I feel conflicted because I know the fashion industry is institutionally racist BUT is this what we are seeing here?
Is it fetishisation instead of celebration? Isn't art supposed to be subjective?
Due to the colourism, I've received at the hands of all races including fair-skinned Black folks, I look at this thinking "here are women darker than me who are living their best lives and dismantling the status quo in the fashion world".
While I'm thinking that, other dark-skinned women are thinking "here's Black skin porn and reverse bleaching". Maybe I need to not take this at face value and dig a little deeper... But I'm too scared to because I don't want to not like this cover and this shoot. *rubs temple in frustration*
Have I been begging for breadcrumbs of representation that I allowed myself to be caught up to overlook the story not being told? Are we going forward only to go backwards with this? The elation I initially felt is rapidly beginning to wane..
I see why the aesthetics of the shoot has gone down like a lead balloon for some Black people, but I'm a little shocked by how divided this photoshoot has left us.
If Alexander Shulman was still at the helm of British Vogue, I sincerely doubt Black women would be getting this love - whatever hue the tone is. It's no secret that she had zero time for Black women.
I agree that no representation is better than wrong representation and I'd be spitting wasps if I felt that Edward Enninful and the team are causing dark-skinned Black women more harm. Are some of us outraged for outrage sake? Or can we just acknowledge this for the beautiful wonder it is?
I feel discombobulated. I don't hate this but I certainly don't love it anymore. Phew - what 72 hours of reflection can do eh?!
Love Abi x