British Vogue’s latest cover celebrate Black beauty

British Vogue’s latest cover celebrate Black beauty

N Melo
by N Melo
April 15, 2022 0

British Vogue’s latest cover celebrate Black beauty

Why are the models depicted in a dark and ominous tableau, the lighting so obscure to the point they are almost indistinguishable on a cover meant to celebrate their individuality? Why were they dressed all in black, giving a funereal air, and an almost ghoulish, otherworldly appearance?
Why were they sporting strangely-coiffed wigs? Many of these women wear their natural hair normally and it would have been great to see that reflected on a cover celebrating African beauty. Additionally, on the cover, the models’ skin color appeared to be several shades darker than their normal skin tone.
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The photographs were taken by Afro-Brazilian photographer Rafael Pavarotti, and the images — published in numerous glossy magazines over the years — are consistent with his visual style of presenting Black skin in an ultra-dark manner.
“This is a celebration of women, of matriarchy, and of the beauty of Black women,” Pavarotti said of his first British Vogue cover shoot in an article accompanying the pictures online.
“They are the past, the present, and the future,” he added.
But the lighting, styling, and makeup, which purposefully exaggerated the models’ already dark skin tones, reduced their distinguishing features and presented a homogenized look. Was this the best way to celebrate Black beauty? Would it not have been better to let their natural, unique beauty shine through?

British Vogue's latest cover celebrate Black beauty
British Vogue’s latest cover celebrate Black beauty

Pavarotti did not respond to requests for comment and Enninful declined CNN’s request for an interview, while British Vogue has not responded publicly to the criticisms. A behind-the-scenes video of the shoot was released along with the cover images. Shot with more natural light, before the women are fully styled, the short clip reveals more individuality, and a variety of dark skin tones, in dramatic contrast to the final result.
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In an article published on the Vogue website, Enninful describes the models (Adut Akech, Anok Yai, Majesty Amare, Amar Akway, Janet Jumbo, Maty Fall, Nyagua Ruea, Abény Nhial, and Akon Changkou) as “a powerful cohort of reigning and emerging superstars who have not only come to rule catwalks and dominate campaigns but have shifted the lens through which fashion is seen the world over.”
He added: “No longer just one or two dark-skinned girls mingled backstage, but a host of top models took a meaningful, substantial and equal place among the most successful women working in fashion today. It means so much to me to see it.”

Adut Akech on the cover of British Vogue
Adut Akech on the cover of British Vogue Credit: From Rafael Pavarotti/British Vogue
‘We want us as us’
A cover is the highest accolade a magazine can give to a subject, and, historically, Black women have rarely been bestowed this honor.
Former British Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman famously noted in a 2017 interview in the Guardian that unknown Black women on the cover sold fewer copies.
So, when Black women appear on the cover of global high-profile magazines like Vogue, these images circulate widely; we feel seen, celebrated, and acknowledged. That is why for many Black women, particularly dark-skinned ones like me, this Vogue cover feels personal.

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When the February issue was first unveiled last week, I saw many people, like my friend, saying how stunning and beautiful it was. So, I took to Twitter to see if others were as conflicted as I was. Hundreds of people replied to my tweet saying they found the images to be a poor representation of Black women.
What I found is that many of us want to love these images, but can’t shake off a feeling of disquiet that is rooted in deeper issues around beauty standards that have excluded us for so long.

N Melo
NM
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