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Indie Magazines Must Embrace Women of Color
By Virginia Sánchez
I'm used to mainstream fashion and beauty magazines neglecting visibly non-white women in their photo shoots and advertisements, but I expect better from independent magazines. A so-called feminist culture publication of any kind needs diverse representation. Black, brown, and yellow women need a clear presence in indie magazines. You should find images of them on the homepage. You should find images of them as illustrations in articles, essays, short stories, and poems. You should find them on the masthead, too, but I'll set aside the lack of diversity in magazine staffs for the purposes of this op-ed and focus on image curation. Representation in image curation improves when more non-white women are on staff, but it's also something white editors can take the initiative to do. These days, with stock photography and social media embeds at an editor's disposal, there's no excuse not to have women of color grace their pages. No more lip service will do—action is all that matters.
Today editors can connect with all kinds of women in their community and from around the world thanks to the Internet. So even white editors who live in a predominantly white area can find, solicit, create, and crowd-source images from women of color. As these editors work to recruit more non-white writers and engage more non-white readers, they can work on improving representation in their images. This task shouldn't only be on the to-do list for Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month or Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This is a year-round assignment.
I want to emphasize that these images be of women who are visibly and undeniably non-white. It is of course important to have biracial and mixed race representation. It is important to show light-skinned women of color, as well. These women are part of the non-white community and have their own beauty and unique experiences to share. But these should not be the only visual examples of women of color in an independent feminist culture magazine. Darker women with non-European features should be celebrated in independent magazines the same way white women are. They should appear on the cover or the homepage. They should star in fashion shoots and videos. A story shouldn't have to be about black history to have a photo of a black woman go with it.
The Internet went wild when Vogue Mexico put indigenous actress Yalitza Aparicio on the cover. Truly, this was a boon for a mainstream women's magazine. It shouldn't make the news. It should be the norm. Readers shouldn't be surprised to see a non-white woman on the cover of a magazine. But you already know that mainstream women's magazines have a long way to go. That's why you're here reading Quail Bell, hoping for a slice of culture with a different perspective. How many indie magazines do you know that are actually making the effort to represent non-white women with gusto?
I follow dozens of indie magazines on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I'm always down for a new poem or creative photo shoot or idea-driven essay. You will find me scrolling through social media to get my latest literary fix when I don't have a book in hand. It makes me so sad to see how some of the magazines most vocal about diversity and representation are the whitest. Again, I'm not even talking about the staff. I'm talking about what the reader sees as they click from story to story, page to page. Uh-oh, there's another stock photo of a white girl looking pensive. Well, guess what? Brown girls can look pensive, too! How much harder would it be to upload a photo of a brown girl?
If you're a regular indie magazine reader who isn't already thinking about this, please start to notice. And if you're an indie magazine editor who hasn't thought about this, what's your explanation? And how are you going to change?
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