Chin: The Face of Beauty

by Clara Chin | 10/7/15 6:30pm

When I was little, I used to hate my “Asian” nose. I hoped that it would one day become smaller and pointier. In all of the magazines I read, none of the models had a nose like mine. I saw demure and thin noses — not round and flat ones. In choosing which models and celebrities to display on their covers and pages, magazines help dictate and articulate what traits are widely considered to be acceptable or beautiful. I have seen few, if any, Asian models on the cover of my American magazines — I see only slightly more Latina and African-American women. Most models are white. This, according to magazine covers, is the face of beauty.

Thankfully, I am past the time of being insecure about my face. I should not need to see people who look like me on the cover of magazines just to feel pretty. I should be confident enough to tell myself that I am beautiful. Self-esteem — particularly in a culture where songs such as One Direction’s 2011 hit spout lines such as “you don’t know you’re beautiful” and are somehow considered romantic — is an important trait. In regards to the racial patterns on magazine covers, I at first thought it was justifiable if by nothing more than the fact that white people make up the largest racial demographic in the United States.

Yet after considering this discrepancy in representation further, the homogeneity of the models who grace these covers is certainly a problem. Magazines, in general, serve to dictate what is trendy, stylish and attractive. So even if an individual makes an active effort not to let magazines dictate her own self-esteem, magazines still have the power to influence wider societal beliefs on opinions of beauty.

Moreover, the demographics of the U.S. are no reason to justify a lack of diversity in the media. The 2014 Census showed that the nation’s population is actually 62.1 percent non-Hispanic white, while 82 percent of women featured on magazine covers are white. While white people still make up a majority of the U.S., this ratio is amplified in the models chosen, and women of color are significantly underrepresented on these covers. We walk around and see a relatively diverse population, which we do not see reflected in fashion and beauty magazines. The subtext of this tells one’s subconscious that women of color cannot be high fashion, that women of color are not pretty.

Racial statistics on magazine covers should not necessarily match the demographics of our country. In fact, I would rather see the percentage of women of color featured on these covers surpass the percentage of women of color in the U.S., as diversity is one of the key elements of American culture. The demographics in major cities are far more varied than the national average. In 2014, Los Angeles was 14.8 percent Asian and 48.4 percent Hispanic or Latino, while in 2010, Detroit was 82.7 percent black. Because mainstream fashion magazines are often so centered on metropolitan life, to underrepresent women of color is to inaccurately reflect the city experience for many Americans.

The response to this should not be to silence those who will call out these magazines. Nor should it be to include women of color as a way of being “mindful” of race. Rather, this inclusion should be seen as an opportunity of celebrating race, because diversity is something we should embrace.

Magazines may seem insignificant in comparison to the larger, potentially more drastic issues surrounding race — such as the potential for ending race-based affirmative action or the overpopulation of people of color in the prison system — but they are powerful precisely because they are normal and trivial. These publications provide an opportunity to celebrate not just cultural goods, but the people that make up this nation. Regardless of where you live, diversity matters because it is an inherent principle to this country. Magazines put things in perspective. Diverse magazines mean that we can see the U.S. the way it really is, not just the way it is in our own insulated bubbles. It is a small step, yes — but it is a step to normalizing race relations and appreciating the beauty of us all.