A project created for my Race & Photography class, the Cover examines Asian representation and visibility in the fashion and entertainment industry through the recreation of fashion magazine covers from September 2018. A recent topic in the entertainment industry has been the lack of Asian representation in both film and television, especially with the release of Crazy Rich Asians. This brought to my attention the lack of Asian representation not only in film and tv, but also on the front of related magazines.
I wanted to look into possible Vogue and other renowned fashion magazines for covers with Asian stars or models, but found that there has never been a single US or UK Vogue with an Asian featured on the front. I want to turn my focus onto especially important magazine covers such as the September issues that mark where fashion stands around the time of Fashion Week. These covers usually set the tone for the next seasons of fashion, where the industry stands, and where the standards lie when it comes to the mark of beauty and style. The women that are found on the covers of these September issues on the notable magazines like Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, InStyle, etc. predominantly feature white women, or if they feature women of color, they follow the Eurocentric beauty standards.
I want to preface by saying that this isn’t to go against the diversity of women that are featured on these covers, but to highlight that despite that diversity, we still do not have very much Asian representation overall, particularly in this coveted spot.
A huge thank you to all the amazing women involved in bringing this project to life.
Models: Serena Nakamura, Stephanie Hauck, Echo Chen, Rachel He, Ashley Wu and Renee Chang
Styling: Cerise Zhane’
Most of the people I see on magazine covers are normally very successful/famous people who have a great influence on society. Of course, I can’t really relate to their lifestyle and fame. Therefore it’s hard for me to feel “represented” by most magazine covers.
Growing up and still to this day, I never really saw magazine covers that featured someone who wasn’t white. I know I exist in a space where to some extent white models and celebrities on covers do represent me, but it was still disheartening to not see models that represented the other half of my identity. Things have gotten a bit better in 2018 due to the success of Crazy Rich Asians and the various covers that have come as a result, but the vast majority of covers still feature white people.
I wish magazine covers would feature people of all races and ethnicities as prominently as they feature white people. I also wish that the people of color that do make it onto these covers weren’t presented in ways that align with Euro-centric ideas of beauty. I want to see covers that celebrate and embrace different ideas of beauty and promote diversity, both across and within different races and ethnicities. Anyone should be able to see people like just like them presented as beautiful and revered, not just those that fit into a narrow mold. I long for the day that Asians, and not just East Asians but dark-skinned and Southeast Asians too, along with other minorities appear on magazine covers just as much as white people do, and are presented as being beautiful just the way they are.
For years, I struggled with being proud of being half-Korean because society told me that my Asian identity wasn’t valued as much as my white identity, so seeing other Asians on the covers of magazines feels so validating. Seeing them presented as iconic, powerful, and influential honestly makes me feel more proud to be half-Asian, which is a pretty empowering thought.
Seeing myself on the cover of a magazine feels absolutely incredible. I wish I could send this cover back in time so that I could have seen this when I was younger. I know that it would have meant the world to me to see a biracial woman look glamorous on the glossy cover of a magazine because it would have reassured me that I am beautiful just the way I am: half-Asian.
Most of the women on these magazine covers have “natural” makeup on that gives off a sort of effortless beauty. Constance in particular is really the only one that stands out as having heavy makeup and appears to be really “done up”. You might be able to chalk it up to the photographer’s choice, or Fashion’s style, or how the look contextually alludes to the glamour of Crazy Rich Asians, but it makes her unequivocally more difficult to connect to. When I see a big Asian star like Constance Wu in the spotlight, I’m glad to see her looking strong and fierce—but she doesn’t have the “natural” makeup or the effortless look that makes me feel like Asian features have been accepted as naturally beautiful.
It is always a joyful and relieving feeling when I come across Asians on magazines. I immediately get excited and start asking myself “Oh my god, who is she!?” I am so used to seeing celebrities and the “all American girl” on ads and magazines. It’s so refreshing and different when I come across an Asian model.
It was not until I saw Constance Wu and the other amazing Asian leads of Crazy Rich Asians make headlines and magazine covers that I really thought about how underrepresented I was by the people on magazine covers. Growing up I was kind of conditioned to just know that I wasn’t going to see anyone who looked like me on the cover - but now seeing it for probably the first time in my life, it’s so important for everyone in the next generation to be able to see someone who looks like them. I wish there was more diversity - not just in race but in size & style as well. When’s the last time someone just looked normal on a magazine cover?
Something that stood out to me in particular was how focused the images were on the face. I’ve never been particularly proud of my facial features, and it feels a bit daunting to have the camera pointed at that part of me. It’s certainly hard to relate to the expensive celebrity photoshoots, given that I struggle to match socks on a typical day (let alone entire outfits with jewelry). But it’s the faces that I feel most separate from: they don’t have my short nose, my monolid, my flat eyebrow ridge. I look at these women and think, where is that girl with my olive skin? Where’s the one that has thin, straight hair, like I do?
Seeing myself on a magazine cover is exciting and reminds me that not only celebrities and “all American girls” can be portrayed as beautiful and strong.
It's cool yet funny that something that seems like such a simple idea can seem revolutionary, just because we're not used to seeing it. I could never imagine myself actually on a cover but I think if we started seeing people that "looked like us" more often in media representation, maybe opportunity, bias, and confidence would change for the next generation.
Growing up in the US means you are surrounded by ideals of Western beauty — tall, white, thin, defined facial features, that's all I knew and saw on magazine covers growing up. If our culture stopped glorifying just one type of beauty, the representation in media would be much more accurate of what the population looks like. Instead of elevating just one body type or idealistic standard of beauty, it'd be cool (and I see the industry is just starting to shift) for an honest portrayal of different types of beauty. The hard thing about this right now is that media's goal is to show you what you "could/should" aspire to be.
I feel proud seeing another Asian person on the cover of a magazine. It’s so important to push back against western beauty standards and I know that Constance Wu cover meant a lot to Asian-American women young and old. Seeing myself is weird, but cool to see that it doesn’t really look that out of place - like if I walked past the magazine on the street I wouldn’t think twice.
It feels more exciting than it should be. It excites me to see myself on a cover, because magazines have been propped up to be the pinnacle of success. Seeing another Asian person on the cover makes me feel hopeful that newer generations have the ability to recognize themselves in media—to feel like their dreams are possible without visual and social interference subconsciously telling them that they’re not.
But we as a society should be past this point. It shouldn’t be revolutionary to see another Asian person—and even that, an East Asian person—on the cover of a magazine, because we need more. We also need representation in politics and legislation, in education, in community efforts. But covers are a place to start.
I don’t feel well represented on the cover of magazines, rather I feel like I see the same people or type of people consistently shown on magazines time and time again. What I wish is that magazines used their platforms more often to showcase people of diverse backgrounds and experiences, to lift up voices of marginalized communities, and to bring attention to issues that matter.
2018 pushed in that direction. Time Magazine featured #MeToo founder Tarana Burke on April 30th’s cover for “The 100 Most Influential People of 2018” and a collection of covers featuring low-income teachers for the September 24th issue “I’m a Teacher in America.” Teen Vogue is also pushing the boundaries of media and conversation; their March digital cover highlights “young Hollywood”, featuring 8 “new” actresses Bria Vinaite, Sasha Lane, Margaret Qualley, Ellie Bamber, Letitia Wright, Laura Harrier, Storm Reid and Awkwafina—who speak on topics such as representation, equality for people who are less visible, gender discrepancies, mental health, and more. But this diversity of thought and representation shouldn’t be saved for only “serious” magazines, but make their way into entertainment, fashion, and culture.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be celebrating known celebrities like George Clooney and Jennifer Anniston; there’s room for everyone.