Diversity? Let’s Not Be Quick To Claim


American Vogue’s latest cover has encouraged the media to cheer the magazine’s attempt at presenting a face of “diversity”. Sure, quite a few have challenged that description too, but the diversity tag is as adhesive as gum on cement floor. Seven women, although racially different, in one issue is, however, hardly diverse in the mag’s 125 years of existence. It may be different if seven women from the seven countries banned by Donald Trump from entering the US appear instead.

The March issue of Anna Wintour’s pet publication says it “celebrates modern American women” in an Instagram post, avoiding the use of the word “diversity”. It is possible that that is deliberate because the editorial team knows putting seven almost similarly girthed and limbed girls on one page just once is hardly diverse. Even the skin tones are alike (although this could be due to the light of what appears to be a setting sun), prompting the suspicion that Vogue is not inclined to deviate from their norm by going extremely dark-skinned.

On that cover, we see Liu Wen, a lass CNN calls “the first Asian woman to grace American Vogue’s cover.” This is where things become a little disconcerting. Liu Wen has to share the cover, near the left edge of the page; she did not have the cover to herself. Until the day Vogue is able to assign the entire cover to an Asian face, just as they did for black women in the August 1974 issue that featured Beverly Johnson, we can’t really say an Asian has singly made it to Vogue’s coveted cover.

China’s Liu Wen has doubtlessly been successful in the US. Her 2010 contract with Estee Lauder as the beauty brand’s “global face” has made her widely recognisable, particularly in the States, where she too scored with heterosexual males when, in 2009, she was the first Chinese to sashay on a Victoria Secret catwalk. In 2015, Forbes placed her 12th on the list of the world’s highest-paid models of that year with an income of USD4.5 million (by contrast, the No.1 Gisele Bundchen made “USD44 million before taxes and expenses”). Her success reflects her appeal on the international scene, in which a rather white client base has a rather different take on what is an Asian beauty.

In China, Liu Wen is conversely not considered by the Chinese to be that beautiful, certainly not in line with classic Chinese beauties such as Yang Guifei, or her modern sisters Gong Li and Fan Bingbing. To be fair, Liu Wen is Vogue China’s favourite model and has appeared on their cover and in countless editorials. Her look, not ethnically unique but caters to the Western sense of what is Oriental, is considered plain to the regular folks of her homeland. As one Shanghai-based marketing manager once said to SOTD, “刘雯是美,但时装界的美不代表男人找媳妇的美” (Liu Wen is beautiful, but the fashion world’s beauty is not the same as the beauty that a man looking for a wife seeks).

“Women rule” (even only in modelling) may be a sexy catchphrase in “a climate of immigration bans and building walls”, but let’s see more diversity beyond this one March issue before Vogue So White gets an unwelcome hashtag.

Photo: voguemagazine on Instagram

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