The current issue of Vogue is, allegedly, all about diversity. The cover features seven models from different backgrounds meant to celebrate cultural diversity and body diversity. One of those models is Liu Wen, who CNN says is the first Chinese model to appear on the cover of American Vogue. That cover has already been criticised for its narrow view portrait of representation. But then, you open the magazine and there’s Karlie Kloss, in an editorial called “Spirited Away” made up with Japanese features and dressed like a geisha.
IN THE DIVERSITY ISSUE!
Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, and Tilda Swinton turn to Karlie Kloss. "Your turn, girl."— Ira Madison III (@ira) February 14, 2017
Karlie on phone: "Hello, Vogue? Make me Asian." pic.twitter.com/zgUWIB022Q
Predictably Karlie also poses with a sumo wrestler.
A lot of words have already been written by a lot of people about how offensive this is, including Angry Asian Man who asked, “What is so creative about a white lady in yellowface, standing in front of the usual traditional Japanese sh-t?”
That’s exactly it. But for the people behind this shoot, that is precisely why this is exciting. It is more exciting, more interesting, more “cool” to see a white all-American woman showcasing Japanese culture than it is for an actual Japanese woman to be showcasing Japanese culture. A Japanese woman looking Japanese? BORING.
Karlie Kloss looking Japanese?
What we slowly absorb from all this then is that the beauty of Asian culture, in this case Japanese culture, is only worth elevating when it’s portrayed – and therefore filtered – through whiteness. So of course I wanted to be white when I was growing up. If I stayed the same I would always be less-than.
After being dragged online for most of yesterday, Karlie has now apologised.
There are people who believe that when someone apologises, the apology should be accepted straight up. The problem I have with that is that the apology doesn’t answer the question: WHY DID IT HAPPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE?
Karlie Kloss wasn’t the only person at the photo shoot. And, after the photo shoot, there were even more people going through the images, selecting them, and then approving the final spread for publication – including Anna Wintour. Where was the pause point? Why is it that these pictures were circulated through what likely would have been dozens of people, if not more, and STILL made the cut?
That’s where diversity has to go deeper, not just on the page but before the page. Mistakes like this will continue to happen if there is no diversity among decision-makers. Making the models “diverse” doesn’t prevent racist imagery from being presented if the people behind the photograph – the photographer, the style editors, the creative consultants, etc etc etc – aren’t diverse too.
So it’s not enough for Karlie – and the others – to say they are sorry for participating in the shoot. Tell me more about why, when you were participating in the shoot, it didn’t occur to you that the concept was insensitive. Tell me that you are beginning to understand that the answer to that question is because you exist in a bubble, that your worldview is shaped by your privilege, that that privilege both limits your vision of diversity and suppresses the very diversity you purport to celebrate. THAT would be not just an apology but a pivot towards progress.
While Karlie has weakly apologised, at post time, Vogue has yet to comment. How is it that Vogue and Teen Vogue can be of the same publication family and be so far apart in terms of awareness? On the Show Your Work podcast several weeks ago Duana and I talked about how Teen Vogue has been consistently showing us how a fashion magazine for young women can also be a force for change. But they’re not the only ones. Here’s a great Twitter thread about how magazines for women are doing better, doing more.
Since people are still SHOCKED that Cosmo broke that Kellyanne Conway story, let's go over A+ political reporting by women's mags, shall we?— Lily Herman (@lkherman) February 6, 2017