• Tue, Aug 3 2010

Essence Magazine Controversy: What to do When You’re Stuck in the Middle

I don’t get it. Aren’t there enough fashion/beauty magazines out there to address the hair problems, skin problems and fashion advice for both black and white women? Apparently not. I understand Essence Magazine. I think it’s a great publication for African American women to gain higher status and job opportunities in the fashion world. But ever since the outrage over the appointment of Ellianna Placas as fashion director because she is a white woman, I’ve lost a little respect. What happened to girl-power? United as a front? And more importantly, what about the girls who are stuck in the middle?

I have a friend who has an African American father and a white mother. She inherited her mother’s silky hair and her father’s rich skin color. Unfortunately for her, she has to buy two magazines a month. Do you know how much money a month that is? Just for some advice on which shampoo to use when it gets humid out and which concealer to use when she gets a pimple? That’s big bucks, people.

All I’m saying is people keep complaining over how terrible this new fashion director is going to be and how it’s going to ruin the essence of Essence Magazine. But I (the eternal optimostic) have a different outlook. I can’t stop thinking about how great this is going to be. How maybe, Placas will bring a new perspective to Essence Magazine. Maybe, in the future, my dear friend won’t have to shell out approximately $10 a week on beauty magazines to get her hair date-ready and her skin pimple-free.

I like to think we live in a world where all of our beauty questions can be answered in one publication. Where we can have hair products, beauty products and tampon ads in the same place. But just like that really famous guy who once told us that he had a dream, I guess I can have one too.

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  • Mel

    I’m sorry, this article makes absolutely no sense.

  • Kate

    Mel, it does make sense if you are familiar with the subject.

    I feel on the fence about this. Yes, ideally women’s magazines should be able to serve the interests women from all cultural backgrounds. However, there are enough black women in america who feel that they are not being represented in women’s magazine’s enough to keep Essence (and other magazines like it) in business.

    I read that Time Warner recently bought Essence, and some are speculating that this hire is a result of that takeover. If you found out that Time Warner bullied Essence into hiring a white person, would you feel differently about this issue?

  • Tonya

    Actually, one of the most outraged women over the appointment of Placas is a BIRACIAL (white/black) woman by the name of Michaela Angela Davis, a former employee of the magazine.

  • Tonya

    I would love to have the one-world-utopia-peace thing happening. But let’s be realistic, Taylor. If African-American (as well as Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern, etc.) hair/skin issues were addressed more often in white publications, we would not need ethnic publications. We do have varying hair and skin needs due to hair texture and melanin content. Also, societal and cultural issues of peoples that are non-white are often not addressed in Vogue. Let’s be real. This is not a perfect inclusive world, so it is up to many ethnic groups to create their own niche. And, just to let you know, I am NOT opposed to Placas’s appointment as fashion editor. And, after reading a couple of popular African-American blogs, most blacks that responded were just fine with her appointment, believing that her skin color has nothing to do with her capabilities. Most of the hullabaloo is with people in the industry. The media stirs up too much controversy. Race wars sell copy.

  • Emily

    I’m white, and I can think of at least a dozen magazines that predominately cater to white women. However, I can only think of one that is especially for black people. It would be wonderful if there were fashion magazines that were equally interesting to both (and people in the middle as well) but maybe the first one shouldn’t be Essence, as it already has it’s niche.

    That said, I don’t think that hiring a white woman as editor will necessarily change the scope or content of the magazine to make it more appealing to white people. That’s something that will take time to see.

  • Internalist

    This is the most ignorant response that I have read on the topic.

  • Jay

    This is the most vapid, racist and hilarious thing I’ve read all year. No, really. Are you fucking serious? Black hair is a beast unto itself. Managing it, making it shine and cooperate with its owner’s desires is a science that has rules and alchemy you, Taylor, could not possibly begin to comprehend. There’s not just one magazine that deals with black hair — there are dozens, and there need to be. White girls have it easy compared to the scores of treatments, cuts, processes and often prayers black women have to undergo to make their hair lay flat and behave nicely. Don’t you dare for one second pretend to understand the drama and anguish that having hair like ours entails, especially just because you have a biracial friend who inherited her white mother’s hair. You want to talk about respect? I’ve just lost beaucoup respect for The Gloss. Lillit, or whoever edits this girl’s copy, I really thought I could expect more from you.

    • Sharon

      Jeeez you make it sound so horrible. Like a rabid dog growing out of our heads or something. Why does it have to lay flat and “behave nicely”? Why can’t it just be? I don’t think your issue has much to do with the direction Essence is going in terms of fashion as it does with your self perception.

  • Sharon

    It’s absolutely silly to appoint a white fashion director for a black magazine. Your readers are not being represented. Bad idea Essence. I understand that magazine was lacking in quality fashion editorial but what kind of message are you sending your readers or any of the black women who aspire to work for a large publication? That a black woman wasn’t capable of solving that problem?Now I’m even less likely to grab one off of the stands or accidentally pick one up in a nail salon. It seems we are still so far away from the possibility of another Suede. I pray that some large publisher fill this void in the industry once and for all on American soil and what a shame it would be if it were at the hands of Conde Nast.

  • Eileen

    I think some of you are being a little harsh. First of all, the author never mentioned whether she is white or black, so let’s not jump to conclusions. Assuming she is white, maybe she honestly doesn’t know much about black women’s hair – since so many of them (especially famous ones) go to so much effort to make their hair look more like white women’s. I know I honestly had no idea that black hair was any different from white hair until I was embarrassingly old (like, 18). Hell, I thought that natural black hair was the fake hair, because so few women (at least in my predominantly white town) seemed to wear it. I certainly didn’t know anything about how sensitive an issue hair is for a lot of black women.

    I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with a magazine that offers beauty and fashion tips for all different kinds of women, but, honestly, most magazines that aren’t specifically targeted at “ethnic” women are, de facto, for white women. That having been said, if the fashion designer sucked, and the best candidate – who understood the mission of the magazine and expressed interest in maintaining that mission – happened to be white, I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. Unless she turns out to suck at her job.

    • Kee

      Oh sweety, mainsteam magazines/society until now taught most minorities that they had to seek an unobtainable standard of beauty. Hence the sensitivity that has been passed on for generations is a very difficult thing to let some of those bad habits go. I think this is the reason for such self interest magazines instead of being squeezed into 2-4 pages of a magazine. I think you’re being harsher on her by apologizing for her like she’s a tween, telling me she’s ignorant on the topic she posted and that she can’t grow as a writer(I liked her blurbs until now and she should continue). I think the “harshness” comes from reading an article/opinion piece that seems patronizing because she clearly does not know what she is talking about. Much like a guy telling a woman he doesn’t think PMS is real and a cry for attention because he’s never experienced it. He doesn’t care to learn, understand, have conversations with women on the topic or even ask questions. I hope that she doesn’t take any of our comments personal, get a tougher skin, do research and get better at writing opinion pieces on such subjects.

  • Kee

    What the heck? Did you just step off a space ship? To have one magazine address the beauty of all american women of various backgrounds is pretty much trying to make everyone into a carbon copy of each other. This is the perfect mainsteam thinking – You should be and look like “us” or the popular “I don’t see color” (meaning…I couldn’t give a crap about you and your culture. Be more like me. I’m the perfect mold. for society). Most mainstream magazines don’t address the concerns of most beauty. When they do write about it, It’s ridiculous advice. How about respecting and appreciating each other’s differences? With this comes the “girl power”, Kumbaya and what not.

    I have say that I can’t feel sorry for your friend because it seems that she needs more help with budgeting then fitting into a category. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Go to the library, surf online, read magazines in the doctor’s office or while waiting in line to purchase groceries like most poor people do. Also? Newsflash: Most minority women buy both ethnic and mainstream magazines(all my asian, black, hispanic even jewish friends and I do this) – We live in both worlds. It’s very rare to see white women buying Essence/other ethnic magazines. The real question is: why don’t most magazines that are geared towards mostly white women print more articles on biracial and ethnic beauty without being patronizing? (I think Italian Vogue is one of the few publications to use their brains by including online sections for black women and curvy women(I hope they expand it to asian, etc.) The key was to reach out to writers and bloggers who knew what they were talking about and someone the audience can identify with. Not perfect but they’re walking in the right direction) When you do see an article about minority women beauty issues in mainstream magazines, it can be very patronizing (especially when written by a third party). It does not appear this way to some white people because most of them don’t get it( or don’t have to) thus it all seems not a big deal and unimportant (e.g “why are those black people getting upset over a white fashion director at one of the very few US black women’s magazines? I don’t get it? I know! Let me tell them how they should think. Who cares why! I want to be comfortable. Kumbaya! *peace sign*)

    While Essence is not my fave magazine and don’t care which race the fashion designer is, I can understand why some are sensitive about this. There is that added thing where a great deal of minorities feel they have to change to fit in with white/mainstream culture – the average black Jane might see Essence as a space for them in a sea of main stream magazines. Of course this is difficult to explain to some white people even to some of my very close friends. Some are still baffled and sometimes hurt that I join groups with strictly black women/people for a sense of community. I got the “what if I joined an all white group?” question once to which I replied “Be my guess if that’s what you’re into! Though? The minute you become hostile, hateful or disrespectful, regardless of which group you’re in, We’re over as friends and need not associate with each other. I expect this from any friend regardless of age, race or sex.”

  • Heidi

    This isn’t a magazine for white women. This is a magazine that speaks to the very specific, unique interests and issues of women of color. It is inappropriate to have a white woman in such a high job position at Essence, where she can alter and guide the magazine’s content.

    You must be white, because you would just assume that all women should unite in some ‘sisterhood’ of girlpower or something. The reality is, mainstream feminism VERY RARELY speaks to or examines NON-mainstream (non-white, I mean) female issues, yet mainstream feminism has told a falsehood, for a very long time, that all women experience the same type of inequities. They don’t. Black women have a very different set of women’s issues, a very unique female experience. While all women probably experience Sexism, a black woman often experiences inequities because of her color first and foremost. You can see this in just the fact that black feminists have less of a voice in academia, are only seldom included in the mainstream feminist canon. Black women’s experience of sexism is often sexism + racism, a very unique intersectionality that white women do not personally have to experience.

    I say this because black women’s issues ARE NOT covered in mainstream women’s magazines in the same way. VERY RARELY does Glamour (or similar mags) discuss the unique textures and styling of black women’s hair, or how to find proper foundation and concealer in deeper, non-pinky colors, or which dermatological laser treatments will work on their complexions. These are all concerns that Essence might cover. These are issues that white women are not going to have any real, personal experience with.

    I am irritated that this is one of those “Wah, wah! Poor white women!” posts. Why not try to examine why it would be so bad for there to be ONE JOB reserved for a black woman and not a white woman. Do white people need to infiltrate every single space? Is it their privilege to go wherever they choose, and do any job they’d like to have, even the ones they’re not actually qualified for? Why do white people feel this way? White people already have a monopoly on every single job, space and right in this country. If people are upset that a white woman is taking a high career position that could actually, legitimately be better suited for a black woman, can you blame them?

  • Yvette Reid

    This is a big move and no doubt will fuel argument and discussion for time to come. At least I hope so, because there is a lot of gender and race issues that continue to subsist in the status quo until someone shakes things up like Ms Murray (again, assuming that free will and not coercion was at play here). Granted it’s complex and she has made a gesture that may remain on its own out there for TIME, but who knows? It will give new life to the debate and anything might happen. It is an act of such largesse that it send a very powerful message of “choice and talent” from those that don’t usually get to battle beyond the issue of color. Honestly, I can live with Placas being fashion editor (which is only a sum of the entire magazine’s parts) but if she “suck’s” then move her on. Same thing applies to Patrick Robinson over at Gap.