Presentation Proposal

Research Project Title

How is ethnicity represented in fashion and beauty magazines such as Vogue and Harpers Bazaar?

Research Aims and Objectives

This research aims to discover if there is still an imbalance in the representation of different ethnicities in fashion and beauty magazines such as Vogue and Harpers Bazaar. It intends to find that although there have been advancements in the use of ethnic minorities in fashion magazines more recently, it still is a white female industry. Also, I expect to find that Vogue is becoming more inclusive with its use of models of different ethnicities both in images and in interviews. Where as, magazines such as Harpers Bazaar is still unequal in its use of models. I plan to do this through quantitative and qualitative research methods, including content analysis, discourse analysis and semiotic analysis of both fashion magazines in order to find if these magazines are indeed starting to use a broader ethnic range of models.

Context, Background & Rationale

The issue of racism and inequality is still very relevant in today’s society. Thus, the problems surrounding the representation of ethnicity in fashion and beauty magazines is highly significant today due to growing interests in fashion and beauty trends on a global scale and the continuing growth of such magazines. For example, Vogue was criticised for taking 12 years to put their first black female model, Jourdan Dunn, on the cover of their magazine.

Many newspapers have covered the issue of ethnic minority portrayals in the fashion and beauty magazine industry. For example, the Independent, The Guardian and Huffington Post have all covered the issue of the imbalance in use of models of different ethnicities shortly after major fashion events, such as the differing fashion weeks. Hadley Freeman’s opinion piece for The Guardian said “Black models never, with single-digit exceptions in a decade, appear on the cover of major fashion magazines…”

Furthermore, there have been studies on this topic such as the work of Ben Barry, a CEO of a modelling agency, that looked at how much more likely it was for a woman to buy clothes if the model looked like them. Also the Minnesota Sate University study of how women of colour are portrayed on the cover of magazines.

Literature Review

Many previously conducted studies that have focused on gender and class have touched upon the stereotypical images of women used in the media, with some highlighting the implications of white supremacy and a difference in representation of ethnic models compared to white models.

Goffman’s research (1979) pointed out “a pseudo-reality that is better than real” which is seen in media imagery through fantasy vs. reality, in which we compare ourselves to models. This research was supported by Covert and Dixon’s (2008) research which inferred that within magazines, “portrayals appear to reinforce cognitive linkages between people of color and stereotypes”. Thus showing that the semitotics of a magazine change to suit the ethnicity of the model in use, with ethnic models being framed in ways to reinforce stereotypes.

However, Tillery (2008) proposed a social constructionist idea that ‘race and racial categories are created by people’. He argued white skin and white identity are a property that provide “sources of privilege and protection.” This is known as the Critical Race Theory which maintains the idea that race is both fundamental and ordinary in society, with theorists arguing the viewpoint that ‘whiteness’ is a property. Critical Race Theorists argue the fact that that the standards and concept of beauty and worthiness are forced on the subordinate groups through the the socialization of whiteness as a property and a power. This point is supported by Harris (2003) who argued “Whiteness has functioned as self-identity in the domain of the intrinsic, personal, and psychological…”

In comparison to the critical race theory, Objectification theorist, Moradi (2010) signified that women of colour have “intensified pressure” as subordinates in relation to “skin tone, hair color, facial features, and shape and size of body parts…These pressures may contribute to body image and eating problems for racial or ethnic minority women.” Likewise, research conducted by Objectification Theorists have pointed out that adopting a third person perspective of the self is extremely damaging and consequential as it is dehumanizing to that person. So, in terms of ethnic minorities already subject to stereotypes and a different portrayal to white women on magazines, the negative effects of objectification are doubled. Papadaki (2010) explained the objectification of people can be considered as a negative as it involves treating a person as an object, ‘in the sense of a mere instrument for someone else’s purpose.’

To sumarrise, as media outlets are extremely male dominated in terms of their ownership, the use of image selection and the portrayals of women will reflect the fantasy created by the white male on what a perfect female is. More often than not, the images and the copy used in magazines from media outlets are used to promote their ideas and to create an impressionable and susceptible audience that are lesser educated and believe ‘pseudo reality as actual reality with no disclaimer or filter of reference’.

Methodology and Sources

The qualitative data utilised by this research will be conducted primarily through the use of semiotic analysis to see how ethnic models are shot differently in terms of shot types, stance and clothing and how ethnic models are may be represented differently to white models.

Secondly, it will employ content analysis by counting how many ethnic models were used on the covers of both Vogue and Harpers Bazaar in fashion week editions over a period of 2 years in comparison to the number of white models. This method will allow it to be noticeable if there has been an increase in the use of models of different ethnicities or if it remains unbalanced. This is due to the fact that magazine editors look to include information that they believe readers will relate to and therefore use the images and headlines on their magazine covers as their selling points. By using a content analysis of cover images, it can examine the images marketed to the readers for Vogue and Harpers Bazaar.

In addition to this, as cover images are accompanied by a feature article, through discourse analysis the research will explore how the language used may vary when speaking about an ethnic model in comparison to a white model.

Ethical Implications (if any)

There are no ethical implications

Strengths & Weaknesses of the Project

By only looking at fashion week editions of both magazines, there isn’t too much material to analyse meaning the research can be more detailed and also focuses on a time when people are paying more attention to what’s new in the fashion and beauty industry. This acts as a strength as the research will then be able to see if there is a more prominent use of white models in these magazines in order to sell more magazines.

The weaknesses faced by this research may be that by only analysing two magazines, it will not be representative of all magazines and may therefore pose an ethical issue. Another limitation is the difficulty to locate physical copies of these magazines at local libraries.


Covert, J. J., & Dixon, T. L. (2008). A changing view: Representation and effects of the portrayal of women of color in mainstream women’s magazines. Communication Research, 35(2), 232-256.

Goffman, E. (1979). Gender advertisements (1st Harper colophon ed.). New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Tillery, A. B. (2008). Tocqueville as critical race theorist: Whiteness as property, interest convergence, limits of jacksonian democracy. Political Research Quarterly, 62(4), 639-652. doi: 10.1177/1065912908322412

Moradi, B. (2010). Addressing Gender and Cultural Diversity in Body Image: Objectification Theory as a Framework for Integrating Theories and Grounding Research. Sex Roles, 63(1/2), 138-148. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9824-0

Papadaki, L. (2010). What is objectification? Journal of Moral Philosophy, 7(1), 16-36. doi:10.1163/174046809X12544019606067


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