The new issue of Essence magazine, delivered during Black History Month, might as well be renamed “Wigs and Weaves.” The overwhelming number of images show black women wearing hair that isn’t naturally theirs or doesn’t seem to be.
The good news is that Essence says not to judge the magazine by March’s “Black Women in Hollywood Awards” issue.
Essence replied to an observation from Journal-isms about the March issue that concluded, “in leafing through it, one theme comes through: A black woman isn’t considered beautiful unless she is wearing a wig or a weave, or looks like it. Her own natural hair doesn’t get it.” It noted the “stark difference between the look of the women . . . in this issue of Essence and the variety . . . on the streets of Washington, D.C. . . . The diversity among the women in the ‘On the Streets’ feature seems to be exception, not the rule.
“Granted, much of this is due to the advertising Essence runs, but together with the editorial matter, they combine to articulate a point of view.”
Essence spokeswoman Dana Baxter replied, “Making such a broad generalization based on just one issue of the magazine obscures the brand and its inclusiveness over the past 40 years. At the core of Essence’s mission is highlighting Black women’s inner and outer beauty, as well as celebrating her in all of her diversity, which we do every month in ESSENCE and everyday on essence.com.”
Essence became the nation’s largest-circulation magazine targeting African Americans at the end of 2010 as Ebony, the perennial leader, dropped further in circulation.
Both as a black-owned product and later as part of Time Inc., Essence, founded in 1970, has long helped to shape the tastes of impressionable black women. But it strove to celebrate black women “in all of her diversity,” as Baxter’s statement said. In an issue from exactly a decade ago, the March 2001 edition is introduced by Publication Director Susan L. Taylor, in her trademark braids, and Editor-in-Chief Monique Greenwood, in her natural twists. The rest of the magazine featured hairstyles from straight to curly.
In the current March’s “Black Women in Hollywood” issue, there is no Whoopi Goldberg, with her dreadlocks, nor Halle Berry, with her relatively short ‘do.