Stuff You Almost Never See: Black Women On The Cover Of Fitness Magazines. But Why?
I startled both my husband and the Target cashier when I shrieked “OMG!” in the middle of the grocery store last week before nearly leaping over the conveyor belt to get to the other lane.
“Kerry Washington is on the cover of Women’s Health.” I yelled behind me once I reached the magazine rack. I waved the magazine around triumphantly, “They never put Black people on the cover of fitness magazines!” I’m sure I said that loud enough for everyone around us to hear, but what do I care? It’s the truth.
I love print magazines and I’m subscribed to at least seven different ones, three of which are fitness and health based. However, lately I’ve been letting my magazines subscriptions expire. Why? Because the racial makeup of our country is changing yet if you let the covers of these popular fitness magazines tell it, the United States is as White as ever. Month after month the glossies that land in my mailbox fail to feature any women of color.
Just this month when I spotted Cindy Crawford on the cover of December’s Shape Magazine, all I could think about was how many Black people in Hollywood they passed over to pull Crawford out of the archives.
I get it. She’s a supermodel who graced the cover in 1992 and this new cover is commemorating her 20th year anniversary. Congratulations. However, this is also evidence that magazine editors still believe that a White celebrity whose heyday was two decades ago can sell more magazines than a Black celebrity who is having her moment right now. It’s sad…and it’s ridiculous.
Magazines in general rarely put Black women on their covers, I know that. Vogue Magazine has had maybe 25 total out of the more than 400 covers in its entire history. However, I take special issue with the fact that Black women are underrepresented in fitness magazines because it just furthers the false narrative that Black women do not value their health. It seems as though if it weren’t for “Black Girls Run”, the mainstream media would think the only African-American runners are the Women’s US Olympic 4×400 Relay Team (none of which have covered a health magazine this year, by the way). These magazines play a powerful role in defining and depicting female health and fitness and they’ve largely left minorities out of the picture.
Of course it’s not totally accurate to say Black women never cover fitness magazines. Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey and Jordin Sparks get magazine covers when they lose 1,000 pounds. Apparently, dramatic weight loss will trump race every time (so will being Rihanna). But what about the scores of Black celebrities who are the picture of health on a daily basis? Those women are ignored because mainstream magazine editors obviously believe that Black women cannot be an example of good health. They seem to believe you have to be White to value exercise and nutrition.
Why do they believe that? Because apparently, they’ve bought their own story that they’ve been selling for years saying Black women aren’t healthy. Sure, the statistics say that Black women are more likely to be overweight, but people of color are not the only ones tipping the scales. The United States has an obesity crisis that includes people of all races — even White people. However, viewing people as a group instead of as individuals (as Black people are often viewed by others) allows a few Gabourey Sidibes instead of Kelly Rowlands to represent the whole and therefore excuses these editors from acknowledging many Black women have the same commitment to fitness as White women.
Clearly an obesity crisis is no reason to ignore anyone — especially not if your publication is geared toward educating people about health. In fact, I wonder if these magazines began celebrating Black women who are interested in physical fitness and nutrition if more Black women would then be motivated to get in shape because they would see it’s not just the White girl thing that these magazines make it out to be.
It’s not like showcasing Black women would be putting magazines ahead of the curve anyway. These publications already have diverse readership and it’s about time their pages reflected that. How ironic I read these magazines in the gym despite the fact that the editors don’t believe a woman like me goes to the gym.
It’s difficult to feel bad for the dying industry that is print magazines when the industry is killing itself by refusing to get with the times. Fitness magazine editors need to take a look at their covers and ask themselves what mindset is contributing to the homogeneity and is their persisting “no Blacks allowed” mentality worth losing more subscribers because many have just lost one.
What do you think? Do you notice that Black people are rarely on the cover of fitness magazines?