Stuff You Almost Never See: Black Women On The Cover Of Fitness Magazines. But Why?

November 28, 2012  |  



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?

Follow Alissa on Twitter @AlissaInPink or check out her blog This Cannot Be My Life 

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  • angchronicles

    Great comments. I, too, do not buy fitness magazines. I do believe more black women should be on those covers. I just hope it’s not more Indian or Asian women before black women.

    • bb

      i think any showcase of diverse races would be better. i don’t understand why having “more” indian or asian women before black women is better or worse. how would you feel if an indian or asian woman said that about black women?

      • angchronicles

        I wouldn’t be offended. It is what it is. I come from a place where Black women have struggled for centuries—1785, freedom, 1964, civil rights– in American where they were born and raised, yet treated as if less than human. So when we make it, cover of magazines, TV shows, producers, etc. I’m overjoyed. An Indian or an Asian woman has the same right to feel that way, but their struggle has not been the same. Now, if Black women were moving to Asia and India and moving up the ladder, getting more exposure than than the native women, then tables turn. No offense intended in my message.

  • aboukir2003

    Black men gets covers on health and fitness publications..

    Tyler Perry rocked the November 2012 cover of Men’s Health, Jamie Fox is rocking the December 2012 cover. Go figure.

  • JaneDoe

    Kerry is a little doll.. Why not tho? I personally don’t buy them but I read them at the gym. So if women of other color can be on the cover why not black women

  • Oh snap! imma go buy it just for the cover!

    • Patricia

      Same here. They do need to put more black females on their cover.

  • MJ

    I remember when Jada Pinkett Smith was on the cover of SHAPE, I had the same joyful reaction. I think we (black women) get overlooked because mainstream media views a fit black woman as an exception, not the rule. And it’s a shame that Olympic gold medalists Alyson Felix and Gabby Douglass haven’t been featured on a women’s fitness mag. If Gabby is good enough for TIME, ESSENCE, JET, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and PEOPLE, why not SHAPE, WOMEN’S HEALTH, or SELF?

  • I have been tweeting the editors of Fitness and Shape to get a response about why this is when their readerships are so diverse. In fact, one of those magazines has an Asian editor in chief named Betty Wong. No one ever responds to my queries.

    • You must have gotten through in some way. I mean Kerry effing Washington is on the cover of a fitness magazine! I’m thinking you need some thanks sent your way. THANKS GIRL!

    • angchronicles

      Agreed, Thanks you did have something to do with it.

  • thatonegirl

    I never buy women’s health I usually take the spare ones at the gym. But as soon as I saw (my big sister in my head) Kerry Washington. I went out and bought 2 copies. But honestly you never really see any black cover girls on any magazines unless there Beyonce and Rihanna. Excluding magazines geared towards a minority audience.

  • It’s interesting that Kerry is on the cover. She’s beatiful, but also fitting into the Hollywood def of beauty….skinny minny.

    • The “Key” Is Accepting Reality

      Would you like an apology from those of us with visible abdominal muscles, waistlines, and cheekbones? Like Whoopi Goldberg said ‘there’s no such thing as Big Boned’. That’s a delusional nickname created by the Obese…FOR the Obese to feel better about having overeaten their way into the Plus Size section. SMH

      • Just seeing this….and I’m a size 4. Maybe you should give me an apology for assuming the worst and categorizing other people? And as a person who is in the entertainment business, beauty comes in all sizes. So, while there are castings for me, there are also castings for women who are larger than me. BUT you didn’t ask that. You asked if I wanted an apology for people who have waistlines. Don’t need one. But perhaps you should understand the context of the conversation before replying to someone’s comment.

        • The “Key” Is Accepting Reality

          I was replying to “Ang’s” chubby butt. Oh; for the day females bound to their spanx collection stop hatin on those of us who don’t need the shape shifters just to look like there’s a female body (instead of 3 bags of potates with cottage cheese for thights) underneath form-fitting clothing. In the words of Silkk The Shokker: “It Ain’t My Fault”!

    • angchronicles

      I noticed that too. Skinny, as in anorexic.

  • ieshapatterson

    lol i did go nuts when i saw kerry on the cover.heck,i even went back and bought it the next day.