We already know that diversity on magazine covers widely improved in 2016. Editors-in-chief joined forces with their creative and entertainment directors to tap nonwhite cover stars to serve as the faces of select issues. But if there's any team at a publication that bears particular responsibility to show diverse representations of women — in Every. Single. Issue. — it's the beauty department. Beauty editors are responsible for pulling foundations that come in shades for all skin tones, hair solutions for all textures and stories on identity from women who, for so long, have been underrepresented.
The first step toward diversifying beauty content? Tapping editors of a variety of ethnic backgrounds who bring fresh perspectives to each brand. These experts determine what faces, products and stories will be published, ultimately redefining traditional beauty standards and working toward a more inclusive perspective of the industry. Here, six print and digital beauty editors share their personal experiences as minorities in the magazine industry and offer a glimpse of their tireless processes for creating all-inclusive content. (Plus, the products they feel meet all women's beauty needs.)
Brooke Shunatona, Senior Beauty Editor at Cosmopolitan.com
My dad's side of the family is Native American and a little French, and my mom's side is mostly German. I'm a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation (that's my tribe), and my last name means "big horse," which has been one of my nicknames all my life. I remember feeling like I was bombarded with images of [women with] blonde hair and big, blue eyes growing up. Most of my closest friends, the girls in my neighborhood and even my own mom had blonde hair, and I always wondered why I didn't.
I'm mixed, so I saw people who looked similar to me in most magazines — straight brown hair, brown eyes. The biggest struggle, however, was embracing how small my eyes and my eyelids are. It's common for Native Americans to have smaller eyelids, and magazines never seemed to have the most helpful tips for eyes like mine. I didn't know how to complement my eye shape with makeup and for that reason, I hated my eyes for the longest time.
It was a simple story, but writing about eyeliner tricks was a passion project of mine. I grabbed women from around the office and demonstrated different tips for using eyeliner on different eye colors and shapes. One of my dad's friends, who is also Native American, reached out to thank me for including tips for smaller eyelids, which still made me smile. Writing about makeup may, in some ways, seem trivial. But to see the difference between how I felt as a teenager — growing up with an eye shape I didn't feel was recognized in magazines — to what I felt when my dad's friend commented on my article, reminded me of the importance of what I do. That interaction with readers is so valuable, and it's something that we at Cosmopolitan.com take into consideration for every story we work on.
Ashley Weatherford, Associate Beauty Editor at New York Magazine's The Cut
If you Google 'Shaker Heights, Ohio,' you’ll find a New York Times article about my hometown. It lays out a community effort for Shaker to become a diverse community. That was the culture that I grew up in. It was a bubble, but it was a great bubble and has helped me as an adult to understand people’s different world views.
In college, I wanted to be a lawyer, but I've always been drawn to beauty. When I graduated, I started studying for the LSATS, and realized that beauty was my outlet. I wrote about it for fun on a blog, which propelled me into my current career. I specifically remember an ad with Jessica White, who was modeling nude lipsticks for Maybelline. I ripped that ad out of the magazine and took it to Target so that I could buy the exact shade she was wearing. Those moments of seeing someone who looks like me, wearing something that I could try, were so few and far between. In some ways it felt like a treat, and I knew it shouldn't have felt that way. It shouldn't have felt like this great dessert.
People used to be able to get away with having narrow-minded perspectives, not only when discussing beauty, but also in showing what was considered beautiful. Now, largely in part to social media, there's a level of accountability to provide an experience to readers that's enjoyable to everyone. No one wants to read something and think: Nothing in this story relates to me.
In 2015, I wrote a story called 'The Year Black Hair Was Everywhere,' where I talked about how black hair and all its different textures was featured in so many different mediums. It was all over runways, it was on television, we saw it in movies. We saw that black women have different textures that are all beautiful and worthy of being filmed or captured in some way.
Kathleen Hou, Senior Beauty Editor at The Cut
My parents immigrated to America from Taiwan after grad school. I was born in New Jersey, but most of my relatives live in Asia, so I used to spend my summers in Taiwan and come back to New Jersey for school. I felt like I was able to get a little taste of what it was like to live in another country since I spent so much time there when I was younger.
I don't recall there ever being stories about Asian beauty when I was growing up. The first one that I remember was in Bobbi Brown's Teenage Beauty. It's a book about how to do your makeup if you're a teenager. The nice thing is that it has different chapters for different ethnicities. I remember being so happy to see Bobbi's tips for Asian girls. She talked about things like us having more of a yellow-based skin tone. I didn't really know what type of skin tone I had, let alone how to do eye makeup differently for my eyes. That was the first time that I had something beauty-wise that spoke to my ethnicity.
Beauty is unique because it's a little bit anthropological. It's not just what kind of products people are using. It's also about things that can be political. When you go to the beauty counter or drugstore and don't see a foundation in your color, you don't feel spoken for. At The Cut, we always think about diversity, whether we're choosing models for shoots, or even people that are writing stories for us. We try to make sure there are diverse voices across the board.
I think diversity in the industry has come amazingly far. This year, for example, has been an especially positive year for curve beauty. This beauty portfolio we did with five curvy models was a favorite of mine, because it celebrates beauty at any size. Why shouldn't a curvy model be the face of a beauty brand? The women are confident and well-versed in talking about body acceptance;on set, there was a lovely camaraderie between them all that I don't often see in the modeling world.
Megan O'Neill, Senior Beauty and Fitness Editor at Elle
I was born and raised in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. From the ages of maybe six to nine, my Friday nights were spent at the giant Barnes & Noble on Broadway and 80-something street compiling a giant stack of magazines. I'd pick up everything: Elle, Seventeen, US [Weekly] — Playboy, even, if an issue had already been torn out of its protective plastic covering to prevent nosy kids like me from flipping through it. I'd find an out-of-the-way perch and make a nest with my coat and read — or look at the pictures, mostly — for hours until the store closed at midnight.
Both my parents are from Jamaica, so my brother and I are first generation [Americans]. I didn't see anything amiss back then, but looking back, most of the people featured [in magazines] were not of color. There would be a hair guide in some teen magazine and, no, the model in the spread was most likely not black with kinky hair like mine. I still followed along and loved what I was flipping through, but it would have hit home so much more poignantly if sometimes the person looked like me.
I love that we, as editors, have the power to help change things — and we are. Elle is adamant about representing a diverse array of ethnicities, which is awesome and truly necessary — especially now with so much blatant racism swirling around us. We're always on the hunt for women who are smart and interesting and doing amazing things. And if that's a person of color, it makes my heart swell. It's important to showcase a black female scientist or a hispanic makeup artist or a Middle Eastern dermatologist. There is a perception that those women don't exist, but they do. And we can help prove that.
Simone Kitchens, Associate Beauty Director at Glamour
My mother was adopted and has brown skin and dark, curly hair like me. Race wasn't a huge topic in our house, but growing up in Oklahoma, I remember feeling pretty conscious of being the only non-white person in various places around town.
In high school, I subscribed to Vogue, W and Lucky, and would sketch models from those magazines in my art classes. Models like Liya Kebede and Alek Wek were big around then, but as a mixed-raced girl with naturally curly hair, I still didn't really see myself. Today, I'm always working toward making sure the content I create feels inclusive and reflective of the world we live in. I wrote an essay a couple of years ago about always getting the "What Are You?" question — a question that I've gotten my entire life, but never had a straight answer for. I spent six months talking with family, doing tons of genealogy research and getting a DNA test, and found that writing about it made me want to push myself to pitch more stories that covered areas people might not always feel comfortable talking about. I heard a lot of feedback from readers about that piece, but the main thing was that it felt relatable.
There are definitely more models of color these days, which feels amazing, but I'm also really excited about the shift in beauty. We just finished working on this giant beauty portfolio for an upcoming issue, and the people we shot are such a diverse group. Of course we talked to them about beauty products and treatments they love, but we also got to dive deep on their beauty philosophies. It was a refreshing experience to hear so many different outlooks. That's what we want to keep pushing at Glamour: a variety in perspective when it comes to beauty.
Sheryl George, Beauty Editor at InStyle
At InStyle, we've featured Indian celebrities like Mindy Kaling, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Freida Pinto — my younger self would have been thrilled to see these ladies in a magazine. (I was born and raised in Staten Island, New York, but my parents are originally from India.) As a teen, I used to turn to magazines to figure out how to do my hair and makeup, but had a hard time finding girls who looked like me on the pages back then. Even though I didn't always see myself in these issues, I enjoyed flipping through magazines for inspiration and eventually figured out how to blow out my long, fine hair from an article in a teen magazine. I don't see [beauty content in magazines] as telling women to change the way they look; rather, I'm hoping to help them embrace features they love.
When we work on our beauty pages at InStyle, the team always makes sure to feature women of different ethnicities, hair textures and ages. We take that very seriously. Our team is also incredibly diverse, so we can really test a variety of products and see if they work on all of our different complexions and hair types. I often work on our "Matchmaker" page, where we reach out to the makeup artist of a featured celebrity to confirm the exact product they used in the image, whether it's blush, foundation or lipstick. [By showing] skin tones that range from porcelain to ebony, I hope the page allows women to find their perfect match, IRL.
... And Now, Their Beauty Must-Haves
Because these are all beauty editors, we saw fit to also ask them about their favorite game-changing beauty products. Click through the gallery below for all of the details..
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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