The Difference Between Issa Rae's Essence and TIME 100 Photos Is Why We Need Diversity
Issa Rae’s star has been on the rise for many years, and with multiple films and a hit television show under her belt, she has firmly cemented her place in the pop culture zeitgeist. As a result, Rae has been photographed for some of the country’s most prominent magazines, including the absolutely gorgeous April cover of Essence Magazine. But, as Twitter user @saintfadumo pointed out, there is a striking difference between Issa’s Essence photograph and last year’s TIME 100 image.
Not only does the lighting in the TIME 100 photo completely wash out Issa’s skin, but any beauty lover can see that her foundation is off by at least a few shades – giving her a pale, ashy appearance. The juxtaposition of the two photographs only serves to highlight an ongoing problem that people of color still face on a systemic level, namely, that the lack of Black people involved in the editorial process directly affects the outcome of the images. If no one in the room understands the nuances of working with darker skin, it won’t even occur to them that they might need to approach it differently.
For a photo like the TIME 100 image to make it to print, hundreds of people have to approve it. And that means that no one – from makeup artists, to lighting designers, to the photographer, to the graphic designers, or editors who approved it – caught this issue. This leads us to believe that it is highly unlikely people of color worked on this piece, and if they were, perhaps their suggestions were not taken seriously. When the industry standard only works for one group of people, it’s time to rethink your strategy. This is just one of the many ways that diversity is imperative across the board. Makeup artists need to come prepared to work with people of all skin tones, lighting designers need to learn how to best show off beautiful black skin, and those at the top of the process need to understand why it’s important to hire people who grasp these concepts.
Recently, mega-brand NARS announced that it would be expanding its foundation range to include 40 shades and named Naomi Campbell as the face of their campaign. This is no longer a niche market – major brands are now aware that their products are no longer relevant if they are not inclusive. The TIME 100 image is eerily reminiscent of photographs of black models in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when the there were few makeup options for people of color. The fact that this is still happening in the era of Fenty Beauty when there are so many more options is frankly unacceptable.
One would think it goes without saying, but having a diverse team is the first step to equal and accurate representation. And hopefully one day, beautifully composed and shot images like Issa Rae’s Essence cover will be the norm.