While Beyonce's sultry look and wet hair may break the internet with recent news that she is Vogue's September cover girl, making her the third black woman to hold this honor behind Naomi Campbell (September 1989) and Halle Berry (September 2010), I can't help but feel a little salty.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a fan of Mrs. Carter as anyone. In addition to promptly bursting into happy and surprised tears when she dropped her surprise album, I've got the CDs, the posters -- hell, even the same birthday as Queen Bey.
Still, as I watch everyone celebrate this historical cover, I can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of pause as I think of the many deserving Black Queens that I would love to see on the much-coveted September cover of Vogue or any other major fashion magazine. It's time to stop celebrating small victories and demand that the world opens its eyes and realizes that black too, is beautiful.
I’m a teacher in a school district that where the population of black and brown students hovers over the hump of 93%. As I hold conversations, particularly with my 16-18 year old female students, I often wonder if I am doing enough to be a role model for them -- a woman of color who is willing to advocate for student need.
I often think of how impressionable I was at their age. How the many magazines I poured through were covered with faces of women that looked nothing like me.
In addition to the normal self-esteem struggles of a teenager, I was also internalizing a message that told me my dark skin was not beautiful. It took me years and a lot of pain to get away from this Eurocentric idealization of beauty and that’s not something I want my students to face. I want them to be young women who are comfortable with who they are and where they come from.
Even though a fashion magazine cover may seem like a trivial matter in the battle against systemic oppression and internalized racism, representation is an important issue -- especially for adolescents who are often learning about who they are. Everyone deserves the right to find role models they can relate to and look up to.
Why the big deal about the September issue you may ask? As chronicled in the 2009 documentary The September Issue, Vogue’s September magazine is their biggest issue of the year. Not only does it roll out fall fashion trends, but the cover tends to feature the most influential celebrity of the year.
And so, here are some Black Queens that are more than worthy of a September cover not just because of how they slay the fashion world, but for everything they do.
1. Ms. Janelle Monae
Janelle is more than a gorgeous face sporting her trademark pompadour, lady suits, and wide brimmed hats. She is also an activist. Along with Black Lives Matter activists, Janelle recently led a rally against police brutality in Philly. As she led a chant of “Say His Name/ Say Her Name” she also carried a sign sporting the words “Black Girls Rock.” Her song “Hell You Talmbout” with Wondaland Records is an Afrocentric tribute to black lives lost that will bring you to tears. Work Queen Monae!
2. Ms. Gabourey Sidibe
Ever since her debut in the title role of Precious, critics have done nothing but try to tear Gabourey down, but this Queen is never letting her head down lest someone try to snatch her crown away. Ms Sidibe is a fierce diva who’s 100% comfortable in the skin she’s in and is never afraid to tell it like it is. Even though she’s stunningly beautiful, she reminds us all that self-image is what truly matters and when you love yourself, no one can take that away from you.
3. Ms. Estelle
While she may be from across the pond, Estelle is making waves in the US. In her role as Delphine on Empire, Estelle’s song “Conqueror” is used to support underdog Jamal who is coming out. Even though the plotline is fictional, it is an inspiration to see a black male on mainstream television come out and have allies.
Estelle also voices the confident, smooth, and strong leader Garnet on Cartoon Network’s hit series Steven Universe. Knowing that little girls out there can see a natural haired curvy heroine? That’s some black girl magic right there.
4. Ms. Jada Pinkett Smith and Ms. Willow Smith
At first glance this mother/daughter duo couldn’t be more different. Mommy Jada is a classic beauty -- often seen sporting long, flowy dresses and a “knock 'em dead” smile. Willow is a face of the Carefree Black Girl movement; she is a self-proclaimed misfit who is constantly developing her styles and aesthetics.
You may think this would cause them to knock heads, but Jada is Willow’s biggest fan. Jada once famously took to Facebook to tell the haters that she “let” Willow wear her hair as she likes because Willow has a right to her own body and doesn’t have to meet anyone’s standards of beauty but her own.
With her mother’s support, Willow defies conventional standards of beauty that are placed on girls. She wears what she wants, she says what she wants, and she belongs unapologetically to herself. Though she’s frequently categorized as weird, Willow is, in my opinion, wise beyond her 14 years.
5. Ms. Misty Copeland
This Prima Ballerina (and xoJane author) is dancing her way into the heart of fans young and old. Misty got her start in a Boys and Girls Club in San Pedro at the age of 13. With the odds against her as a mixed heritage dancer who got a late introduction to the world of ballet, she was still able to work her way up to the American Ballet Theatre. It is with this company that she became their first principal dancer this past June.
Despite her success, Copeland does not forget where she came from. To this day she volunteers with the Boys and Girls Club, teaching children to never give up on their dreams. Her beautifully illustrated book Firebird also shares this message, particularly with young African American girls.
6. Ms. Viola Davis
Ms. Davis’s place on this list may be somewhat ironic as this wise and talented Queen was once quoted saying that she has no aspiration to be a “Vogue Woman.” Viola’s famous scene in Shonda Rhimes' How To Get Away With Murder in which she stripped off her make-up and wig on camera, making herself completely vulnerable, was her own idea.
Davis is not afraid to make bold moves that all women can relate to. She speaks out against the racism, ageism, and sexism that plague American media. In her emotional 2015 SAG Award speech, she told a personal narrative about her young daughter who, during story time, often asks, “Mommy, can you put me in the story?” reminding us why representation is so important.
7. Ms. Amber Riley
Amber Riley is most often associated with her powerhouse vocals, but this Queen gave us all life as the winner of Season 17 of Dancing With the Stars along with partner Derek Hough.
In the opening episode of the season she lovingly referred to herself as a “big girl” and explained that she was looking forward to young girls seeing a non-typical body size tearing up the dance floor, then she went out on stage with the cha-cha and did just that.
Amber is also a huge fan of volunteer work and encourages her fans to volunteer as well. She’s supported the Save the Music Foundation and participated in Secret Deodorant’s “Mean Stinks” anti-bullying campaign to name a few. I’m counting down the days until this big-hearted, multi-talented beauty appears in NBC’s Live production of The Wiz as the Good Witch of the North.
8. Ms. Samira Wiley
This Julliard graduate is most known for her role as the silly and lovable Poussey in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. She's using her rising popularity to make strides as a role model.
In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Ms. Wiley talks about the sense of responsibility she has for young girls who want to be like her and her responsibility toward women in the prison system.
Though she only plays an incarcerated character, she understands the disparity faced by women behind bars and not only speaks upon this in interviews, but has worked with the Women’s Prison Association which helps former female inmates rebuild their lives after release. Samira was also the 2015 recipient of the Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign.
I appreciate Vogue for putting Beyonce on the cover, I celebrate Lady Bey’s accomplishments, but I’m not here celebrating the small victories when I know how many black women are making history and breaking barriers on a regular basis.
These incredible eight black women are only a small taste of Queens that are out there every day defying the odds and trailblazing a pathway for other women to come behind them. I want my students to have access to information about women like them.
I might not have always had that as a young girl, but I strive for a future of empowered black girls that will.