Just over two months after Who magazine mixed up two black models, Australia’s Harper’s Bazaar magazine has sparked a race debate with readers slamming the December issue for being “out of touch” and lacking ethnic and body diversity.
The front cover, which the publication says is a “celebration of Australian beauty”, features five models; Victoria Lee, Alexandra Agoston, Gemma Ward, Georgia Fowler and Indigenous model Charlee Fraser.
A series of comments left under the brand’s latest Instagram post shared on Sunday, accused the magazine of sending the “wrong message to the public” and “reinforcing the dated idea that Australian beauty is young, skinny and white”.
“Lovely girls. But seriously so narrow and short-sighted, in fact extraordinarily out of touch with Australian beauty,” one person wrote.
“Where is the diversity as Australia is a diverse country, not just in ethnicity but in size, age and shape. It’s 2019 Harper’s Bazaar, this kind of thing just isn’t acceptable. Try harder,” read another comment.
Suggesting a lineup of culturally diverse Australian models who could’ve been recruited for the shoot, one person wrote, “Where are Andreja, Adut, Akiiima, Duckie and Fernanda Ly? They are Australian too!”
Despite the cover featuring 23-year-old Charlee Fraser, whose Indigenous mother is an Awabakal woman from New South Wales, some fans believed even more diversity could’ve made the cut.
“I’m glad an Indigenous model has made the cover! Would have been nice to see @charleefraser alongside Asian, Black, Middle Eastern, Polynesian and many others as well as white models on your covers,” model Pepe Havea wrote.
On Monday morning Harper’s Bazaar Australia’s Editor-In-Chief Eugenie Kelly addressed the backlash.
“I’ve been reading some of the comments and it’s disappointing as it seems to have been missed that we have an indigenous model on the cover – Charlee Fraser,” Kelly told HuffPost Australia.
“She identifies as a proud Aboriginal woman and she’s also one of the world’s top models – she was named Model of the Year at last week’s Australia Fashion Laureate.
“Our coverline ‘A Celebration of Australian Beauty’ has a double meaning … the 40-page portfolio which accompanies the cover story is all about celebrating the Australian environment and the fragile beauty of the Whitsundays, as this is our conservation and sustainability special.”
Last month Fraser told HuffPost Australia that greater representation in fashion is important “not only because I’m a woman of ethnicity myself, but because our generation now is the next generations’ history”.
“Identifying with my Aboriginality has highly influenced my direction in life. Having no direct source of information on our history, traditions, way of life, etc. has led me down a path of self-discovery and a journey of obtaining knowledge,” she said, adding, “watch this space”.
While Harper’s Bazaar’s conscious decision to include an Indigenous model in the shoot is laudable, the wave of backlash proves more could have been done to include a wider representation of Aussie identities.
According to Australia’s most recent Census in 2016, nearly half (49%) of Australians had either been born overseas or one or both parents had been born overseas. With that in mind, the Australian media can’t afford to ignore its responsibility to represent the multicultural population in 2019.
Former Associate Editor at Who magazine Abi Moustafa agreed, saying “this cover may be aesthetically pleasing, but it in no way represents the diverse beauty we witness in Australia, daily”.
Having worked at the publication for four years across print and digital, Moustafa is proud of the magazine’s efforts to produce diverse coverage, including the title’s Beautiful People and Sexiest People lists which have featured Miranda Tapsell, Sam Harris and Jessica Mauboy in recent years.
Moustafa explained some editorial decisions can come down to advertisers.
“I’m aware that publishers are expected to sell their magazines and therefore include models who are linked to advertisers, or have a huge online following,” Moustafa told HuffPost Australia.
Journalist Amal Awad, who recently delivered a TEDx talk titled, ‘Moving beyond the token minority’, said it’s important to recognise what people were asking for when they slammed Harper’s Bazaar.
“When you’re asking for diversity, what are you actually asking for? We’re not asking for tokenism,” she told HuffPost Australia.
“We’re asking for a fairer representation but not one that’s just there to appease and tick boxes.”
She said the way to achieve authenticity in representation is by involving culturally diverse people in the decision making process, whether that be in board rooms or editorial teams.
As a proud Australian-Arab woman, Moustafa agreed that diversity within media outlets will help create change.
“Showcasing and interviewing people of diverse backgrounds is something I’ve pushed very hard for during my time working at two of Australia’s biggest publishing houses. Quite often, they have stories that are more so relatable to every day Australians, which makes sense given these magazines are catered to the masses.”
This story has been updated.