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Why representation matters (and still needs to be discussed)

Around the world, we can find increasingly more businesses, content creators, movies and so on who understood the significance of diversity and inclusion. And with diverse, I mean representing the entire human population in all shapes, forms, backgrounds, beliefs and colours and not only a very specific type of person like white older men as CEOs or tall skinny women as models.

"Hey, kids!" It starts very early.

When I was a little girl, the missing diversity around me was one of the key issues I was dealing with in the process of establishing self-worth. Growing up as a Middle-Eastern girl in Germany, "role models" on TV or in magazines have not only been most of the time male but even when they identified as my gender, they used to look quite different to me or being depicted as something I didn't want to be. I haven't seen a doll with dark hair, my skin tone and facial features nor a model in a magazine or the chief doctor at a hospital in order to look up to. And this leaves its marks on children. Children need to see a diverse range of people around them, especially in leading positions, such as CEOs, doctors, presidents as their early expectations are shaped through what they think is possible.

A study in 2012 shows that racial and gender differences on TV have a huge impact on children's self-esteem. 400 white and black boys and girls have been analyzed in terms of their self-esteem after watching TV, and only white boys didn't struggle with lower self-esteem. You wanna know why? Because of the quite positive portrayal of white men on screen. In comparison, the researchers explain that "Black male characters are disproportionately shown as buffoons, or as menacing and unruly youths, and Black female characters are typically shown as exotic and sexually available". Racial discrimination is one of the many problems we still face when looking at lacking diversity in the media.

Times are changing (at some places at least)

Let's take a minute and observe what's currently happening around the world. The movie Black Panther came out in 2018, showing an entire cast of people of colour as superheroes. That was a milestone. Brands also went on board and understood the importance of diversity, such as Fenty Beauty by Rihanna with the slogan "beauty for all" or the clothing label Universal Standard, offering a wide range of sizes for women.

Also, certain women's magazines have at some point realized that the skinny white girl from next door isn't any more a realistic view of the entire society, especially when talking about beauty standards. Something that creates unrealistic expectations on the female body, too single-minded and too problematic for far too many young girls. I mean, how to feel beautiful when the only definition of what beauty means isn't in any way close to what you look like?

There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant. - Nicole Martins of Indiana University

When talking about magazines, we could say that platforms like Refinery29 or Bustle have been avantgarde for showing a diverse range of people. But then again, you may think that all major publishers have been moving along in these new times. That they understood the impact of their reach, their essential responsibility by making an example that representation, in fact, does matter, but no.

In the November issue of 2019, Elle Germany made a few significant mistakes creating a huge shit-storm. The title of the publication: "back to black". The woman of the cover: white. One particular section of the "back to black" issue showing a range of female models of colour. One of them was even wrongly identified as another model. To be clear, people do mistakes. Mixing up people can happen. Yet, how many people have seen this magazine before publishing it? How many of them haven't noticed that stating the title "back to black" implies that these women didn't have a place beforehand, that they haven't been here, that being black isn't about a trend?

The Elle issue is just an example of a magazine that still shows on most covers, guess what, skinny white cis-women. We could say that we talked already enough about the topic of representation, I can say no. We haven't. Let's continue this discourse and establish in every person's mind that beauty isn't anymore about this single definition of something we've been taught and that has been glorified in society for far too long, but that beauty is as diverse as we people are. And even when it may sound cheesy, that in the end, everyone is beautiful.

Also, the importance of representation isn't only about old-school beauty standards. In order to empower young people to aspire more in life, they need to see it first. It happens when we see a trans president or a black Muslim woman as CEO of Forbes Top 50 companies. In the media, women like Ellen Degeneres or Oprah Winfrey have already opened doors for others to follow, yet we need to see more diversity throughout all fields of life. Let's start by bringing more diverse minds to the table, surely it will make a bigger impact and basically everyone can benefit from this.


Text by Bernak Kharabi

Preview Image by Omar Lopez