September's Issue: a Conversation with Anisa Tavangar

As September rolls in, things begin to change. Days get a bit shorter, night a bit brisker, students hit the ground running, and major media publishers gear up for their biggest money maker of the year, the September issue. This issue, sometimes weighing the amount of a newborn baby, is the holy grail. It has hundreds of pages of beautifully clad men and women, perfume and cologne samples, articles with future fall trends and and let's not forget ads.

This year, the large majority of the September Issue covers feature white women. This comes as a surprise as major media publishers have recently been saying they are pushing for diversity and inclusion. While the big publishers remain ignorant and out of touch, the real fashion world plows forward, pushing boundaries, and expanding the cultural horizon. 

Soon after these covers were posted, Anisa Tavangar, the editor of Columbia's acclaimed fashion magazine Hoot, and the other impressive editors posted to their Instagram story showing the September issues side-by-side and a screenshot of one of their conversations.

(an exert from the full interview, which will be published in the first issue of Polychrome Mag.)

Micah: Recently you shared your thoughts on this year's huge September issues, could you expand on that?

Anisa: As the September issue covers are being released, I, as I always am when I’m looking at media, was really looking out for women of color (WoC). I was waiting and waiting and waiting for one cover to have a WoC on it and I didn’t see any. Then, I don’t even think I’d mentioned anything to my Hoot editors yet, I got a text in our group chat and my fashion director sent a photo, that was from a Fashionista article, of them lined up and they were all white. All the major magazines, they all had white people on the covers. It was just really disappointing. Fashion is supposed to be a haven for the outcast. They love to seem really progressive. Their whole thing is trends. Apparently, the trend of media is diversity. That’s kind of, in the long term, where things are going. It was so disappointing to see, on the biggest issue of the year, the biggest money maker for them because they have so many advertisers, that not a single one of them had a WoC on the cover. That kind of showed that when these magazines have a regular issue, any other month, some of them might put a WoC, but when it comes down to something, to an issue that has potential for a really big check, they’re reverting back to putting only white women on the cover.

I’m so lucky to have these wonderful editors that I get to work with, who are so aware of these kinds of things and who, through each other, we’ve been able to improve on how we analyze and talk about these kinds of issues. Because we’re always doing that with each other, we had a really fruitful conversation about the September issue covers in our editor group chat. I was really excited about what we were saying so I put a few screen shots on our Instagram story and we ended up getting a lot of good feedback from that. Then we were talking and it was such a good conversation, how do we spread this information? How do we allow for other people to have access to what we’re talking about or join the conversation or whatever it is? 

(from Vogue's website)

(from Vogue's website)

Should we publish the whole text conversation? Should we publish an article? Should we put something in Hoot? Should we put something in Holler? How should we do it? What was striking is that there’s such an immediacy with this September issue. It’s really something that’s happening right now and we want to get it out right now. We decided, we’d never done this before, but let’s just have a Facebook live chat. It was so fun! I really hope we’re going to do more of them. I think we will. It was so easy! We’re always talking about these kinds of issues in fashion, that are not happening elsewhere really.

Micah: It’s like a conversation that happens, but it’s normally behind closed doors. So it was interesting to see it on the livestream with y’all.

Anisa: Right! I’m so pleased with how it turned out. I just think it was a really cool way for us to present the ideas we’d been thinking about to a larger audience. To really just invite people to have these conversations with us, with each other, and that’s really the goal of everything that we’re doing. We don’t have the perfect answers. I don’t really think anyone does, up to this point. We definitely want to continue having these live chats. Every single issue that we have when we come up with our theme, we have a really in depth discussion about the nuances of that idea and usually we’ll just take notes and then present the notes at our general body meeting in this disjointed way, but this year we’re going to do a live and show our conversation. It’s frustrating for these gaps to keep arising.

Micah: How do you think magazines and the lack of diversity in the international world affects the international population? Not just America.

Anisa: Well first of all, there’s such a pressure of these Caucasian beauty standards and these standards of whiteness in places where whiteness isn’t even the majority. I think it’s really harmful to keep spreading those because there’s already such a pressure. There’s so much plastic surgery around the world.

Micah: Skin whitening products...

Anisa: Yeah, skin whitening products, bleaching, surgeries, and all these kinds of things that are so prevalent and dangerous. For media to keep propping up that white standard of beauty and the idea that these features are the ideal, they’re basically supporting these practices. That’s just absurd. It’s completely unnecessary. It’s also saying, in a way, that people from wherever the magazine is supposed to represent, that the people are not good enough. That is simply not true. All of these countries have their own media cultures and stars and gurus who would be great on their September issue cover. Still there’s a fear of putting anyone, except a Hadid or a Jenner on it. Bella Hadid was on like eight September issue covers, which is not necessary and also nonsensical.

Micah: That other cover with Gigi Hadid with Zayn.

Anisa: That was Vogue basically saying that Gigi and Zayn are the faces of gender fluidity because they share each other’s t-shirts, which is just stupid. It makes me wonder, who is pitching this? Who is in charge of this? It’s really ridiculous. I think it’s also a sign that we need new voices in these circles.

When you think about all these magazines, they’re basically all run by, except Nylon, Hearst and Conde Nast. So at some level, there has to be an awareness. There has to be someone looking at all the different covers, who sees, but doesn’t notice, that every single one of them has a white person on it. That really shows that there’s this complete lack of concern. That these other efforts are just trying to appease whoever is bothering them about it. It’s not a sincere effort for creating inclusive media, it’s just “cause it’s cool now.”

Fashion is supposed to be a haven for the outcast. They love to seem really progressive. Their whole thing is trends. Apparently, the trend of media is diversity.

Why is it that these publishers still believe that only white sells? Is it too much to ask, too much to comprehend that men and women of color are beautiful enough to be on the most important issue of the year? Did you put Blake Lively on the cover of Glamour and hide Halima Aden on the inside cover just to satisfy the disgruntled PoC in the back? Jennifer Lawrence's Vogue cover represents old "AMERICAN BEAUTY" standards. She represents all that modern media is trying to get away from: a middle-aged, blonde, white woman, who can still tells her insensitive "Hawaiian rock story" on tv and get away with it. She is forgiven and heralded as an "American Beauty". What might she have to say "on love, liberty, and the freedom to be herself"? This was a fantastic opportunity to feature those who are actually struggling to be free as who they are, to represent the tired, the poor, and the huddle masses yearning to breathe free. This was an opportunity to feature those who represent what America idyllically is; a place where dreamers can dream, creators can create, and builders can build. 

This issue is institutional. By examining the cultural primordial pool, we can help form a more perfect future full of diversity and inclusion, sans tokenism and appropriation. 

(click here watch the Hoot roundtable)

Stay tuned for the longer interview, which will be published in our full magazine.