Things are changing at the newsstand. Many magazines that used to mainly feature skinny, white women on their covers are now opting for more diversity and inclusivity. The musician Lizzo was recently on the cover of Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair put a portrait of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed by Kentucky police, on its September cover.
Jacqueline Lambiase teaches diversity in the media at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She told Texas Standard that magazines are trying to evolve not only to stay culturally relevant but also to stay in business.
“If they can use a progressive image on their cover, or a younger image on their cover, or de-center some of the whiteness that they’ve had on their covers and bring more readers to the magazine, that’s a win for them,” Lambiase said.
Magazines have had to adjust their business strategies as digital media overtook print. That included an embrace of social media because of its ties to celebrity culture. Celebrities don’t need magazines as much anymore to promote themselves or their work, but magazines still need them. So, Lambiase said, they’ve have had to find ways to attract celebrity fans to their publications by talking about what celebrities are talking about – intersectional issues like mental health, race, gender, sexual harassment and more.
“The magazines have had to follow suit because they need those eyeballs,” she said. “You look at somebody like Selena Gomez – she has 194 million followers on Instagram. If you’re going to interact with a celebrity like her, you’re also going to have to care about the issues that she cares about.”
Lambiase said the move isn’t all about business. Magazines are also trying to change their role in American culture. They have been blamed for objectifying women, portraying mostly their bodies while focusing mostly on men’s faces, Lambiase said. But putting women like Lizzo on a cover starts to chip away at that pattern.
“She is kind of a body-positive model, she’s a musician, she’s an activist, and she’s quite different from the past,” Lambiase said.
This story has been updated to reflect the fact the TCU is in Fort Worth, not Dallas.