What's Wrong with Cosmopolitan's "Trends That Need to Die" Article

It’s been a couple of days since the Cosmopolitan  “21 Trends That Need to Die” scandal made headlines, but I just thought I’d weigh in on the conversation. 

In case you are just coming to the story like I was, Cosmopolitan released an article in January titled “21 Trends That Need to Die.” The article, which hasn’t been taken down, features many celebrities and models rocking trends that I would believe were, at one point, hailed by Cosmopolitan, but now are stated to be the scourge of fashion. They are in the “RIP” line-up. Next to those pictures are photos in a line-up called “Hello, Gorgeous,” photos of models on the runways or (a few) celebrities on the red carpet. Everyone on both the “RIP” and “Hello, Gorgeous!” lists have been styled by professional stylists.

Many people got upset with this article because there wasn’t a great variety of black models or celebrities in the “Hello, Gorgeous” pile. Apart from Nicole Richie, who is bi-racial, all of the women in the “Hello, Gorgeous” pile are white. Meanwhile, black and Latina women are featured in the “RIP” pile along with some other white celebs.

Of course, it would seem there was a racial element in choosing only white celebs or models to make up the good list, and a range of women to make up the bad list. Because of that, and because of the exaggeration that only black women were on the bad list, people took to social media to show their outrage. Cosmopolitan did issue an apology to offended readers (including supermodel Joan Smalls, who was included on the “RIP” list):

This article focuses on beauty trends with images that represent those trends. Some images have been taken out of context, and we apologize for any offense. Celebrating all women is our mission, and we will continue to work hard to do that.

Here’s my take on the debacle, in bulleted form.

• Cosmopolitan didn’t focus exclusively one race or ethnicity when it came to the “RIP” list. One could say that I’m defending the magazine, and in a way, I am. But I’m only defending it with damning praise. As Julee Wilson wrote for The Huffington Post, what’s the most troubling is that they weren’t equal with representation on both sides.

Why are all of the good examples only white women? The fashion industry is still a largely white game, but there are still many notable examples of multicultural beauty on the runways and in the magazines. They could have easily chosen models that represent their readers to fill the good slots. As many have accused the magazine of doing, showing brown or black people revives the classic experiment in which black kids chose the white doll over the black one because the white was seen as “beautiful.”

• Cornrows are apparently not trendy anymore. Well, I’d say that of course, the appropriated version of them would fall out of favor. It’s easy to call something that’s part of another’s culture “trendy” when you don’t really recognize that culture as a living, breathing thing and only view it for the immediate value and interest it can provide to you until you grow tired of it.

Cornrows came to fashion’s attention through Kylie Jenner (remember Marie Claire falling over themselves with love for Jenner’s “EPIC” style?), which she, of course, learned about from someone black. Cornrows have been a black style for centuries, but up until last year, cornrows and similar braided styles were used against us and being propagandized as a way to show how black people were somehow more exotic and/or animalistic than “ladylike” Doris Day or Grace Kelly examples. Just click this Google search of “pickaninny” to see what I’m talking about. 

Am I surprised that something belonging to a non-white culture could be easily discarded as not being in fashion? Nope. Again, it goes back to the black and white doll experiment; the idea that one culture is intrinsically better than another. However, I will say that the irony in Cosmopolitan saying cornrows are out of style is that the “Hello Gorgeous” picture shows a model wearing a cornrow style. So which is it? Are they out of style if you have more than one, like Heidi Klum sported in the “RIP” picture?

• Some of the women in the “RIP” list are being bashed for styles that Cosmopolitan itself praised weeks or months before. The article says oversized buns, like the one Katy Perry sports in the article’s picture, are outdated, but at one point, the magazine praises Kim Kardashian for wearing a similar hairstyle. The article makes fun of 3D nails, but in another article, they were praising some of their readers’ nail art pictures, some of which were of 3D nail art. And this article discusses certain key items to have in a nail art kit, which includes 3D elements like glitter and studs. 

The article is already disingenuous, but it’s also very hypocritical. It would just make some readers, particularly those who are already worried about their self-perception and acceptance and hang on these magazine’s every word, even more paranoid. You can’t win for losing.

• The magazine’s apology states they want to celebrate all women, but how is using someone’s actual picture as a fashion don’t celebratory? The apology is, basically, a lie, because if they really wanted to celebrate all women, they wouldn’t be saying that certain women are in the “RIP” category. “But they’re simply talking about the fashion!” you might say. But to put “RIP” over the picture of a living person simply because they’re wearing their bronzer on is going overboard, I’d say. Fashion magazines use illustrators all the time; how come they couldn’t hire an illustrator to draw “RIP” and “Hello, Gorgeous” pictures? That way, real people wouldn’t be used as examples and open to even further scrutiny.

To go even further, how come someone didn’t take a look at the tone of the article and say that everything about it was off? From the women chosen to the “RIP” and “Hello, Gorgeous” titles to the sheer vapidness of it all. Everything about it was wrong. But no one saw a problem.

Wilson and Jihan Forbes of The Fashion Spot are right in saying that this article explains why a diverse staff is needed, because a staff with different backgrounds, ideas, and ways of seeing the world could sound the alarm on articles like this. On its best day, articles like this are undesirable clickbait. On its worst, they are extremely problematic.

What do you think about Cosmopolitan‘s dust-up? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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