Recently, I had an assignment for a class where I had to find a magazine for, by, or about black women and bring it into class for discussion. Immediately, Essence came to mind. I had studied Essence a bit in a previous class and knew that it was very popular among African American women. I also knew that it had some rather problematic tendencies as well. For example, the advertisements in Essence often feature light-skinned or white women, rather than women with darker complexions. For a magazine aimed toward black women, this is very problematic. The ads also tend to be about hair and beauty products which ultimately add to the crippling fear of every woman that we will never be beautiful enough to deserve respect and acceptance in society.
As we live in an online shopping era, I hadn’t physically purchased a magazine in so long that I actually asked my mom where you can even buy them anymore. Quickly, I learned that this was not so simple. Firstly, most stores have a rather narrow selection of magazines, to begin with. However, the magazines that they do have are very white and pretty cookie-cutter. Each magazine was either a celebrity magazine like Us or People or they were very mainstream and well known, such as Time. Each one whitewashed and was pretty much exactly the same. I had done some research and looked up some of the most popular magazines for, by, or about black women. The most popular by far seemed to be O, The Oprah Magazine and Essence. Naturally, I thought these had to be as popular and abundant as Us. I was so wrong.
I went to every store in Athens. The only store that had anything even remotely related to what I was searching for was one of the bookstores here. However, they did not have Essence. I had already completed my assignment on Essence because I was so sure I’d be able to find it. Fast forward to now, and long story short, I drove a total of two hours (round trip) to the nearest Barnes & Noble to purchase the SINGLE copy of Essence that they had.
Other stores that I had called in the area couldn’t pronounce Essence much less find it on a shelf; that is how little knowledge there is of this magazine. Though I was frustrated about my assignment, I grew increasingly frustrated with the society that we live in. Black women are still clearly overlooked, and it is heartbreaking. The difficulty to find this magazine made me step back and look at why this is. It is easy to say that people simply don’t buy physical magazines and prefer to have them on a tablet, kindle, etc., but I do not feel that this is the case. We, as a society, are still neglecting to see black women. Their visibility is limited and many times their portrayal is negative when it does exist. We must challenge ourselves to ask these questions, to be observant, and to find a way to help remedy this issue.