After running a wholly inappropriate article on “black style” last month, editors at French Elle removed the piece without comment. They later blandly acknowledged the backlash it received with the excuse that the story was misunderstood. Speaking over the weekend, Elle’s managing editor Valerie Toranian said it was “full of good intentions” that were just expressed badly, which only ignited a new round of outrage over the story, and how the magazine handled the subsequent backlash.
A group of 35 famous French citizens sent an open letter to Le Monde dissecting the offending article’s many flaws. The letter’s authors — journalists, TV and film critics, and model Noémie Lenoir among them — also urged Elle’s editorial staffers to “[venture] out of their office windows in the business district of Levallois-Perret to mingle with the population — allowing them to see what black people [actually] look like, and how they dress in real life.”“ They conclude:
Since the trend is “black fashion”, why not join [in], for example by recruiting more black writers? And why not, let’s be crazy, choose a black woman for the cover of the magazine? Just once, to see? Two million black women in France who spend seven times more money on cosmetics than their white counterparts, whose purchasing power is a growing market for cosmetics and fashion — is it so negligible? For this “structural racism” in our society, of which Valerie Toranian speaks so well on TV, is also fed by the absence of black women in a women’s press titles: in almost 70 years of existence, [the press] has deigned to give coverage to a handful of black women.
Jezebel’s Jenna Sauers notes French Elle featured only two minority cover models (French actress Leila Bekhti, who is of Algerian descent, and the winner of a modeling competition identified only as Jessica) in 2011 — and it’s a weekly magazine. The last black cover model was Jourdan Dunn — in 2008. But with French Elle yet to acknowledge their misperception of black culture, one wonders if even featuring non-white models en masse in the magazine’s pages would ameliorate this gaffe.