Why Serena Williams' Vogue cover matters
It was just announced that Serena Williams will be Vogue’s April 2015 cover girl — and we couldn’t be more excited. The cover, shot by Annie Leibovitz, is all kinds of gorgeous, and Williams chose to tell her fans about it in only the most luxe of ways: via a photo of herself reading it poolside on Instagram.
This is Williams second time on the cover of Vogue — her first was a shared cover with Ryan Lochte and Hope Solo for a special Olympics issue in 2012. For her return, the magazine chose a simple Rag & Bone sheath dress and Tate diamond bracelets for Williams, allowing her natural beauty to shine full force without distractions. The simplicity of her outfit takes the focus away from the clothes and onto the woman wearing them, and Williams looks elegant, chic, and powerful — a bonafide cover girl if ever we saw one.
And perhaps what’s most striking about the image is that it’s so incredibly natural. Photoshopping looks to have been kept to a minimum (I can actually recognize Williams), her hair is lovely and loose (it’s literally entwined with the middle letters of Vogue), and Williams glows all over. “Queen Serena,” indeed.
This minimalistic fashion magazine cover is rare for any publication — but even more so when it comes to representing a non-size-0 woman of color. High fashion magazines have long been criticized for their lack of diverse representation. Earlier this year, Jourdan Dunn became UK Vogue’s first Black solo cover model in 12 years. And last year, The Fashion Spot reported that white women appeared on magazines covers fives times more frequently than women of color. Meanwhile, glossies have also come under fire for under-representing women with diverse body types on their covers.
An athletic-bodied Black woman on the cover of Vogue is a welcome and important sight — and feels extra significant in light of Williams’ return to the Indian Wells tournament this year. In case you’re not familiar, in 2001, Serena was booed off the court when her sister, Venus, had to pull out of a match due to tendinitis. The two were accused of rigging the game, and the jeers against them quickly turned racist and derogatory, which lead the sisters to vow against returning.
“The undercurrent of racism was painful, confusing and unfair,” Williams said in an article for Time, “In a game I loved with all my heart, at one of my most cherished tournaments, I suddenly felt unwelcome, alone and afraid.”
After a 13-year boycott, Williams decided to return to Indian Wells this year “for the love of the game” and with “a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness.” Even though Williams withdrew from the tournament last Friday due to a knee injury, her return remains a signifier that perhaps some level of change is on the horizon for tennis. (This time around, Williams was met with cheers rather than boos when she left the court.)
Likewise, Williams’ Vogue cover is so very important because it implies perhaps the tides are shifting in fashion, too. Representation of all different types of women is essential, but representation in a way that doesn’t feel forced and that portrays us equally is even more crucial in normalizing diverse perceptions of beauty. Hopefully, Williams’ Vogue cover sends a message to women around the country that diverse beauty is equally stunning, influential, and important.
(Images via Vogue.)