This year was unlike any other. Between the ongoing pandemic and the fight against racial injustice, it’s no wonder people can’t wait for 2021 to arrive. But before embracing the new year, we need to take a step back and acknowledge all the highs and lows of 2020.
Although there’s been no shortage of lows, one good thing did come out of 2020. An uptick in diversity on magazine covers. Of course this year’s findings come with caveats. Obviously, the pandemic impacted magazines’ ability to stage photoshoots to capture those oh-so-glamorous covers we all know and love. So many publications got creative. Some switched to digital editions. Some relied on illustrations or previously unpublished photos. And some even asked their cover subjects to snap their own cover-worthy images. Note: We did not include digital or illustrated covers in this report.
Another thing to keep in mind is that lots of publications responded to all the racial unrest by picking more diverse cover stars. From models to actors to activists, mags definitely made an effort to broaden their horizons.
Read on to discover how 2020 magazine covers fared on all diversity fronts.
We examined 791 cover appearances across 50 major magazines and found a dramatic increase in representation. This year saw 48.8 percent models of color compared to last year’s 36.9 percent. That’s an uptick of almost 12 points. It’s important to note that 2019’s number actually dropped from 2018, which rang in at 37.7 percent, making this rebound even more impressive. (This increase has to be viewed in the context of all that’s happened this year.)
MOST AND LEAST DIVERSE
Once again Vogue Taiwan managed to cast 100 percent models of color (16 out of 16). This marks the sixth straight year the mag achieved such a feat. Vogue Singapore also came in at 100 percent (five out of five) as did The Gentlewoman (two out of two). Vogue India, another familiar face in the most diverse category, had 91 percent models of color (21 out of 23). Both Vogue Arabia and Vogue Korea reached 83 percent (20 out of 24 and 10 out of 12 respectively).
When it came to the least diverse mags of 2020, several international editions of Vogue made this less distinguished list. Paper technically also appears, but all but one of its issues were digital and since digital covers were not included in this report, its low diversity tally must be considered in context. Vogue Poland and Vogue Ukraine each had 11 percent models of color (both one out of nine); Vogue Spain and Vogue Russia had 15 percent models of color (both 2 out of 13).
Plus-size model appearances also got a bit of a bump coming in at 21 or 2.66 percent. An increase from 2019 which saw 15 castings or 2.01 percent. That means 2020 is the most size-inclusive year since we started keeping track back in 2016.
Jill Kortleve appeared the most times landing four covers: Vogue Japan, Vogue Netherlands, Vogue Paris and American Vogue. Both Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser landed three covers apiece. Graham graced American Vogue and both the U.S. and U.K. editions of Harper’s Bazaar. Elsesser appeared on the cover of i-D, Vogue Italia and American Vogue.
Another encouraging sign is the fact that out of the 21 plus-size appearances, the vast majority, 16, went to women of color.
Women over 50 saw the biggest increase, almost doubling last year’s record 41 cover appearances. (It is worth noting that there were also 41 cover appearances in 2018.) We largely have Vogue Italia to thank for the uptick since the mag produced a staggering 100 covers for its September issue. Everyone from Pat Cleveland to Patti Hansen to Bethann Hardison earned solo covers.
Several actresses over 50 scored covers this year. Angela Bassett, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Helen Mirren, Salma Hayek and Sharon Stone to name just a handful. Both Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis popped up on three covers this year. Plus, we were also treated to supermodels Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford.
We definitely have to give props to Edward Enninful over at British Vogue for making history with a stunning June cover of a then 85-year-old Judi Dench. Vogue Mexico also deserves recognition for featuring five 50-plus cover stars with one identifying as transgender on its May/June edition.
Gender diversity received a far smaller bump compared to 2019. Last year only had seven cover appearances, while 2020 saw 12. That’s only 1.52 percent, but at least it’s progress. Especially considering that 2019’s figure was three points below 2018’s 10 so at least we’re once again headed in the right direction.
Indya Moore led the way with three appearances for Vogue Spain, Wonderland and Vogue Italia. Hunter Schafer starred on two striking covers for Allure and V Magazine. Paloma Elsesser’s sibling Ama Elsesser, who identifies as non-binary, was featured on i-D. Arca, Ariel Nicholson, Janet Mock, Mykki Blanco, Ryan Destiny and Verónica García also appeared on one cover each. It’s also a positive sign that the majority of appearances belonged to models of color.
There were also three drag queen cover appearances in 2020. Granted, they all came courtesy of one magazine. Gloria Groove, Pabllo Vittar and Uyra Sodoma all appeared on Vogue Brazil for October.
Bella Hadid reigned supreme covering eight magazines this year. The in-demand model represented Love, V Magazine, Vogue Japan, Vogue Korea, Vogue Paris, Vogue Greece, Vogue Hong Kong and Vogue Italia.
Irina Shayk also had a strong showing this year with seven Vogue covers: Germany, Japan, Russia, U.K., Czechoslovakia, Greece and Italia. Binx Walton, Kaia Gerber and Zendaya tied for third with six apiece. Last year’s co-top model Adut Akech, Anok Yai and Hailey Bieber round out the list each landing five cover appearances.
Out of the top eight cover models of 2020, five were women of color. As per usual, size, age and gender diversity were absent from the top model rankings.
With such a strong diversity showing this year, we’re nervous that 2021 will see a steep decline. Especially if everything that made 2020, well, 2020 fades away. While we’d like to be optimistic and admit there were some encouraging signs (including disability activist Alice Wong appearing on the cover of British Vogue), there are so many asterisks attached to this year’s data that there’s nowhere left to go but down.
Despite this lingering concern, we’d like to put out a call to action to all mags to continue embracing diversity in all its forms from here on out. Prove to us and the world that 2020 is not a one-year wonder. Let’s aim to rise above 50 percent and prove that lasting diversity across all categories is possible.
With additional reporting by Mark E.
For the purpose of this report, “model” is anyone who appears on a cover, even if modeling is not their profession. Models of color are categorized as those who are nonwhite or of mixed backgrounds.