Monday, May 31, 2010

Seventeen and Race

Today's post addresses race, which I understand is a sensitive topic for a lot of people. I put this post together a while ago, but have been hesitant to post it, if only for the fact that I am not that well versed on the subject of race. The town I live in is 95.24% White, so I am not exposed to much discussion about race in my daily life. Any conversation on the subject that I get to observe typically takes place on the internet, which is not necessarily the best place to learn anything, especially a thing that is likely to upset people if addressed clumsily.

That said, I feel like this post is honorable in its intentions. I ask you all to please look at the post for the issue it is trying to explore, and not to crucify me if I have made any offensive missteps in the way that I address it. Instead, feel free to post feedback and constructive corrections in the comments, or email them to me. As a young person with limited exposure to discussions of race, any respectful feedback that could broaden my horizons would be much appreciated.

In selecting models and actresses to photograph, lots of people have recognized that mainstream print media disproportionately showcases white women. Recently, this pattern has been called to the forefront of the blogosphere with the publication of the whitewashed "Young Hollywood" issue of Vanity Fair. Over at Jezebel, Dodai wrote a great article on the controversy. This piece from Racialicious (and its comments section) makes some interesting points as well.

I wondered to what degree this pattern of whitewashing held true for teen magazines like Seventeen. Teen mags often do better in the race department than their adult counterparts, including women of a variety of races and even offering some pretty level-headed advice on interracial dating. Still, out of curiosity, I wondered exactly how the racial content of Seventeen broke down. So I counted!

There are 332 faces in this month's issue of Seventeen. I counted a face as a head with at least one visible eye. That is, backs of heads and disembodied mouths or eyes were not included in my data. I researched the races of the models and celebrities that I could identify. Those whose race I could not determine with reasonable certainty I've excluded from my data, making for 319 surveyed faces.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare the race content of Seventeen with the most recent Census Bureau estimates of race demographics in the U.S. Personally, I don't think its reasonable to expect an entirely equal distribution of race in every issue, but it does seem reasonable (and logical) to expect that a modern magazine would have a race breakdown that is similar to the race breakdown of the country in which it publishes, in this case, the United States.

I'm actually surprised at how close Seventeen came to having a breakdown comparable with the United States statistics. Noteworthy, though, are Seventeen's underrepresentation of people of Hispanic ethnicity, and their inclusion of more biracial and multiracial people percentage-wise than live in the U.S. Anyone have any thoughts on why this might be?

Thought it might also be interesting to look at the racial breakdown of males and females in the magazine. It seems like Seventeen's idea of female beauty is more varied, while the races that are considered attractive for males are extremely more limited.

I also separated the data by faces in Seventeen produced content, and faces in advertising content. There didn't seem to be any significant difference in the racial breakdown between these two categories of pages, except for the exclusion of Hispanic models in the advertisements.

Overall I was pretty surprised at how inclusive Seventeen was. Obviously, there is some room for improvement, but I would venture to say that Seventeen is better at including people of color than most other publications of its kind. Otherwise, I have no real conclusions to draw from this data. What does everyone think?

P.S. Expect some fluffy fashion and beauty posts for the rest of the week, as this Friday is my PROOOOOM.