A celebration of black beauty? Or “exoticising”?

When Vogue Spain put Aya Jones on the cover of their March issue, blogs everywhere started singing their praises. Aplus.com called the cover and spread pages a “majestic celebration of black beauty” and theroot.com said that Vogue had declared that “black really is beautiful” by using a black model featuring cornrows.

Jones’ pictures are taken against a backdrop of an exotic savannah, with one image even featuring her along side of herd of elephants. Though many black-oriented blogs deemed this a celebration of black beauty, Jean Kilbourne—the force behind the “Killing Them Softly” videos, which discusses the perceptions of women in advertising—would say that this is another example of the media “exoticising” black women.

The shoot took place in Botswana and Jones herself is of both British and Ivorian descent. Probably the most notable action of the shoot was that Jones’ hairstylists were all local women.

Is this shoot another example of black women being “exoticisied”? Or is it a declaration of black beauty? One of the differences here is the level of authenticity provided by the setting and the local participation, not to mention the model’s own ethnicity. Probably the most important difference, however, is how the black community decided that it would be perceived. They saw it as a celebration of black beauty rather than a mockery of their ancestral heritage. Kilbourne, who is a knowledgeable professional with research and experience to back up her theories, is still a white woman, and in the end the most important opinion is that of the minority begin affected.

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