The Problem with Seventeen Magazine
The Undiscussed Issues of the Fashion and Beauty Industry
When I was younger, my favourite place in the world was the grocery store. I counted down the days until we could go again, not because I particularly enjoyed picking fruit but because of what was waiting for me at the end of the checkout aisle. Seventeen, Vogue and Tiger Beat magazine all sat high on the shelves, beckoning me to read Cameron Diaz’s “Seven Ways to Style a Silk Scarf” or Tyra Banks giving her hot take on low-rise jeans. (Upon immense reflection, it becomes very clear that the Devil was sent to kill, steal and use Tyra Banks to convince us that low-rise jeans were fashionable.) I took the words of Anna Wintour as the Bible and swore to myself that I would never wear socks with sandals. I chose Cosmo quizzes over Myers-Briggs and found refuge within the pages of those magazines.
I fell in love with beauty, makeup and fashion before I knew how to tie my own shoes but the beauty industry has not always reciprocated the feelings of admiration when it came to girls who looked like me. Although magazines have been able to define the difference between ivory, cream and white, they are yet to arrive at a conclusion of what ethical behavior looks like in the industry. Earlier this year, Tyra Banks received backlash for commentary she made during early seasons of America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). Blatantly inappropriate behavior like a photoshoot where the contestants were asked to “switch races” was rampant if not normalized. Re-watching the episodes and hearing black women speak about the injustices they have experienced has forced me to reevaluate the standards I hold for the beauty and fashion industry.
First we must discuss one of the fashion industry’s most pressing issues: fast fashion (yes, I am talking about Shein.) The online boutique has taken the internet by storm with ultra low prices for what appear to be quality pieces. The store is akin to Fashion Nova, BooHoo and NastyGal - all of which have received endorsements from influencers and celebrities. Customers are given the opportunity to look just as good as Kylie Jenner or Cardi B but for less than half the price. Behind the flashy advertisements and impossible to understand sizing charts, there is a sinister secret accompanying these brands.
In order to have low prices, fast fashion relies on low production costs. For brands like Shein, this often means neglecting environmental and social standards. Less than two percent of the industry makes a livable wage and eighty percent of the workforce is made of women. This is the blatant exploitation of labour and tends to target the most vulnerable groups who often have no other choice. The garments are produced in developing nations like Bangladesh and Pakistan where there are little to no laws protecting workers. On April 24th 2013, the Rana Plaza Manufacturing Company collapsed and killed 1 000 workers while leaving more than 2 500 injured. The company manufactured clothes for 29 stores including Joe Fresh and Children’s Place. The result was an accord signed by a number of the brands involved, vowing to change their labour practices. 1 000 workers should not need to die before we recognize what is fundamentally right and wrong.
The rapid rate of production also means that the clothes are disposed of just as quickly. Each year, North Americans dispose of 9.5 million tonnes of clothing, making the fashion industry the second most polluting industry. In order to produce the newest fashions at ridiculously low prices exorbitant amounts of water, energy and labour are required which has long-lasting implications on the community from which these resources are stripped from. The implications of fast fashion is an issue that we discuss in passing. We note how terrible it is and then proceed to watch youtube try-on hauls of these exact same brands in an attempt to feel better. The solution requires all of us to change our habits. Shop locally and sustainably, attempt to thrift more frequently and donate pieces that you’re no longer interested in wearing.
Far too frequently the ethical issues of capitalism are placed solely on the shoulders of purchasers. Why do we as consumers expect so little from the brands we shop from? Large companies are often able to dodge accountability without worry of losing a dime. The continued work of activists and protests has allowed us to see the beginning of change to systemic discrimination in the industry. After the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests, Sephora has promised to donate 15% of their shelf space to black owned businesses and urged other companies to take a similar stance. On June 11th, MAC Cosmetics released a statement detailing their zero tolerance policy towards discrimination but this only occured after a series of former employees accused the Belgium based brand of racism and discriminatory practices. Other big brands like Milk Cosmetics, Fenty Cosmetics and Glossier have all released statements detailing their dedication to fighting racism and making large donations.
The question remains: is this enough? Big beauty brands like MAC Cosmetics have been fencing accusations of racism for decades. From having a shade range that included a total of 12 shades to telling employees that they were “too dark” to sell the products, these issues of race are not new. Brands do the bare minimum and feel entitled to a pat on the back and a sticker. We must use our dollars in conjunction with our voices in order to make a difference. Real change goes beyond a statement. It is done actively, consistently and felt on all levels of the organization.