Free the Black Woman’s Body

I stumbled upon British Vogue’s February issue cover on a WhatsApp status, and I didn’t think much of it. It was black, full of blackness. But nothing out of the ordinary. I had moved on to other things, only to later learn of the backlash on Twitter. Many big words were thrown around: fetishization, exoticization, misrepresentation, cultural colonization, and the rest. I didn’t think any of these things. At worst, I saw it as “agenda art”–art that was trying too hard. But it didn’t get me angry, and I began to wonder if there was something I was supposed to see that I didn’t. Was African art entirely disregarded for the longest time? Yes. Should we be pissed when it is misrepresented? Definitely. But are we expecting too much from non-African publishers as regards this representation? Well, maybe.

Vogue’s editor Edward Enninful, a UK-born Ghanaian, got together nine prominent supermodels from Africa who, he said, were redefining what it means to be a model. In his bid to give more space to African beauty, the controversial cover was created. We didn’t consider Edward’s intentions. We didn’t think about the models who gladly posted the cover on their handle, who didn’t feel fetishized, exoticized, or misrepresented. We flexed our pitchfork-fingers and tweeted away our offense of reverse-bleaching, colonialist wigs, and joyless faces. In a bid to protest insensitivity, we acted as a mob displaying the very same, disregarding our ignorance of the technicalities of the art…,

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