Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Anatomy of a Cover: Essence Magazine

Another month, another ho-hum issue of Essence. Don't get me wrong, I love these three ladies and the multiple "collector's edition" covers** with those pretty but predictable portraits are a nice touch but wouldn't it be nice if they featured an up and coming artist for one of the "music issue" covers? Am I the only one who want to see Santogold or Alice Smith get a little more love from our press? Damn, Mary and Jill have become Essence's money shot covers as they seem to be on it a couple of times per year.

Looking back on the 12 issues of Essence published this year, one can easily recognize their cover formula:

Money. No Essence cover is complete with the mention of money and how to get more of it. Appearances on the cover in the past twelve months: 12

Anything from what they think or how to get one of your own. Hell, they'll even pop up on the cover from time to time. Appearances in the past twelve months: 9

Hair. Isn't it funny that no matter how much they tout "sexy new styles" on the cover, when you look inside it's the same lame hairdos that they've been pushing for years? One relaxed bob, a couple of weave styles, and "natural style." I don't think I'd notice if they used the same pics every month. Appearances in the past twelve months: 9

Health. Black woman are more at risk for certain conditions, this is true but the recycled information that Essences thrown on their pages every month isn't getting my attention. Appearances in the past twelve months: 9

Weight. This once overlaps with health on occasion but usually, it gets its own tagline on the cover. Interestingly, there are more references to it on covers produced this year than on last year's covers. Appearances in the past twelve months: 6

The Two Divas: Mary J Blige and Jill Scott. Essences loves them like People Magazine loves Brad and Angelina. Appearances in the past twelve months: 5

**Is there anyone out there who actually collects these issues? Am I going to be sucking my teeth because I recycled mine fifty years from now when they show up on Antiques Roadshow 2058?


lapetitediva said...

I wish I had saved all of the issues from the 80s, just for the nostalgia factor. As far as the current issues are concerned, gosh, the "most recent" issue I actually read was during the mid-90s, I think. These days, I just glance at the covers while at the grocery store. (Actually, I do that for ALL magazines, haha!)

Brigitte said...

The grocery store is usually where I page through Essence.

Camille Acey said...

Has Thandie Newton ever been on the cover. Also when is the last time someone with natural "kinky" hair was on the cover? (No Erykah Badu's afro wigs don't count). Seeing all those covers together made me kinda sad. Will this magazine matter in another ten years?

Ferocious Kitty said...

Re: the ubiquitous money mention aka "Girl, git ya finances right!"...

I wonder if it dawns on them that the financial makeover becomes necessary if readers partake in all the cosmetic purchases and day spas they promote?

"Buy/do all this stuff...then we'll show you how to get out of debt. And be rich."

I miss my mother's Essence from the '70s. Back when they featured sexy short stories. ;-)

nadi said...

I agree. Alice Smith. Santogold.. and Ayo should grace the covers.. plus, why is Amel Larrieux getting NO attention?

Ebony Intuition said...

Very true there's so much new up and coming black talent they could showcase some new faces

Anonymous said...

Hi, I've been a die -hard fan/reader of Essence since I started college back in 2002. I've brought every edition and I have noticed that the magazine has become safe if not repetitive with what they discuss. As much of a "serious" issue reader I am, I still am intrigued by the hair/beauty section. I have natural hair so I am always exploring various styles I can have with my hair type. One matter that I've noticed is that Essence has RARELY featured genuine natural hairstyles. Instead they feature huge fros that we all know are quite difficult to attain, considering the texture and the dryness that our hair is prone to. In regards to money and finances, it is also recycled. Perhaps we can all write something into Essence demanding something fresh.
Music: Explore the world, especially the countries forgotten (i.e. Haiti -- yea Im impartial to it but you and both know that Haitian culture is rarely promoted)

Literary: short stories or parts of novel and books from profound authors..not the "no good baby daddy" literature.

Finances: Its pretty important that this topic comes up often. Our generation sadly saves for the next invent, rather than the next generation. Until we bounce out of that mindset, then something's gotta give.

Tourism/Travel: hot spots to go to

I can go on...but I won't...because Im at work....thanks.

carla said...

You are so right! Of course, I still subscribe because it's one of the only black options out there, but mostly I just skim it, except for Patrick Bass' book recommendations--I still get a lot of good titles from that.

They got worse when they were sold to Time Warner, is it? And the succession of ho hum editors since Susan Taylor have just contributed to that. And you just know they thought they were doing something forward-thinking when they hired Agnes Cammock, who has merely proceeded to fill the fashion layouts with obscenely priced, primarily European designer size-zero clothing, thus removing what was always more interesting about fashion in Essence--its affordability, diversity and accessibility, but I guess Vogue wouldn't hire you, huh, Agnes? It's a mainstream, blah magazine, and my personal pet peeve is the unquestioning platform they frequently give to hate-mongering homophobic preachers such as T.D. Jakes, which automatically alienates me.

Whew! My two cents. Blogs like yours, The Fashion Bomb, StealStyle and Afrobella, etc., are doing it MUCH better. They should hire all of you ladies to revamp it (I'd like to be the arts editor)!

Tearsa said...

I totally agree with Carla above that I get my fill on black style and culture from my favorite blogs.. not Essence.

I wish they would show a cross range in prices for clothes -- face it we all don't have $500 dress money. I YEARN for them to showcase ON THE REGULAR black and or ethnic designers. Lord knows they don't get their due in mainstream magazines!! I want them to push the envelope.. show us styles that are hot in other countries right now..

I want them to talk about issues that blacks, women, wives, mothers etc should be talking about! Hello!

Showcase black businesses to support! Restaurants, crafters, artists, etc..

I could go on and on.. Can we start are own magazine? LOL

Anonymous said...

I love blogs like this one, afrobella and clutch. They are more relevant to my fashion, hair and lifestyle interests.

A said...

This magazine, like many women's magazines, has become increasingly irrelevant and repetitive.

DAV!D said...

I love this article especially! I thought I was the only one that got tired the BETs and ESSENCEs of our Black community. Sometimes I find we are too repetitive and things just NEVER change!
I subscribed to Essence a while ago and I couldn't continue the subscription after the second issue for all the reason you mentioned above. Their photo quality also sucks! Over airbrushed in an amateur way!

Anyway, I don't wanna keep faulting the mag because it's one step away from having nothing at all to represent us. Hence I'll just advise that they GET NEW IDEAS dammit! A new outlook towards life not just promoting stereotypes that perpetuate our environment!

Hot Grrrl said...

Wow first let me say how much I love this site and that I will adding it o my blogroll! Secondly I am so thankful for this post. I created a zine called theHotness and I have been trying for two tears to convince investors that there is a real interest and need for a grrrls mag that reps independently minded and styled women. My dotcom has already featured Cree Summer, MeShell NdegeOcello, Amel and Sade and I have posted about Santogold, Alice, Kara Walker and scores of fly dames who are unique and passionate about life, love and their art. I have put together a print issue that I hope to publish by year's end and seeing this post and being able to use this post in my presentation to investors to prove that we are multi-faceted and Essence just doesn't cut it for all of us just made my day, if not my year! THANK YOU!

Brigitte said...

Hot Grrrl - Thank you. I'm very familiar with theHotness and am a big fan. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for you and because that magazine really needs to be in print.

Anonymous said...

I agree! Essence needs to do something new!

Anonymous said...

I am soooo glad someone else feels the same way I do. I have a subscription to Essence only because my mother got me one as a gift. How many times do we really have to see Kim Porter, Monique, Jill Scott and Mary J in the magazine? Also, the what men think and how they feel and why they cheat commentary must end. There are black people all over the world, so why can't we get that perspective? I'd like to know the beauty secrets of Brazilian women, or Haitian women, or whatever. I'd like to read about new innovative artists, musicians, chefs, etc. There is such a rich world out there they could explore. I once submitted an article to Essence about the portrayal of Africans on exploration shows like National Geographic and the like. I never heard back from them, but soon after, they published an article by a woman talking about the size of her butt. Go figure.
Thank goodness for blogs like this.

Alicia said...

Finally, somebody read my mind. I subscribed to Essence magazine because I always loved essay but lately it's been disappointing. Every month is the same thing, How to make money etc. Try something new for a change like traveling to different countries, new technology and cool music and I'm not talking about Alicia Keys and Beyonce!!!

Kenya said...

Actually, I think it's useful that they have articles about money concerns and health issues. Those are issues the black community needs to get more serious about. However, I tend to think that the information is geared towards women who are 40+, which is why it's sometimes hit or miss for me.

I agree with the earlier comment about the "no good baby daddy drama" literature. Sometimes, the Essence booklist makes me cringe.

MissMikelah said...

Wow I was just saying the same thing! For a black magazine with such great exposure they should have someone under the radar on the magazine at least twice out of the year. And for the most part they ignore anyone who is not Black-American.