As part of the reporting for Tatler’s August cover story, we speak to Michelle Lee, the former editor-in-chief of Allure magazine, who tells us how she shook up the beauty industry by putting models of colour on the cover
In July 2017, when former US President Donald Trump issued a travel ban that disproportionately affected Muslims wanting to enter the country, Michelle Lee, Allure magazine’s then editor-in-chief, decided to put hijab-wearing model Halima Aden on the front with the coverline, “This Is American Beauty Now”. “We were making a larger cultural statement,” Lee says.
Lee and her team are part of the ongoing movement this decade to promote racial and gender diversity in the entertainment, advertising and media industries where, pre-2015, as Lee puts it, the definition of beauty was “tall, white, thin—rinse and repeat”. “Occasionally, you’d see a non-white—but light-skinned—celebrity or model on a magazine cover, but maybe once or twice a year. Editors were always looking at numbers and thinking about ‘who would sell’ on the cover and they’d land on the same handful of white A-list stars,” she says.
But she didn’t subscribe to that belief. Growing up in Connecticut, Lee faced her share of prejudice: her white schoolmates fired racist slurs at her, and convinced other kids not to let her sit down on a school bus. “I don’t think people realise how traumatic this bullying can be, especially when you’re a sensitive young person,” she says. “I withdrew and became so quiet for many years; I had an immense amount of anxiety for a very long time.”