Diversity Analysis: Canadian Fashion Magazines VS. Canadian Population

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Sarah G. Schmidt's home


The other weekend, I was enjoying a typical Saturday morning. Like so many Saturday’s before, I came home after a workout, flipped through magazines and enjoyed copious amounts of coffee before a home-cooked brunch. A nice little Saturday.

As I swooshed through my hardcopies and online subscriptions, I started to notice something. An overwhelming majority of the subjects appeared to be non-visible minorities in the magazine. On the cover, in the contents, in the features and in the ads.

This got me thinking, what is the distribution of visible minorities in certain Canadian fashion magazines? Further, how does that line up with the actual makeup of peoples of Canada? 

From the latest national household poll, demography statistics shake out as follows:

The Employment Equity Act defines as visible minorities 'persons, other than Aboriginal persons, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.' The visible minority population (19.1% identified themselves as such in 2011) consists mainly of the following groups: South Asian (4.8% of Canada's total population), Chinese (4.0% of the total population), Black (2.9% of the total population), Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean and Japanese. Combined, the three largest visible minority groups in 2011 – South Asians, Chinese and Blacks – accounted for 61.3% of the visible minority population (11.7% of Canada’s total population).

After checking out the above, I got to counting.

Disclaimer, this was a small study and obviously not large enough to draw an extremely solid conclusion. While knowing my sample wasn't large enough (I probably should have taken a 12-month sample of each magazine), and that there would likely be deficiencies in my pseudo-analysis when this exercise was completed, I was still hoping I would feel comfortable drawing basic conclusions: I was. Also, I was hoping this exercise would reveal something interesting: it did.

I reviewed 3 titles: Elle Canada, Fashion and Flare. Below are some details and parameters for how I performed this analysis.

  • Manually counted every visible person in magazine. Although I was careful, there ought to be some human error.
  • Some people were too small in size to identify (to clarify: typically pictures smaller than 1” by 1”). These people were not included.
  • When a model or subject name was given I verified ethnicity with a Google search.
  • In multipage editorials each model was counted once.
  • Young children (who appeared mostly in ads) were not counted. 
  • Some teen models may have been incorrectly identified as adults.
  • Visible minorities identified and counted were the same top three as Statistics Canada: South Asian, Chinese and Blacks

Having stated the poll's statics and my assumptions here’s what I found.

Publication 1 of 3: Elle Canada (December, 234 pages + cover)

  • Women, non-visible minority: 93.4%
  • Women, visible minority: 8.6% (South Asian 1.0%; Chinese 3.6%; Blacks 4.0%)
  • Men, non-visible minority: 82.9%
  • Men, visible minority: 16.9% (South Asian 6.3%; Chinese 2.1%; Blacks 8.5%)

Takeaway: Compare those numbers to the actual Canadian population of non-visible minority 80.9%, visible minority 19.1% (of which -- South Asian 4.8%; Chinese 4.0%; Blacks 2.9%) even with room for error there are some alarming gaps. In both men and women, non-visible minorities appear to be over represented in this month’s Elle Canada. Further, the women appear to be more misaligned with the population than the men were.

Publication 2 of 3: Fashion (Winter, 198 pages + cover)

  • Women, non-visible minority: 84.3%
  • Women, visible minority: 15.6% (South Asian 5.2%; Chinese 2.6%; Blacks 7.8%)
  • Men, non-visible minority: 77.5%
  • Men, visible minority: 24.3% (South Asian 12.2%; Chinese 4.0%; Blacks 8.1%) 

Takeaway: Fashion appears to be more closely aligned with the actual population but it's still out. Interestingly the men portrayed, again, seem to be more diverse sample than the women and even overrepresented compared to the Statistics Canada poll.

Publication 3 of 3: Flare (December, 178 pages + cover)

  • Women, non-visible minority: 77.5%
  • Women, visible minority: 22.4% (South Asian 6.4%; Chinese 7.7%; Blacks 8.3%)
  • Men, non-visible minority: 85.1%
  • Men, visible minority: 24.3% (South Asian 6.4%; Chinese 0%; Blacks 8.5%)

Takeaway: The women selected in this magazine edition are closer in line with the actual population than the men. Good job on the ladies, Flare. I did also see a small piece on four Aboriginal women actresses in this edition. It’s a start. However that representation is not reflective of the actual 4.3% population of aboriginals in the total Canadian population. 

What’s the grand implication or "so what?" In these three magazines, the diversity depicted versus the actual population is close but has room for improvement. We can and should do better. It should mirror reality.

As I have mentioned before, diversity is a choice. It is a topic of prioritization. Editors and advertisers alike have the opportunity, or rather the responsibility, to reflect the Canada we live in. I urge them all to make sure the representation is reflecting the population. I'm watching. There are young men and women watching, too.

My fingers are crossed that as we move into 2015 that publications agree it’s time. Let's show Canadians, all Canadians, that they, too, can be a part of the fantastic world of fashion.