By Colette Fitzpatrick
While neck high in the madness of the most recent season at London Fashion Week, during which this writer (your Fashion Editor and Editor-in-Chief) was doing socials for three different outlets and losing her mind, a DM at Bean caught her eye. It was from blogger and activist Yasmine (Yaz) O’Connor, who blogs at Glitter Mama Wishes, and, as an Irish woman of colour, was very much tired of how whitewashed the Irish media still continues to be and how steps to be more inclusive are painfully slow. She had started reaching out to magazines and companies and put to them the question as to why they weren’t doing better but got rather evasive and unsatisfying replies about market preferences and their perceived lack of adequate numbers of people of colour to fit the bill for media presence in Ireland.
So, she decided to take her own action and Yaz wrote about the issue on her blog. Along with fellow blogger and mother of mixed race children, Emma Murphy, she started a petition calling for real change and inclusion in Irish media, which you should all definitely sign. As Yaz notes in the piece, she is looking for real representation, not tokenism, in order to accurately represent the Ireland of today and make the Ireland of tomorrow a better place for those that do not fit the mould presented to us on the cover of Irish magazines: white, thin, able-bodied, glamazons.
We sat down to talk with her about her efforts and activism and how we can all help and how we allies can do better…
What specifically prompted your recent call to the Irish media for better representation?
Month after month of seeing only white, able-bodied models on the covers of specifically Irish magazines made me, in particular, as an Irish woman of colour, feel really excluded. I had stopped buying magazines many years ago due to lack of diversity on the covers; from colour to different shapes and sizes of models. It became the same thing over and over and it just got stale.
When do you feel most frustrated by the lack of diversity in Irish media?
Passing magazine stands in the shops. It’s so stark when you see, say 5 new issues of Irish magazines, and not one has a model of colour or even a model of a size 10 or above. It makes me want to shield my daughters, in particular, from seeing this one stereotype that is being portrayed as the only type good enough to be on a magazine cover. It’s also not good for any child to see only white people in the media, it gives them an unconscious skewed view that only white people matter and can be seen and heard. I have spoken to many people, particularly from the country, who said that because they never saw people of colour, particularly in Irish media, they were a bit taken aback at seeing people of colour when they went to college etc. I find that very worrying and it creates a divide due to the fear of the ‘unknown’
How can we be better allies?
Inclusion. A more conscious effort to include women of colour in talks, speeches, magazine covers, interviews etc. So often women of colour are left behind or dismissed in Irish media because people feel they are not relatable to the Irish audience, it’s also that fear of the unknown I mentioned before. Perhaps you are asked to speak on a panel or be part of a group interview, then you could ask if they are including any women of colour. Another way for people that are not directly in the media industry to help is just by emailing, messaging or commenting to magazines you like and asking them to include more women of colour in their features and/or covers. I have emailed all the magazines in my original video and unfortunately not one has responded. I even offered to help do an article on ‘Representation Matters Ireland’ and illuminate why it’s an important issue in Irish society today. Also, some small Irish businesses who use, say stock images for their content have told me that they are making a more conscious effort to choose images with people of colour, I was delighted to hear that. These small changes make a big difference, overall.
Who should we be following to get a better sense of what Ireland and the world really look like today and to feel better about life?
Well, since I posted about Representation Matters Ireland I found loads of awesome Irish women of colour to follow, some I was already following, some were new to me:
Demi Isaac Oviawe (@demmiisaac) is a Cork actress, very funny and best known for her role in Irish TV series “The Young Offenders”
Shubhangi Karmaker (@suitsedit) is here studying to be a doctor and was heavily involved in the Repeal the 8th campaign. She shares a lot of insightful thoughts on representation in Ireland.
Priyanka Bajpai (@prinkshoney) is an Indian blogger living here with her baby daughter. I love her fashion and outlook on life and motherhood.
Kirsten Mate Maher (@kirstenmatemaher) from Kilkenny, who won the Irish Rose of Tralee last year, is 21 with a mixed-race background. She has openly spoken about how the sort of portrayed stereotype of an Irish person only being white needs to change; that you can be a person of colour and also be Irish. The ‘Where are you really from?’ the question that I also get asked a lot is really ignorant in this day and age.
Filomena Kaguako (@filomenakaguako) is another Irish blogger I’ve been following for years now since I started blogging in 2012! She also does hilarious and informative videos on her Youtube channel and speaks about racism in Ireland too.
There are many, many more if you really look but, more often than not, we just don’t see or hear about these people. For example, I notice Irish bloggers or influencers of colour don’t get the same media coverage as white Irish bloggers. And, trust me, they are out there: we just don’t get to see them because they don’t fit in with what is considered worthy of selling magazines.
I noticed you made the distinction of being an activist and not an “influencer” in your bio, why is this important to you?
Yes, that was a recent change. I suppose I feel a lot of influencers shy away from important topics such as Repeal the 8th and issues of racism and because I am a blogger (okay part-time blogger these days haha) I don’t want people thinking I’m an influencer, sure we all have influence no matter what our following! I want to use influence for good; the silly and the important stuff in life. My platform is small but I’ve always used my platforms to speak about mental health, rape culture, motherhood, abortion rights and racism as well as the I suppose ‘fluffy’ stuff I enjoy like beauty and fashion.