We’ve long thought that #MeToo Movement founder Tarana Burke deserved to be treated like the queen she is, and it’s been a delight to see her profile rise in recent months, finding her on red carpets and talk shows alike. But as her platform has rightfully grown, it’s Burke’s humility that has truly stunned as she continues to place the narratives, value and protection of survivors of sexual trauma at the forefront.
So when the glorious Hannah Magazine reached out to Burke to ask her to appear on the cover of its next issue, the activist was shocked, telling The Glow Up, “I couldn’t imagine how I would fit in the aesthetic.”
For those unfamiliar with Hannah, the biannual publication is an ongoing tribute to black womanhood, celebrating of-the-moment black women with timeless photography and stellar reportage. Less a magazine than a collectible timepiece in book form, founder and Editor-in-Chief Qimmah Saafir launched Hannah in 2016 “to create a book that was a time capsule for each season.” As she told The Glow Up:
It’s about all black women, and specifically black women, because, why not? Specifically black women because we need to be unapologetic with celebrating ourselves, and as excited about those celebrations as we are when other people celebrate us.
And how did Saafir arrive at the decision to put Tarana Burke on the cover of the third issue of her covetable tome, placing her in the ranks of previous cover stars Alice Smith and Issa Rae?
For this issue, I truly sat with it for a while ... there’s a long list of incredible women that could’ve been on this issue, and none of [them] felt right. And I was reminded of my initial intention to make sure that Hannah covered not just celebrities—not just people who are known for entertainment, or in Hollywood, or for sports, or for music. I wanted to speak to the women who are doing very important work—but also who have been kind of robbed of that celebration.
And when I was reminded of Tarana, everything clicked, and I was like, “Yes. This is what the cover should be.” Because outside of the whole Time [magazine] slight of not including her [on its “Person of the Year”] cover—instead of being [a] response to what they did not do—it is simply giving her the platform and the shine she deserves for the work that she’s been doing for a very long time. And the fact that it’s not a trend—her work—it continues long after the hashtag, long after it is sexy, long after some people have put it aside and forgotten; it continues to be her work.
As for Burke, an avowed lover of fashion in addition to being a fierce advocate for girls and women, becoming a fashion model—even for a day—didn’t come naturally. As she wrote on Instagram: “I was still nervous because, well, it’s hard to see what folks who care about you see—but easy to agree with hateful folks. This took a LOT for me.”
In speaking with The Glow Up, Burke elaborated on the subject, telling us that while the team at Hannah made the experience a joyful one, she’s not immune to the criticism and callousness that has come with being thrust into the spotlight:
I have always struggled with body-image issues, and being so visible over the last six months has not helped. My picture is all over the media all of the time now, and it gives people license to share their opinions of me and what I look like—it is not easy. Throughout the shoot, the team kept reassuring me that the pictures were beautiful and they would “Oooh and aaaah,” and I really got into it.
As soon as it was done though, I was gripped with fear, thinking about how public it would be. I have had to literally think of this as an act of resistance in order to push through my feelings of insecurity. ... I’m like, “Y’all gonna get this brown, blemished skin and this wide nose and this big hair and—you will deal.” I hope that other brown girls and women can see themselves in the photos and feel beautiful, too.
But for Qimmah Saafir, it was Burke’s physical beauty as much as the beauty of her work that qualified her for cover status:
It’s important to me for the cover to truly show the diversity within black women—meaning everything from their work to their field to where they’re from to how they look. And for me, Tarana’s beauty—physically—had to be celebrated. That was important to me as well. ...
And because [Tarana] is exactly who she is—because she is in spite of, because she is who she is unapologetically, because she is who she is becoming—for all of those reasons, I fell in love with her and was like, “This is absolutely aligned with where Hannah should be right now as a publication that is meant to uplift those who deserve it.”
To ease Burke’s trepidation, the Hannah team literally clothed her in comfort: The shoot’s wardrobe was entirely from Onion Cut & Sewn, designed by Burke’s close friend Whitney Mero. Said Burke:
I was very nervous, but the first thing Qimmah and her team did was pull looks from Onion, which made me feel comfortable that I wouldn’t have to fit into clothes I didn’t really like. The day of the shoot, they really made the set fun and vibrant. Everyone was black—hair, makeup, creative team—that also made me feel at ease. You almost forget that this is going to be a thing that the public sees!
Saafir’s small but phenomenal team, which included Hannah’s creative producer Robert Vance, photographer Dario, hair by Ro Morgan and makeup by Sade Hazard, worked together to execute a vision of Burke as “this very royal spirit,” according to Saafir, who added:
We wanted the shots to be clean and simple because she exudes so much. So the thought behind it was keeping her garments simple, flowing, very royal, and then playing with her crown. ... whether it’s out or adorned or back, it’s all very much framing crowns. ... I knew I wanted to frame her as reflective of her spirit, which is, to me, goddess, lioness.
And that stunning yet serene cover look? It was actually the last shot of the day—and a happy accident, according to Burke:
That picture was the last one, believe it or not. I sat down on a little box so I could spread the skirt out for effect and the photographer kept taking pictures. I literally just leaned up and put my face in my hands, and he was like, “Stay there!” [He] gave me a little more direction, and voilà! I knew they had something, because Qimmah and the team crowded around the computer and just stared.
If it feels like a magical moment, it was. But for Saafir, it’s simply another facet of the magic of black women:
When you think about the black woman, in a very historically correct way, we are the root of civilization. If the first human was from Africa—the first mother, right? Like, that’s us. And so in that, we really encapsulate the world and that diversity, but we don’t allow ourselves to lean into that. ... We don’t get to freely explore our own diversity and how we reflect the entire world. So that’s also part of Hannah’s mission, just providing that space.
And while taking space doesn’t come naturally to Burke, she understands that for survivors of sexual trauma, celebrating beauty can be part of the healing process, too:
Honestly? I loved it. The hair and makeup, the beautiful clothes and accessories, it was so much fun! Not to be “Debbie downer,” but I talk a lot about cultivating joy in the face of living with the trauma of sexual violence, and experiences like this are a part of it. I will remember this experience for a long time.
The Glow Up tip: You can preorder Issue No. 3 of Hannah Magazine, featuring Tarana Burke, here. Previous issues are also available.