A July 2020 article from Vox discusses the shortcomings of media representation of Black icons in regards to the recent Vanity Fair and Vogue magazine covers, featuring the unclothed/exposed backs of Viola Davis and Simone Biles. In an interview for the piece, Professor Jessica Johnson discusses the impact of these types of images:
“There’s a particular kind of gendered violence that gets enacted on female slaves or those who present themselves as feminine in the slaveholding society,” Johnson said. The reality of Black womanhood during slavery was that the body could be violated at any moment; the inability to cover oneself was violence. “You don’t need stripes to show the abject experience of slavery for the black feminine form. The exposed back, the exposed shoulder, and a lot of the archive of slavery will also expose the breasts — all of that was used to signal a kind of availability that was both hypersexualized and hyperviolent.”
To read more from about this topic (and her interview), please see the Vox article.