For over two years now, I have been playing this game on my iPhone that is a total guilty pleasure called Covet Fashion. I have never posted about it outside of the game itself because I am kind of embarrassed to even admit to playing it, but maybe not for the reasons, you would initially think. As a recent convert to gaming, I feel a tiny bit strange about coming to it as an adult, and I kind of hate that I am fulfilling the stereotype of female gamers that want to play “fluffy feminine” games. But I shouldn’t feel bad for those reasons, I embrace my femme identity and don’t believe in shaming women for liking “girly” things. There is nothing invalid about caring about fashion, baking, and wanting everything in pink and glitter. Having masculine interests does not make a person more valid or deserving of respect, that’s ridiculous. Just to reinforce that, the “fashion house” that I am a member of in the game is called “Femme Feminists” and our tagline is “a space for feminine feminists who love Covet, despite it being pretty problematic in body diversity or how the skin tone impacts votes received.” Okay, full disclosure, I wrote that two years ago because I am the “head of the house”. So my real problem with the game, the reason for my guilt, is its total lack of diversity and clearly racist voting system.
First, I need to explain the premise of the game so those of you have never played can still follow along with the rest of this article. The goal is to get the most votes for your doll’s fashion choices which are always based around a specific theme. You purchase clothing items based on the requirements for the event and vote on other people’s looks to get tickets so you can enter the next event. You get bonus points for wearing clothes, shoes, and accessories that you have never worn before and it is hard to win without those bonuses. It really reinforces the idea that women cannot wear the same outfit twice, despite the reality for most people in this world, is that they simply cannot afford to live up to that standard. Success in the game is measured by your individual event score, your level, average score, and your overall closet value. Most of the clothing items in the game can be linked back to a website where the item can actually be purchased in real life. Sometimes buying items in real life gives you an advantage in the game, such as free diamonds. There are tons of problems with classism, capitalism, extremely overpriced designer clothes, and tons of pressure to consume, to constantly be shopping.
The real problems with the game surround intersectional body positivity. All of the dolls are exactly the same size, there is no way to change the shape or size of the model you are dressing. The size chosen by the game is approximately a size 0, so it represents the smallest group of women possible. They are all able-bodied. There are countless hair and makeup styles to choose from, including some more inclusive options like twists, dreadlocks, braids, shaved sides, and even bald hairstyles. The make-up designs allow you to choose facial features that are more representative of racialized women’s features but there are also some really problematic designs like the one mimicking a bindi but with otherwise White features in a way that seems to be about cultural appropriation instead of cultural appreciation. Despite getting 4-5 new make-up and hair designs every time you level up, there are only ever 6 skin tone options to choose from. SIX!?! I think, as a light skinned white woman, I can appear to be almost six different skin tones depending on the time of year and the amount of time I have been spending outside. Six options are not representative of the extremely diverse skin tones that we see around us on a daily basis. This reminds me of all the cosmetics companies that come out with 3-5 colours of foundation or tinted moisturizer at first and then maybe expand their line if it becomes “financially viable”. That is real life example of white privilege, being able to easily purchase makeup in your colours without spending extra money or effort doing so.
So I finally decided to take a real look at the issue of race and skin-tone within the game Covet and unfortunately, the numbers confirm my anecdotal experience playing the game. I checked the results of 12 recent events, 10 of which were events that had no racial or regional context and two that had a specific context. Those two events were called “Queen Nefertiti” and “Burmese Beauty” and the results of them compared to the other ten events points to an othering of darker skin tones within the game. When I looked at the results from the initial 10 events, I found that there were a total of 550 models in the top results category. Out of 550 winning outfits, only 5 of the models could be easily identified as women of colour, less than 1%. In almost all of the events, blonde white women dominate the top results, however, if it is a goth themed event the hair gets darker and the skin tone gets even lighter. Looking at the two racially or regionally themed events I mentioned above, the top results change dramatically. Between those two events only 5 of the top looks (out of 110 total) were women I identified as being white, the rest were women of colour. To me, this feels a bit like white women wearing black face for Halloween, which is never, ever okay. It strikes me as racist, but I need to acknowledge my own white privilege as I make that statement.
It is my personal opinion that if there wasn’t racism behind these numbers we would see a more even split of racial diversity across all events, themed or not. The winners would look as diverse as our world does instead of like our extremely white washed media. More recently, there was a Beyonce event where the description specifically said that you were creating a look for Beyonce. Normally, celebrity challenges have a more sponsored nature which results in the skin tone, hair style, and/or makeup being unchangeable for that event. In fairness to the creators of the game, they have done great at including many women of colour in the celebrity-themed events, from a Gabrielle Union to Selena Gomez. The Beyonce challenge was different though and the results were a clear indicator that a large part of the race problem in this game is based on the users themselves. Luckily almost all of the top looks did actually look like Beyonce, however, in going through voting there was a shocking number of white, blonde dolls. The top look in our own fashion house is a blonde doll with brunette hair, there are two other dolls whose skin tone and hair combination are very different from Beyonce’s well-known style.
We also need to hold the game creators accountable for the images they choose to use for each challenge. These images often reinforce racist stereotypes and yet they rarely feature women of colour. Today as I check through the first 10 available challenges, only two include women of colour, one Black woman in a challenge called “NYC Savvy” and one Asian woman in a challenge called “Sol Sister” that is describe as the goddess of the sun. All of the other images are of white women. The challenge themes and all of the images are also incredibly heteronormative, as we discussed in our fashion house, even the “Civil Union” challenge seemed pretty straight and of course, did not actually include a wedding between two women. On the other hand, there are tons of straight dating themed images and challenges. It wouldn’t take much to improve this and I know a few people who are more than willing to provide some suggestions along the way. Let it be noted that only true fans of the game would ever take this much time to critique it and provide constructive feedback.
I found the above results to be very disturbing because of my belief that representation matters and that when we see people who look like us in the media it makes a difference to our self-esteem. If you are a young girl or woman looking at these top looks and seeing that they are constantly white women with smooth blonde hair, how do you as a woman of colour with dark curly hair feel? How does it impact women of size to be forced to play with models that do not represent their own bodies? What is the impact of this constant lack of representation in both the media and gaming? We need to do better and that is why I love social media so much. We have the ability to take back some of our power and create the images we want to see. We need more images of people of colour, more images of people with disabilities, more images of trans and gender non-conforming people, more images of people of size, more images of survivors and immigrants and so on. Please come and join me in this mission to increase diverse representation by using #SelfiesForSelfLove on all your photo captions.
Photo note: This amazing tutu is from @Society+ – who made my day yesterday with their inbetweener marketing e-mail. ❤