Cover Girl Controversies: All Things Considered

Some of the most realistic and imaginative fantasies are found on the pages of a fashion magazine, especially on the cover. We are no strangers to the evils of Photoshop, but the edited images don’t always deserve the harsh criticism they receive. The negative responses may be the result of media outlets vying for more readership by creating controversy.

Although featured subjects, from Karlie Kloss to Adele, appear flawless on magazine covers, the amount of editing used in final production is often the center of attention. Recently, both Elle and Vogue magazines were under scrutiny for their depictions of plus-sized women.

On the November issue cover, Elle featured Melissa McCarthy in a cashmere coat by Marina Rinaldi. The press, as well as the magazine’s readers, blasted the supposed attempt at hiding McCarthy’s plus-size body as soon as the issues hit stands.

Melissa McCarthy for Vogue, November 2013
Melissa McCarthy for Elle, November 2013

“Elle’s token plus-size cover girl is McCarthy, who was photographed in a Marina Rinaldi coat so huge that she could hide her ‘Mike & Molly’ co-star Billy Gardell underneath,” Slate writer June Thomas said. “Perhaps photographer Thomas Whiteside only knows how to photograph the usual stick insect models, because he clearly has no clue how to highlight McCarthy’s curves.”

However, the actress told the media she chose to wear the outfit herself. “What I found so bizarre is I picked the coat,” McCarthy told E! News. “I grabbed the coat. I covered up. I had a great black dress on but I thought, it comes out in November. I was so sick of summer. I live in Southern California. I was like, ‘Give me a big coat to wear. Give the girl some cashmere.’”

To truly support individual beauty, the media should be more positive in their comments on  women. That definitely does not include attacking a plus-sized individual for simply wearing another layer to look stylish. If the cover girl were Zooey Deschanel, the media would be commending her on the chic look. Add a plus-sized woman into the mix, however, and things change.

Elle’s most recent controversy involved “The Mindy Project’s” Mindy Kaling. Kaling, who looked stunning in Theory by Olivier Theyskens, said she was thrilled about her February cover shoot on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

Mindy Kaling for Elle, February 2014
Mindy Kaling for Elle, February 2014

“I was, for the first time in my career, on the cover of a fashion magazine, which is such an awesome, nice thing,” Kaling said. “It felt great.”

Yet, both the press and the public had a different reaction. Many people slammed Elle for using a half-body shot instead of the three-quarter shot used for the other three girls featured on alternate covers of that month’s issue. In response, Kaling said the debate took away from her excitement about being featured on the cover of a fashion magazine. She also pointed out a widely-overlooked detail.

“I’m not wearing a top, did you notice?” Kaling asked Letterman. “I’m wearing a blazer, but not a top.”

But the most gruesome attack concerned Lena Dunham, who appeared on the February cover of Vogue. “[Vogue] dressed me and styled me in a way that really reflects who I am,” said Dunham, whose weight has been a topic of discussion since her HBO show “Girls” premiered almost two years ago.

Lena Dunham for Vogue, February 2014 (via RadarOnline)
Lena Dunham for Vogue, February 2014 (via RadarOnline)

Original photos from Dunham’s photoshoot were leaked after Jezebel offered $10,000 for them. Using Dunham’s un-retouched photos, which are unimpressive if you expected a shocking difference from the published photos, would not be standard for most fashion publications. Unfortunately, this is a reality that society has come to accept as a norm, and Photoshop is unavoidable in that respect. Interestingly though, Dunham shifted her focus to defend Vogue.

“A fashion magazine is like a beautiful fantasy. Vogue isn’t the place that we go to look at realistic women,” Dunham said to Slate. “Vogue is the place that we go to look at beautiful clothes and fancy places and escapism, and so I feel like if the story reflects me and I happen to be wearing a beautiful Prada dress and surrounded by beautiful men and dogs, what’s the problem? If they want to see what I really look like, go watch the show that I make every single week.”

Dunham is right — fashion magazines are a place for escapism, a place where the beautiful yet mostly unattainable is presented. Photoshop on anyone, whether the person be 170 pounds, 270 pounds or 370 pounds, is simply unethical. To crop a person in any way is to blatantly make a negative statement on his or her imperfections. These differences, however, are the very core of our unique nature. Instead of hiding them, the primary goal should be to celebrate our entire self. But do we really expect this morality lesson from the pages of a magazine? I know I don’t.

What society must see is that targeting the portrayal of different body types is yet another setback in the fight for body image acceptance. Exclusively condemning how poorly plus-size or middle-size women are depicted will never make a statement. Not only does this undermine the women who put themselves out there for the world to see, but it also overshadows their talent and the true beauty they all possess.

The focus needs to shift to the true issue, the problem of using Photoshop as a norm for all magazine subjects. No longer should we be forced to conform to the fantasy promoted by the media. Instead, we must work toward creating fantasies that more closely resemble reality.

 David Bologna is a staff writer. Email him at bstyle@nyunews.com

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