Cover Controversy: Why These Women Shouldn’t Shun Fashion Magazines

There is some debate over whether women whose looks don’t fit the mould of mainstream fashion magazines should appear on their covers. Most fashion magazines pick images in line with a convention which supports a particular kind of beauty. So when women who aren’t typical cover stars feature on the front pages, their appearance is arguably under more scrutiny than the rest. In the past, magazines have come under fire for propagating the image of unattainable beauty, to a consumer apparently unaware of just how out of reach this ideal is. Now, it seems that readers are hitting back.

The most recent cover controversy spate began with Mindy Kaling’s Elle US cover. As part of Elle’s Women in TV issue, Zooey Deschanel, Amy Poehler, Alison Williams and Mindy Kaling graced four separate covers. Deschanel, Poehler and Williams were all featured in colour on covers which show most of their bodies, while Kaling’s cover is a close up in black and white.

Many took to Twitter to express their outrage at how Kaling, the only woman of colour, had been cropped and shot in black and white. HuffPost Style even encouraged readers to be upset over the cover, if they weren’t already.

There’s no question about whether or not Kaling looks beautiful on the cover. She does. However, many felt that with so few women of colour being featured on major magazines, that Elle not only had the opportunity to make a positive statement, but that their decision portrayed a negative one. Kaling is also a proud size 8 and with fashion’s notorious attitude towards women with a fuller figure, the Elle cover comes as a double blow.

Staying with fashion’s favour for the extremely smaller frame, often unachievable for the average woman (well, without a celebrity trainer, fad diet and Photoshop) Lena Dunham’s recent Vogue cover has also stirred up some controversy. Dunham’s cover for the February issue of the magazine is also a close up shot. With some calling it “ridiculously photoshopped”. Known for speaking out about challenging body image norms, and if you’ve ever watched her show Girls, you’ll know that her regular nudity was something revolutionary. So when fans saw her cover they were disappointed, to say the least, that the shot wasn’t full body.

Similarly to Kaling, Dunham has expressed her love for the cover, but the criticism continued. Jezebel, offered $10,000 for unretouched photos from Dunham’s Vogue shoot. And they were successful in obtaining the images (see below).

This Guardian article features excerpts from an interview about the controversial Kaling cover with an unnamed UK fashion editor. And while those in fashion will agree, cropped covers can be cute, when it comes to colour there really is no compromise.

M.I.A is on the cover of NYLON Singapore’s January issue. And although one fan’s tweet about her delight at the cover was retweeted by M.I.A’s official account, other fans commented on how pale the rapper looked.

Unless stated all magazine pictures are retouched. There are a few magazines which have run unphotoshopped covers and images. The Economist’s Intelligent Life cover featuring Cate Blanchett was promoted as a retouched image. Cate looks fabulous, but at the same time the image reminds readers that she is human. It’s so rare to see wrinkles on a woman’s face in a magazine, that you’d be forgiven for thinking they don’t ever form on the faces of celebrities.

Boots’ Health and Beauty magazine proudly uses unretouched cover girls on every issue. Lingerie brand Aerie has just launched an unretouched ad campaign. All models featured in the adverts have undergone no digital enhancement. If publications aren’t going to shout from the rooftops about the extent of retouching they’ve applied to images, for now, consumers will have to settle for the few that proudly abstain from the practice.

Victoria Sadler, a writer for Huffington Post, wrote that she wished Dunham had turned down Vogue’s offer to be their cover girl. It seems counterintuitive for women who aren’t regularly seen on the covers of mainstream magazines because of their body shape, race or whatever other characteristic deemed unattractive to stop appearing on them. It’s not just skinny white women who read magazines and not just skinny white women should appear on them. It’s clear that mainstream fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle need to learn how to love women who don’t fit “the mould”, and we can only hope that when women like Dunham, Kaling and Melissa McCarthy are featured on covers again that they’re just as happy with the results.

When it comes to fashion, the reasoning behind which shots are used and how to colour images isn’t always synonymous with our emotional response to them, they are often the result of an artistic choice. But, making a stand against retouching, black and white covers of women of colour and cropped covers of women size 8 and above is about embracing women of all kinds for their natural beauty. Yes, some women are naturally very slim and many would opt for at least a little retouching if featured on the front of a global magazine. But, when magazines use images doctored to the point that cover stars are pictured with ribcages missing, you have to question this practice, surely?

What do you think about the cover controversies?

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