Pretty, thin and white is the template for a cover girl on the big fashion magazines. So the rare occasions when editors deviate from their fantasy norms are built up to be something of an event.
This week, American Elle revealed four different covers for its February “Women in TV” issue. Amy Poehler, Zooey Deschanel, Allison Williams and Mindy Kaling are the lucky quartet. Funny, talented and intelligent, they are just the kind of women a magazine should celebrate. As a bonus, they all look great on their respective covers.
One of those covers, though, is not like the others. While the white stars Poehler, Deschanel and Williams are all shot in traditional Elle style – a full-colour, three-quarter length portrait to show off their clothes – Kaling, the Indian-American, size 12 star of The American Office and her own sitcom The Mindy Project – is cropped into a close-up. She is also captured, inexplicably, in black and white.
Kaling has responded with dignity, saying that the cover made her feel glamorous and cool. “And if anyone wants to see more of my body, go on 13 dates with me.” Elle has argued that the shot is “striking and sophisticated” but this is the magazine that swaddled “curvy” Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy in a greatcoat and was accused of lightening Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe’s skin when it allowed them on its covers. The message is clear: be different if you dare, but we will make it clear that you are an exception. Or, to put it another way, this is Elle – you can have your cake but you’d better not eat it.