I can’t decide what to make of this cover. Michelle Williams has one of those faces that often looks preternaturally girlish to me, and the Elle photographers here have given it edge and angles I didn’t know she had. It’s not that she looks older; it’s that she looks mature, in a way that becomes her. There’s a worldliness she sometimes lacks in other contexts. I don’t know that I’d go with the Full Middleton approach to eyeliner every day, and I tend to like her better with darker blonde hair, but here everything converged in a way that is effective and makes me look more than twice. In fact, I like it enough that I’m bummed out — zing! — to get to the bottom of the photo. The whole effect is cute enough, and she clearly has great legs; I’m not clutching my pearls over that. But I don’t know if I believe it’s aimed at the Elle reader so much as the Elle reader’s male friends and/or companions, who might pick it up if it’s left on the back of the lav. In other words, they may have been going for slumber party, but they landed very close to Commercial for Viagra Single Packs.

Parenthetically, I’m always amused when a magazine touts stories about shopping, fashion, and beauty as a Special Issue. But I find it weird that Elle decided to ride the Pantsuit Nation wave by, essentially using it as a thin excuse to get Michelle on the cover sans trousers. All current weirdness with Pantsuit Nation aside — and there is weirdness; someone added me into the group after the election, so I only really saw the devolution — the fact remains that it’s something which began because people felt a certain specific and unsettled way, and sought a space where they could find solace and support and, to a certain extent, solidarity. The reason for its existence is still important to a large swath of people, so I’m sour on the idea of trivializing it in service of a cheap “no pants required” gag.

I do like the sweater, though. Not as much as Elle likes exclamation marks in cover lines, though. Perhaps they’re looking to shift into being E!!e.