My first encounter with this was Ashley Graham thanking Vogue for putting her on the cover, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, but barely.” As usual, Vogue’s efforts to stay in, well, vogue, are ham-handed. Let us count the ways.
1) Ashley is one of the most famous plus-size models in the world, and while she claims no one told her to pose like this — as in, crouched and largely obscured, in a sandwich of women who all have standard model measurements — the fact remains that Vogue chose for its cover a grouping that hides her figure as much as possible. And for a cover that purports to celebrate a joyous era of women, and fearless freedom from norms, this is one dead-eyed collection of ladies. Liu Wen, on the end, is the only one I feel is modeling the hell out of it. Everyone else looks smug, amused, or sleepy. Consider how much more revolutionary and striking this would have been on the cover. It’s not a perfect photo of everyone — this exact frame diminishes Liu Wen a bit, so I get why they didn’t choose it — but the idea here is so much looser and freer, and it hides nothing. I wish they’d had the guts to be this relaxed. This is a celebration.
2) Inside, there is a photo spread in which Karlie Kloss is styled as a Japanese geisha, complete with a truly offensive makeup job. (She has apologized, but child, if you didn’t see the problem with it while it was happening… I mean, I bet you truly are sorry now.) The tin-eared insensitivity of this is only intensified by the fact that Vogue’s first Chinese cover girl, Liu Wen, gets one picture inside when Karlie gets six pages of incendiary play-acting.
3) Look at Gigi Hadid’s hand, the one that is allegedly resting on Ashley’s body. It reminds me of when Chris Rock would play Arsenio Hall on SNL, and he’d have comically exaggerated extensions on his pointer fingers. Unless Gigi Hadid is an alien, odds are very poor that her fingers actually reached that far. Come on, now, Vogue.
4) If “no norm” is the new norm, then why are almost all these women embodiments of the Vogue norm? And again, why is the cover shot doing its utmost to make Ashley fit into that box as well? It is awfully easy to sit around and say lovely things about how this cover proves “everyone is beautiful” and “our differences are beautiful” (as Kendall did) when, indeed, everyone on it is beautiful by pretty much every societal standard. It is not as if we have to bend and flex into pretzels to agree that all these working models are gorgeous. From the cover story:
Today, as [Ashley Graham] enters the supermodel pantheon, Graham is convinced that the industry’s skinny worship is destined for the dustbin. “Sixty-seven percent of the women in America wear a size 14 or larger,” says Graham. “Sixty-seven percent. Maybe you could ignore those consumers before, but now, thanks to social media, they’re making their voices heard. Women are demanding that brands give them what they want. And what they want is to be visible.”
So what did Vogue give them? More of the same, and an idol of their buried between the thighs of the catwalk queens.
“Most of the people I know in this industry,” Hadid says, “are compassionate and open-minded, and they appreciate creativity and originality. It’s like, can’t we just honor that? I mean, look around,” she continues, sweeping a berobed arm past her costars cavorting in the sand, and toward the motley gang of staffers tending the set. “These are the people actually making fashion. All types, all working together to make magic.”
Okay, but none of them were on the cover. Talk to me when you give up your spot to the size 8 production assistant or the size 10 lighting specialist.
5) The light here is conspiring to make as many of these women as possible look like they’re the same color. That’s a loose embrace of diversity indeed. This photo is way more interesting, but unfortunately, this is one case where it’s fair to judge this book by its cover because the cover is considered the prize.
6) Gigi and Kendall? Really? I don’t have anything against them, but honestly, make this Ashley’s and Liu Wen’s cover — she is overdue for a celebration of her gifts — and use the rest to celebrate diversity of background, shape, size, and even gender fluidity. This is not Vogue being brave; this is Vogue trying to take credit for much, while doing very little.
7) No, but seriously: Look at Liu Wen, from the cover story’s slideshow. Stunning. Fun fact: Apparently she was the first to wear an Apple Watch on a magazine cover, when in 2014 she sported one on Chinese Vogue. She was also the first Asian to crack the top 5 on Forbes’ list of highest-paid models. She is the real deal. She and Ashley, for example, had to scale so many more barriers to this career moment than Kendall Jenner or even Gigi Hadid has (the article even takes pains to point out, adoringly, that Gigi has not grappled with conventional definitions of beauty because her interesting blend of ethnicities reads as “all-American” sloe-eyed beachy blondness); while I do think those women have modeling gifts, and I’m not saying perceptions of nepotism or insta-fame (or even Insta-fame) are the easiest things to deal with, but… come on, Vogue. I wish the magazine had let this cover belong to other people. Frankly, Ashley Graham alone is enough star power to carry it.
8) “Fashion’s Fearless Females” feels awfully ripped off from Cosmo’s extremely long-running “Fun Fearless Females” branding. Combine that with the admittedly unforeseen scheduling of this issue chasing Glamour’s imperfect but better attempt that put way more chips on the table, and it only makes Vogue look ever more like an imitative dinosaur limping to its birthday, rather than the trend-setting, vital Bible that it purports to be.
I’m sure there are more than seven things to discuss, so I shall turn it over to you in the comments.