Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy that Vogue went a little weird here, instead of spinning the Wheel of Fallbacks and landing on “Kendall Jenner lies down on a chaise in Erdem,” or, “Kendall Jenner descends a large staircase in an otherwise empty mansion.” But also: Whaaaaat? Why is Kendall Jenner wearing period hair with her Modern Face and getting loved up by a cockatoo? Did Anna see I, Tonya, and decide that invasive birds are the new black?
This is just a wretched cover, and not just because the bird claws are going to give Jessica night terrors (and its beak’s proximity to her eye will give me some; this is like a combination of both my and Jessica’s DEEPEST FEARS). I think Kendall is a decent runway model — she serves attitude way better than dead-faced Kaia Gerber, for example — and she certainly works hard. But I am not bullish on her print modeling because I don’t think her personal energy translates well to photo shoots, and this array is a particularly and egregiously terrible collection. Her eyes are completely lifeless. The cover lacks any energy — even the bird looks kind of like it could be papier-mache — and the ways in which it’s bizarre are NOT ways that would make me chuckle and pick it up and want to know more. It seems to be reaching for whimsy, but landing on, “This dilettante high-school trust-fund child spent $40,000 on her senior yearbook photos.” The interior photos aren’t much better — this one, for example, has no energy in her eyes, nor does this, and in this one she looks like Katharine McPhee. Honestly, the one I like best is the one in which her entire head is covered by a gigantic hat.
It’s too bad, because in the profile… I actually sorta liked her, y’all. Considering that I was coming from a position of assuming I probably would not, it was nice to read through it and feel relaxed and like she’s at heart a good egg. (Our theory is that she is the best of them; she seems to, as Jess puts it, mind her Ps and Qs and keep her life on the DL the most, and she is the only one who deviated from the family business — however lightly — to make a career for herself.) It got off to a try-hard start on the writer’s part, though: Kendall, an avid and experienced rider, meets the author where she stables her horses, “an unpretentious show barn called Huntover. It sits in an achingly romantic little spot tucked away in the gated community of Bell Canyon, California.” I’ve never been there, but like, to me an unpretentious stable would be “on a plot of land in northern Burbank, near a Smart & Final.” There is a near-aggressive need these days to write a celebrity profile that insists said celebrity is down-to-earth and just like you, but the thing is, Kendall Jenner may well be the coolest and most grounded Kardashian offshoot, but she’s never going to be just like me. For myriad reasons. And that’s okay. She can be nice and not conceited, and still openly enjoy the advantages that her family’s business and her own work have afforded her. It is okay to use your wealth on hobbies that fulfill you, y’all. We don’t need to twist ourselves into yogic pretzels to paint this another way, Vogue.
And it’s an interesting month: We have two members of this family covering major magazines (in case you missed it, we had a raucous discussion of Kim on Elle), and both of them are asked about moments in their history where they were slammed for being culturally insensitive. For Kendall, that was most notably the Pepsi ad; for Kim, among other things, the corn rows. Kim’s reaction was stubborn, totally unsatisfying, and lacked any introspection at all. Kendall’s is better. In fact, Kendall makes for a more thoughtful and likable read throughout, but I thought she especially handled this issue more deftly but without fully prostrating herself:
I ask her if—as someone with so many close black friends and family members—anyone talked to her about it. “No,” she says. “Nobody came to me to explain it to where I was like, Oh, I get it. But I’m not an idiot. I can see it for myself.” One of the more fascinating things about the Kardashians is that they seem so comfortably integrated as a family. In a country where, studies show, 90 percent of white people have no close black friends, I think that makes them good role models in one respect. When I run this notion by Kendall, she says, simply, “But that’s how I’ve grown up.” She pauses for a moment. “I didn’t think of the ad as controversial for exactly this reason. When it was physically happening—the high five? Isn’t that what everyone was freaking out over?—I just didn’t think of it like that.”
One of the big lessons she took away from the whole complicated rigmarole is to be more involved in every single thing she does. “I was always really nervous on any job,” Kendall says. “I am a huge people pleaser, and that is what my job has always been: You come to set and you do what you’re told. […] But that’s what I took out of it: I need to be more present and pay more attention.”
It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s also a sticky wicket: Does Kendall Jenner deserve more fire for accepting the job in the Pepsi ad than, say, the writer or director or agency, or any other actor who also took the work? Is it her fault that she booked a cover shoot for Vogue India’s 10th anniversary issue despite not being Indian, or is that a creative failure of Vogue’s? Or both? Certainly I think a detailed analysis of any job she’s going to accept is fair, because it IS her face that’s going to front it, and that’s exactly what happened. She kind of became the face of those mistakes, even though she wasn’t the only person participating in them. That’s why I liked her answer: Yes, you do want to show up and be a professional and do the job she was hired to do (if she hadn’t, boy, would THAT have leaked like fire), but she also acknowledges that she’s in a position where she should, and can, think a little harder and speak up a little louder about this stuff. At the very least, I thought it displayed more self-awareness and more of a desire to do better going forward than Kim’s, which came off as very, “Whatever, I didn’t do anything wrong, because I love Bo Derek.”