Every once in a while, we get the news that a plus size celebrity will be gracing the cover of a major mainstream fashion magazine. And we get excited. After all, it’s very seldom indeed that plus size women are granted access to this sort of representation. We anxiously anticipate the magazine’s release, and we are CONSISTENTLY disappointed when it comes out.
EVERY SINGLE time a major magazine features a plus size celebrity on their cover, they perform what has come to be called the “crop and ‘shop” – that is, they photoshop and tight crop the image until the celebrity becomes a barely recognizable shadow of their actual selves. Only their face is shown. And even then, so much of it gets photoshopped away. Any trace of visible dimples or a double chin is expertly removed by photo editors, who are employed for this very purpose. Cheeks are shaven down and necks thinned out and lifted.
Many women are enraged by this blatant disregard for the actual bodies the celebrities inhabit, and question why an actual likeness of the woman featured is considered insufficient or undesirable for a magazine cover.
And yet others internalize the insidious and systematic indoctrination that women of a certain size or age or race are not worthy of adoration, or even accurate representation.
Either way, the angry often move on with their lives, and the women who internalize continue to internalize, convinced of their inferiority when compared with the images of idealized femininity with which they are so constantly bombarded.
This “crop and ‘shop” phenomenon is an act of violence against women’s bodies. And not just the bodies of the women in the magazines, but all women’s. How much will we allow these mediums to cut away before we disappear completely?
Rebel Wilson landed the cover of Elle Australia for April 2015, AND the cover of Elle UK for May 2015. Exciting, right??? Well, they just hit the shelves – and guess what? Yup. Cropped and ‘shopped. SOOOOO cropped and ‘shopped.
You may have also seen a different image of the Elle UK May 2015 Cover… One that looks like this:
I’d seen this version of the cover circulating around within the online body positivity community, and people were really excited about it. At first, I wondered if it was something someone had photoshopped together as a form of protest to the Elle UK and AUS covers. Nope. In fact, this was a cover that Elle had put together for their subscriber issues. This means that the magazine was distributed to subscribers with this image as its cover, but the ones that went to newsstands featured the head-shot version.
Weird, right…? Why would there be two different covers? Apparently, Elle has already been called out on multiple occasions for cropping and ‘shopping plus size celebs on their covers. Evidently, this cover is meant to give readers and fans the full body shot they’ve been demanding. BUT there a quite a few problems with this…
This full body cover is merely the “subscriber cover” – not the main cover that you’d see if you went to pick up the magazine from your local newsstand. Presumably, the editor decided that since the subscription issues are, in essence, already sold, they could put a full body picture of a fat actress on the cover and it wouldn’t affect the bottom line. Essentially, they think that if they put this version on the newsstand, no one will want to buy the magazine.
After doing a bit of digging, I found out that Elle UK has a monthly readership of about 166,000. I contacted Elle to find out how many of these readers were monthly subscribers (and thus would have received the issue with the full body image of Rebel) but my request for information has not yet received a response. Judging from the subscription-to-newsstand ratio of most major magazines, we can assume around 6% of Elle UK’s readership are subscribers. That means that while around 156,000 readers will get the magazine with the cropped and ‘shopped image of Rebel, fewer than 10,000 will get the issue that features the full body shot.
Featuring full body Rebel on only the subscriber version allows Elle to have their proverbial cake, and eat it too. They get to say they had a full body shot of a plus size celeb on the cover, while minimizing the actual circulation of that cover to a much smaller group of readers. They captioned their subscriber cover with the hashtag #BeMoreRebel, presumably a nod to the fact that Rebel is a plus size woman on the cover of a fashion magazine, and that that is a subversive and rebellious act. Well, I, for one, am calling you out on this, Elle. This whole subscriber issue debacle definitely doesn’t count as you actually using a full body shot for the cover. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the fact that you threw a holey tarp on our (stunning) girl Rebel, made her twirl for the photo so you can’t actually see any of her body, and called then that fashion…
This isn’t the first time controversy has emerged about Elle and plus size celebrity cover models. Several plus size celebs have been cover girls for Elle, and ALL of these covers were problematic. Some plus size celebrities issued statements after their issues were released and this controversy ensued, claiming that they had a say in terms of which images went to print, and they chose the shots themselves. Perhaps it’s true that these women “had a say” (whatever that ambiguous phrasing means) in the choice of which shot would cover an issue. If this is true, then you would think at least SOME of these women would be choosing images that actually represent the wonderful diversity of women out there. With great power comes great responsibility, after all. But I don’t believe this story. Show business is just that, a business. These magazines provide great publicity for celebrities. It is in the celebrity’s best interest to back the magazine if they ever want to be invited back to shoot again.
Lena Dunham has said she is “SO OVER talking about her body” – this was actually the promotional text that appeared on an issue of Glamour she was on, almost a disclaimer, if you ask me.
Melissa McCarthy has said SHE chose this oversized coat she wore on the cover of Elle. What about that chiseled jaw line?
Mindy Kaling laughed off the controversy surrounding the tight cropped image of her on the February 2014 of Elle Magazine, when she tweeted “I love my @ELLEmagazine cover. It made me feel glamorous & cool. And if anyone wants to see more of my body, go on thirteen dates with me” and “Wishing for more skin on my @ELLEmagazine cover? Chris Messina & I are naked on a brand new #themindyproject tonight, ya pervs! 930/830 FOX.”
The reality is, though, that this is not about the individual celebrities and their bodies.
What this conversation is actually about is the countless women who don’t feel properly represented in the media. It’s about the girls and women who look at these images and feel inferior because of the unrealistic beauty ideals promoted by magazines.
So no, I don’t care if you like these pictures of yourselves, Melissa, Mindy, Lena, and others. That really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we actively engage in a dialogue about wide-spread systems of abuse against the psyches of women and girls by magazines and other mainstream media.
I apologize if this offends you, but you are all we have. So few diverse women such as yourselves have elevated themselves to celebrity status. You are at the front lines of this battle we fight, whether you like it or not. You are the only representatives of body diversity in the notoriously unbalanced media. If you do have a choice in how you are represented in the media, then please choose your representation wisely. If you don’t have a choice, then PLEASE speak out about it. We need real role models, and you guys are perfect for the job!
So how can we, as consumers, fix this? I propose one simple solution: a diet.
No, it’s not what you’re thinking. The diet I’m talking about is one that purges your mind of the toxins doled out in heaping portions by magazines, movies, and television. Go on this diet and you will lose all the weight of your own negative self perception – and let me tell you, it’s a load off.
I personally refuse to consume any more garbage that poisons my mind against the wonderful body I inhabit. I have quit cold turkey. No more Elle, Vogue, Vanity Fair, or Harper’s Bazaar, in print OR online.
Instead, I have filled my Instagram and Facebook feeds with only nourishing food for the brain – images of some of my favourite bloggers, icons, and even magazines who represent fashion diversity.
We are here. In numbers. And we refuse to remain invisible. We want representation and a real place in this industry, not just the odd token shoot that’s expertly designed by publicists to make a magazine look more progressive.
We’re sick of lazy stylists who are inexperienced or indifferent when dressing plus size bodies, artistic directors who only use angles and lighting specifically to make their subjects look thinner, and editors who choose only the pictures that make the subject appear as skinny as possible, and then send those images to be excessively and unnecessarily photoshopped.
Elle Magazine has consistently been the worst offender. Here are the covers featuring plus size celebs just from Elle. I have gathered these images and information in one place for a reason – to demonstrate that Elle Magazine has systematically either cropped and ‘shopped or… swaddled? (in the case of McCarthy…) every single plus size celebrity that has ever been on their cover. It’s ridiculous.
Think it’s just a coincidence? Think again. Here is a collage of Elle covers featuring other celebrities…
You can plainly see the disturbing differences here. Celebrities who are considered thin are styled impeccably and put on the covers with 2/3 to 3/4 of their body in the frame, while the plus size celebs (or just not-quite-thin celebs in the cases of Dunham and Kaling) are draped in whatever oversized poncho is laying around in the sample closet and zoomed in on, having the outer quarter of their faces and throats photoshopped away on the cutting room floor.
There have been some exceptions to the crop and ‘shop phenomenon – curvy model Tara Lynn has covered Elle France twice and Elle Spain once; Robin Lawley was also on the cover of Elle France. Elle Quebec has had gorgeous plus size models Justine Legault and Ashley Graham on their cover. But this is not enough. It’s a safe choice to put a plus size model on the cover – they are experienced with shooting from angles that are specifically flattering for their body type. To quote Derek Zoolander, they are “professionally good looking”, and they put in a lot of work to maintain a specific (industry standard) size and (hourglass) shape. Also, not one of these women is larger than a size 12-14. That’s BARELY plus. It should also be noted that no plus size model has ever been on the cover of US or UK Elle, which both get much wider distribution than the Euro or Quebec versions of the magazine.
To Elle, and other mainstream fashion magazines: if you’re listening (which I distinctly doubt) let’s open up an active dialogue about this. It’s such an important issue. I hope we can talk.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for body positive fashion resources, there are a number of online magazines that specifically focus on plus size fashion, and they are all phenomenal. Check out two of my favourites – Plus Model Mag and Dare Magazine. Replace your usual fashion reads with these, and you’ll be feeling so much better in no time.
Until we see a full body shot of a truly plus size woman (wearing clothes that actually fit) on the MAIN cover of Elle Magazine, I propose a boycott of Elle. If you’re with me, join the conversation and tag full body pictures of your fabulous self with #BoycottElle.