By MIA FREEDMAN
Melissa McCarthy is on the cover of US Elle this month. A lot of people are excited and I understand why. They should be.
Women larger than a size 0 are almost never allowed to appear on glossy covers unless they are Oprah and they own the magazine.
I know this because I used to be a magazine editor and I only put two women on the cover who weren’t skinny.
And there are a couple of reasons for it.
To sell tens of thousands of copies of a magazine, you need to have a celebrity on the cover and it’s been that way for about 15 years. RIP models. Send flowers (not chocolate).
And although they won’t want you to know this, editors don’t have the final say on their covers. Publishers do. And their decisions are heavily influenced by numbers. They are unlikely to approve an editor’s choice of cover if it has risk attached to it, especially at the moment, when magazine circulation is so incredibly challenged by declining sales.
Low risk means something (or specifically, someone) that’s proven to work. Jennifer Anniston. Cameron Diaz. Gwyneth Paltrow. Kate Hudson. Blake Lively. A sea of bland blondeness, samey and size zero. With the shit photoshopped out of the image.
Here’s what I’ve noticed: when a magazine editor tries to push out that boundary a little, to try something different on the cover (well, different for magazines, it’s relative), people tend to freak out. It’s the covers that break the mould that – ironically – are the most criticised for not doing ENOUGH. For not being different ENOUGH.
Perversely, every overly airbrushed cover with yet another skinny blonde celebrity goes out into the world unremarked upon. Or perhaps just unnoticed.
And so it is today. It’s not all awards and accolades for the Elle cover. For every little bit of praise the mag gets for putting a plus size celeb on the cover, they get it back twofold in the form of heavy criticism.
These are the sorts of things detractors of the Elle cover are saying:
1. The magazine hasn’t really made her their cover girl, she’s simply one of four covers for Elle this month in their Women in Hollywood issue. Here are the others:
2. The other covergirls are showing a lot of flesh. Melissa is swamped in a coat with her hands thrust deeply into her pockets and her hair covering most of her face, leaving just a small triangle of visible skin on her neck and chest.
3. The Melissa cover – just like the covers of Oscar nominee Gabby Sibide and Octavia Spencer in previous Women In Hollywood issues – is unlikely to appear on newsstands and instead, simply be sent to subscribers to offset any risk of lost sales. The skinny celebrity covers will appear on the newsstand.
These criticisms are very valid. It’s good that we’re talking about it; good that magazines are being held accountable for the crappy way they portray women. It’s time. But it frustrates me that when they do dare to take a step towards a more inclusive and diverse cover image, they invariably get slammed.