Well, ELLE magazine can cross “Get everyone talking about race and body image” off their list New Year’s resolutions list.
For their “Women in TV” special, the mag released four separate covers: Alison Williams from Girls, Zooey Deschanel from New Girl, Amy Poehler from Parks and Recreation, and Mindy Kaling from The Mindy Project. All superb, intelligent, fierce women completely worth celebrating (I’ve already vowed to wallpaper my entire house with the Amy Poehler cover because she is my spirit animal).
But one cover is not quite like the others, is it?
Here is Mindy’s cover:
And here are all four covers:
Mindy Kaling’s is cropped in tight (like a headshot) and given a black & white filter. The three other women are in full colour, featuring about 75% of their bodies. Kaling is the only black woman, and the only one with a fuller figure (she’s an American size 8, which is a size 12 here in Australia).
Whichever way you look at it – through a race or body shape lense – this is a game of Which Of These Is Not Like The Other? And that troubles me. It troubled Madeline West over at Jezebel, and it troubled Julia Sonenshein at The Gloss. Did it trouble Mindy? Apparently not.
Desperate to hear straight from Mindy (Had she chosen the image? Was she happy with the cover? Did she know the other women would be shown differently?), I spent a long time refreshing her Twitter feed. And at last! She responded to the controversy, with her typically excellent wit:
ELLE magazine released a statement too: “Mindy looks sexy, beautiful and chic. We think it is a striking and sophisticated cover and are thrilled to celebrate her in our Women in TV Issue.”
I completely agree – her cover is glamourous, cool, sexy, beautiful and chic. Which is unsurprising, because she walks around being all of those things all the time.
But there’s so much more going on here. If you’re releasing a set of four covers, why make one stand out for so many politically charged reasons? Why crop a beautiful, healthy woman at the shoulders and disguise her dark skin, when you know that curvy women and black women – hell, all women – would celebrate Mindy being on the cover?