ELLE, Melissa McCarthy, and Plus-size Cover Girls

Posted by on October 23, 2013

I’m assuming by this point that everyone has seen Melissa McCarthy’s upcoming November Elle cover. The cover was released last week as part of Elle’sWomen in Hollywood” cover series. Other November cover girls include Penelope Cruz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley. While it’s wonderful that McCarthy is being recognized for her work and she is certainly a beautiful women, many critics felt that the styling choices on McCarthy’s cover fell flat.

Melissa McCarthy

McCarthy’s cover was shot by well-known photographer Thomas Whiteside, and the Mike and Molly star was dressed in a beautiful, dramatic Maria Rinaldi coat. Credit: ELLE Magazine via Huffington Post

Now, I have nothing against this look at all. I think McCarthy looks quite beautiful, and I would wear that coat in a heartbeat, but where this cover becomes problematic for me is in the message that Elle is sending by choosing this photo as their cover. McCarthy’s entire figure is utterly and completely hidden. You can see most (though not all) of her face, a sliver of calf, and that’s it. There is absolutely no emphasis on her curves. The stylist turned McCarthy into a gray specter, swaddled in cashmere.

Plus, if we’re being really honest here, it looks like the photo-editing team photoshopped off at least 40 pounds from McCarthy’s frame.

As Slate writer June Thomas put it so well, “This year, Elle’s token plus-size cover girl is McCarthy, who was photographed in a Marina Rinaldi coat so huge that she could hide her Mike and Molly co-star Billy Gardel underneath.” She went on to throw part of the blame for this cover on the photographer, saying, “Perhaps photographer Thomas Whiteside only knows how to photograph the usual stick insect models, because he clearly has no clue how to highlight McCarthy’s curves.”

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon shot by Thomas Whiteside in Elle’s November issue. Credit: ELLE Magazine

Part of this criticism stems from the fact that the other November cover girls are wearing far more revealing outfits, with the exception of Penelope Cruz, who was pregnant at the time of her photo shoot and was shot from the neck up. In fact, a pregnant Cruz got the same treatment that most plus-size cover girls face.

Penelope Cruz

Penelope Cruz shot by Thomas Whiteside in Elle’s November issue. Credit: ELLE Magazine

Both Vogue and Vogue UK similarly mistreated British songstress, Adele, on two separate covers. Vogue UK’s 2011 cover depicted a tight, cropped image of Adele’s face, obviously not showing her figure, and Vogue’s 2009 cover showed Adele sprawled across a bed, again hiding her curves.

These criticisms are not unfamiliar for Elle either, since their 2010 Gabourey Sidibe cover, which showed Sidibe from the chest up, received similar complaints.

This begs the question: Why are fashion editors so afraid to depict plus-size women as actual plus-size women?

The message that Elle and Vogue both send out by styling their curvy cover girls this way is, “Wow, we absolutely love you, but gee, we really wish you were skinny.” And if that is the message that those magazines are sending to these beautiful, successful stars, what is the message that we are sending to the young girls that admire them?

Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley shot by Thomas Whiteside in Elle’s November issue. Credit: ELLE Magazine

Being a plus-size women does not make you any less glamorous, beautiful, talented, or deserving of admiration than your straight-size counterparts. In fact, the amount of courage it takes just to walk outside and live your life as a plus-size woman makes plus-size women inherently tough.

Elle responded to the criticism with a statement posted to their website: “On all of our shoots, our stylists work with the stars to choose pieces they feel good in, and this is no different: Melissa loved this look, and is gorgeous on our cover. We are thrilled to honor her as one of our Women in Hollywood this year.”

What do you think? Is McCarthy’s cover just fine or do you feel like Elle is trying to just make this PR nightmare go away? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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