Happily, Mindy Kaling landed her first major magazine cover on February’s issue of Elle. The cover is one of four for the “Women in Television” issue, also featuring Amy Poehler, Zooey Deschanel, and Allison Williams. News outlets like The Huffington Post were quick to laud Elle for their placement of Kaling on a cover, but seemed to miss the fact that Kaling received a very different treatment than the other cover girls.
Kaling has talked eloquently about how her weight is perceived in Hollywood, telling NPR back in 2011:
Since I am not model-skinny, but also not super-fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall into that nebulous, “Normal American Woman Size” that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size 8 (this week, anyway). Many stylists hate that size because, I think, to them, I lack the self-discipline to be an aesthetic, or the sassy, confidence to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like “Pick a lane.”
Here she is on a cover with three women who do fit into the “model-skinny” category, and Elle cropped her body out almost completely. While Poehler, Williams, and Deschanel all displayed about 75% of their whole bodies, Kaling didn’t even get a whole torso.
Look, there’s a lot of reasons for this to happen. Maybe they all were supposed to be close ups, but the other women (who were shot in basically identical styles) couldn’t carry a close up in the way Kaling could. For all we know, Kaling picked the final picture, or requested that she be cropped out. Maybe. But that really doesn’t seem all that likely, especially when you consider, as Fashionista pointed out, “that Kaling, the only woman of color to get her own cover, is also the only cover image rendered in black and white.” I don’t entirely understand the intention behind releasing four covers that act as a set, but painting one subject specifically as the odd-man-out.
We’ve seen this before–first, in 2010, Gabourey Sidibe’s body didn’t make the cover but her disembodied head and bit of torso did, and her skin was lightened for the shoot. Last year, Elle put Melissa McCarthy in a giant coat while shooting Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, and Reese Witherspoon in form-fitting, clingy outfits. Elle claimed that the decision was purely artistic, and then McCarthy publicly defended them, saying she was on board. Who knows if that was a PR move or if McCarthy actually was in control? And really, for all we know, Kaling directed the whole shoot. Does it matter? The message is still the same: we treat a certain type of woman differently than the other celebrities in her cohort. Kaling is different based on an arbitrary set of rules, so we’ll treat her as such.
The Huffington Post, for their part, practically wet their pants with excitement over the Kaling cover, proclaiming “FINALLY!”, “It’s here! It’s here!”, and encouraging Vogue to book Kaling for a cover.
This seems like an awful amount of back patting for something that’s long overdue: a woman of color and some size who’s known as much for her talent, intelligence, and humor as she’s knows for her looks land a major cover. This shouldn’t be a thing. This shouldn’t be news. We shouldn’t be this excited to see Kaling, or any woman of color who’s not “model-thin” on a major magazine cover. But we are excited, and worse, applauding Elle for doing so, as if it’s some brave stand to feature a person on the cover of their magazine, instead of the fact that major magazines are woefully behind the times.
Kaling looks stunning–that’s not the issue. In my opinion, she has the best cover of any of the other smart, beautiful, funny, and talented women who got covers for February. But the fact that Kaling is a woman of color and a woman whose size defies the conventions for actresses are two traits that should never be stripped from her when slender, white women are allowed to keep their whiteness and bodies. We shouldn’t have to talk about Kaling’s weight and race like they’re something up for debate when we could be talking about her talent, but then Elle pulls shit like this, and it perpetuates the idea that Kaling is different in the sense that different is less than. Why did Poehler, Deschanel, and Williams have full color covers showing their figures while Kaling literally was stripped of her body and color? Because somebody thought that diluting Kaling’s image would make it more palatable, and that’s as a clear a message as we’ll get.
Photos: Elle, Getty Images