If you’ve been on Twitter any time in the last few days, you might’ve caught wind of the controversy going down with Vogue‘s (US) latest cover. Just months after making headlines for featuring Harry Styles on the cover, Vogue US is making the news once again… but not for anything positive. The February 2021 edition of Vogue US is slated to feature Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, AKA the first woman to serve as Vice President AKA the first woman of color to serve as Vice President. Kind of a big deal.
Kamala Harris’s winning ticket on the Biden campaign has been historic in a myriad of ways, and it’s exciting to see a woman of color representing in the White House. Whether or not you agree with her or Biden’s politics is beyond the point: she’s making history whether people agree or not, based solely on her culture. It’s a glorious moment indeed, to see the subtle, slow-moving train of inclusion inching into the White House, and if current trends continue into future election years, we can expect to see more diversity in U.S. government for years to come.
So, where does Vogue come into all this? Nowhere positive, unfortunately. The February 2021 covers of both the digital and print version of Vogue leaked online over the weekend of January 9th, and needless to say, people were not pleased. In the print edition of the cover, Harris can be seen wearing her signature low-top chucks and a black suit, set against a pink and green fabric background. If it sounds less than Vice Presidential, that’s because it is. Though the pink and green is meant to be an homage to Harris’s sorority, and though Madam Veep is said to have styled herself for the cover, it certainly isn’t what anyone was expecting. For someone breaking as many barriers as Harris, the expectation is her Vogue cover would be as interesting and boundary-breaking as her, right? Or at the very best, less casual.
The digital cover of the February issue is the image that Harris’s team was expecting on the print cover. It’s easily the more refined, professional cover of the two, and definitely closer to what would be expected from the Vice President-elect.
In a statement following the controversy, Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, defended the cover. Of the cover, she said “when the two images arrived at Vogue, all of us felt very, very strongly that the less formal portrait of the Vice President-elect really reflected the moment that we were living in.” Dozens of others on social media agreed with Wintour, noting that Harris doesn’t look bad on the cover. Admittedly, the casual cover is a gentler approach to the American public, offering Harris an air of humanity during a time where she’s viewed strictly as a politician.
Okay, so who cares? In another moment in time, it’s possible that the Vogue cover would’ve never mattered. Harris simply could’ve been featured, appreciated, and social media would move on. However, when compared to the dozens of other politicians and women of color who have graced magazine covers in recent years, the quality of Harris’s photo is appalling. She’s the Vice President-elect, and her photo looks washed out, under-dressed, and dim.
Harris should be celebrated on the Vogue cover. She’s the most powerful woman in America, and she’s taking on the role of VP with an unimaginable level of charm and grace. And while it’s important that she’s accessible to the American public, it’s also important that she’s perceived in a respectable way.
The problem with the cover was never with her chucks or suit, it was with the composition of the photograph. The background washes out her skin tone. Her pose is meek and, when comparing the print and digital covers, it’s clear that looks more uncomfortable in the print one. Simply put, Harris does not look like the Vice President-elect on the cover. She’s not the strong, capable woman she’s showcased herself as. Several editorial members had to approve the photos of Harris to go to print, and none of them noticed the lack of vibrancy in her portraits. That’s the issue.
At this point, it seems that the pink and green cover is the one that will be printed on the magazine’s February issue. It’s unclear if Harris’s team has any control over changing the cover back to the one they approved, or if Wintour and the Vogue team are going to continue on with their defense.
The only thing that’s for certain is that Harris’s status as a woman making history can’t be undermined by a subpar magazine cover. Regardless of what’s printed, she’s solidified in the history books as a woman of color challenging political norms. May many more follow in her example. And may Vogue photograph them properly.
Featured Image via Kamala Harris