Why Is This Magazine Cover Of VP-Elect Kamala Harris Getting So Much Hate?
Disrespectful, washed out, sloppy, and downright awful—these are some of the things that have been said about Kamala Harris' first-ever Vogue cover. But is it really deserving of all the criticism?
You can't please everybody.
US VP-Elect Kamala Harris knows this. As the US Capitol riots prove the very strong mixed feelings about her historic election, boy oh boy does she know this to be true.
Vogue knows this, too. And the US fashion magazine's editor-in-chief Anna Wintour has endured her share of controversies during her 32-year tenure at the glossy, braving occasional periods of backlash towards things like her editorial direction, issues of race and cultural appropriation, to lighting choices and misrepresented pop culture references.
Not even two weeks into 2021—and just days before her official swearing in alongside incoming President-elect Joe Biden—we learned that Kamala and Vogue teamed up for a cover and a headlining story.
And people hated it.
The criticism was torrential and unrestrained to say the least, and it was truly unexpected by everyone who'd worked on the cover. After all, current feelings towards Kamala are mostly rosy; she's a woman of many groundbreaking firsts, she's out to kick misogyny and ignorance in the butt, and she's a role model for so many.
So why all the flak towards a woman like that gracing the cover of an equally prestigious magazine?
To start, many thought it was unbecoming of a politician, more so one as high up and iconic as Kamala.
This New York Times article talked about how this magazine cover isn't just pretty, but it'll be part of a much bigger visual history for the whole of American society. It immortalizes the rise of the daughter of immigrant parents to the nation's second highest seat of power, reviving the American dream of endless possibilities for any and all.
To many readers of the magazine (and admirers of its many glam photo shoots), a story like Kamala's deserved to be portrayed in more elegant wardrobe choices made even more impactful by powerful framing and lighting. Some described the finished product as sloppy and not at all representative of the woman in the photo. Instead, the cover has Kamala dressed in a black jacket by Donald Deal with matching black jeans, and, best (or worst, depending on you) of all, a pair of classic black Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
What the cover's bashers failed to research on is that the outfit was selected by Kamala and her team and Vogue actually gave Kamala herself free rein to dress herself in clothes she felt most confident and authentic in.
Some people revived Vogue's less than pristine reputation with its non-Caucasian cover subjects.
It wasn't just a problem of diversity (i.e: a lack of covers featuring non-white people) that's hit Vogue hard in the last years, but an issue of not knowing how to dress up and prep women of color, especially, for a shoot. The magazine has come under fire in the past for things that, well, a magazine should know how to do best such as selecting the most appropriate lighting and makeup, and styling subjects in outfits that aren't only beautiful but also play on the symbolism of their stories.
When it came to Kamala, people said she looked washed out, sallow almost. They say it didn't bring out the best in Kamala, making her outfit choice plus "terrible" lighting and unflattering makeup a double whammy of a cover photo fail.
Once again, Vogue and its tricky relationship with racial diversity is at front and center.
It has to be mentioned, however, that it was Tyler Mitchell that took Kamala's photo. Tyler Mitchell is an icon in his own right, being the first-ever black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover in 2018 since the magazine was established in the 19th century. It was him who shot Beyonce's Vogue cover that year. The same goes for the cover story's writer, Alexis Okeowo, who is also black. Perhaps, Vogue specifically chose them as an ode to the racial diversity Kamala is championing, but the intention just didn't translate very well.
And then there were those who were fixated on the photo's backdrop.
An Instagram user that commented on Vogue's post of its cover said the green and pink color scheme and the draping effect reminded her of a photo she must have taken of herself when she was in the 9th grade way back when. She was short of saying it was tacky and deserved to never see the light of day again.
This, too, had significance and wasn't just a creative misstep or random choice.
The spring green and satiny pink palette are actually the official colors of Kamala's college sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.'s Alpha Chapter at Howard University. The sorority holds a significant place in the university's history as one of the handful of organizations dominated by black women.
There was yet another group who wasn't happy with Kamala's pose.
We're used to seeing women in power like Kamala presented as regal, held up high, evoking a sense of respect and awe and prestige. Kamala's cover departed from this tradition and it wasn't just to be different.
A cornerstone of the Biden-Harris campaign was the true-to-life packaging of the candidates as "real" people, authentic and grounded, and approachable. Kamala's pose that seemed to depict her mid-laugh or mid-sentence as her expression was transitioning to a smile with hands casually clasped in front of her was built on this.
Last but not least, there was the issue of "swapping" covers.
Of the list of gripes put together by the public about this cover, this last one could be the real clincher.
As it turns out, Vogue shot two covers: the first being the Internet's least favorite thing at the moment, the second being one that featured Kamala looking more traditionally Vice Presidential. This time, she donned a pastel Michael Kors ensemble (with a US flag course pinned to her lapel, of course) and she accessorized with a simple necklace and yes, crossed her arms in front of her in a power pose. Her background was an uncluttered wall of golden yellow.
Many were more pleased about this cover.
The problem, though, is that this was supposed to be the cover. The more casual portrait was intended to be an inside shot to be printed alongside her cover story pages, an arrangement that Kamala's team and Vogue had reportedly agreed on. No one really knows why the casual portrait became the official cover (i.e.: it is now the cover of the magazine that will be sold on newsstands), and why the more formal alternative is now the digital cover (a cover to be exclusively revealed online).
Kamala and her team declined to comment on the switch up. Reports also state that Kamala's team never even saw the final cover choice, taking away their chance to veto Vogue's decision.
Biden and Harris will be sworn in on January 20.
Photo from @voguemagazine