In the world of American fashion magazines, women of color have notoriously been underrepresented, pretty much since the birth of print. Ditto the plus-size population, who go almost entirely absent from the pages of big-name publications, as if they don’t exist. So it was a boon for both groups this summer when ELLE magazine announced that full-figured African-American actress Gabourey Sidibe would grace the cover of its 25th anniversary issue.
For its special October edition, ELLE produced four separate covers, each one meant to celebrate a different mid-20’s female star–in addition to Sidibe, 27, it included actresses Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox and reality star/fashion entrepreneur Lauren Conrad. But here’s where things got tricky:
While each of the other three (all oft-used, not to mention skinny and Caucasian) cover girls are shown off in full-body glamour shots wearing stylish clothes, Sidibe is cropped at the mid-chest, with a swath of ruched green fabric hiding her curvy frame. Plus, her skin appears to be lighter than in most photos of the actress we’ve seen, which has stirred reactions on the Web.
This is the first big magazine cover for Sidibe, who became famous last year after an Oscar-nominated turn as an abused teen in the Oprah-backed film “Precious.” Since then, she’s received raves for her appearance on “Saturday Night Live” and a new role in the Showtime drama “The Big C.” Similar claims about skin lightening were made in 2008 about the possible whitening of Beyonce’s face for a L’Oréal Paris ad and in 2009 for an ad with Indian actress Freida Pinto.
For their part, the folks at ELLE deny any dramatic lightening or retouching of their cover girl. They sent us the following statement via email: “Nothing out of the ordinary was done. We have four separate covers this month and Gabby’s cover was not retouched any more or less than the others. We had 25 cover-worthy subjects in our portfolio and we chose Gabby because of who she is. We shot this as a story of exuberant young women changing the world. If you take a look at the portfolio, each of the women were shot in different ways and for different reasons.”
Hmmm. The images are above. You be the judge.