Mindy Kaling’s body, skin colour go missing in new Elle magazine cover

While the other three women on the Elle cover issue are allowed full-body shots and colour, Kaling's cover is a black and white close-up of her face

Apoorva Dutt January 08, 2014 14:19:07 IST
Mindy Kaling’s body, skin colour go missing in new Elle magazine cover

On Tuesday, Elle magazine released four covers for its February 'Women in Television' issue, featuring Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Zooey Deschanel (New Girl), Allison Williams (Girls) and Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project). This was Kaling's first big American magazine cover, an important rite of passage for female performers hoping to break through to the American mainstream.

Mindy Kalings body skin colour go missing in new Elle magazine cover

Mindy Kaling's Elle cover

But while the other three are allowed full-body shots and colour, Kaling's cover is a black and white close-up of her face. Some commentators are now pointing to this as a blatant example of racism and fat-ism: as the only woman of colour, why is she the only one denied actual colour in her cover photo? And why is her body the only one that's been chopped out of the photo?

So is this a case of racial and body size-based discrimination? It's hard to say.

Looking at all four covers together, it is undeniable that Kaling's cover is a jarring note in a set which is otherwise thematically sound. The other three covers have the actresses against a slate grey background, their body silhouettes a prominent feature of the photograph: but each is unique.

Amy Poehler - a Saturday Night Live veteran - is shown in a well-cut pantsuit. Girl's Allison Williams, clearly the young hot ingenue of the four, has stockings peeping out from under her tight, short dress. Zooey Deschanel, the original manic pixie, looks like she just walked off the set of TV show New Girl in a colourful, retro-style dress.

Mindy Kaling is a close-up of her face, in black and white. While the other three have their work and personal style reflected in the photos, it's difficult to see what aspect of Kaling is on display here. It's a good photo, but nothing more.

Whether this is a case of latent racism or just plain cluelessness as to how to express Kaling's otherwise vibrant personality and skyrocketing career in a photo isn't clear. But it's safe to say that it seems fashion editors, photographers and others are still playing catch-up when it comes to shedding preconceived notions of beauty. Fashion magazines seem to be stuck somewhere between rejection and acceptance of women with different bodies and skin colours: somewhere that looks a lot like denial.

When you don't know what to do with a body, swathe it in fabric or cut it out of the photo. Elle magazine previously came under fire for their November "Women in Hollywood" issue, in which they covered up actress Melissa McCarthy in an oversized coat while showing a lot more skin on the issue's other covers featuring leaner actresses including Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Marion Cotillard.

Mindy Kalings body skin colour go missing in new Elle magazine cover

Mindy Kaling's Elle cover seen with the other three covers.

Kaling, on her part, seems to have no problem with the photo.

Of course Kaling has no issue with the photo. She looks gorgeous and it's an important step in her career. Even McCarthy had responded to the criticism saying that the coat in question was one she had brought in herself for the photo shoot.

In a quote that went viral last year, Kaling decried the 'difference' she is subjected to in Hollywood because of her full figure (according to Hollywood standards) and ethnicity (full name: Vera Mindy Chokalingam, second-generation Indian-American). "There are little Indian girls out there who look up to me, and I never want to belittle the honor of being an inspiration to them. But while I’m talking about why I’m so different, white male show runners get to talk about their art,'" Kaling said in an interview with Parade magazine.

Kaling wouldn't appreciate this debate around her photo because anything that detracts attention from her work is a waste of time. But even if it's not racism, and Kaling doesn't want to play victim, at the very least Kaling's photo shows that American fashion magazines don't know what to do with normal bodies: other than hide them, of course.

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