Are Magazines Downplaying the Figures of Plus-Size Stars?

Elle magazine has come under fire for allegedly downplaying the plus-size figure of actress Melissa McCarthy on its latest cover. Critics are saying Elle purposely tried to hide the Bridesmaids star by putting her in an oversize coat that covered most of her body. (Or, in the words of Slate writer June Thomas, a coat “so huge that [McCarthy] could hide her Mike and Molly co-star Billy Gardel underneath.”) Meanwhile, Elle’s other November cover stars (the magazine is running separate covers featuring six different actresses for its "Women in Hollywood” issue) got to show considerably more skin.

Elle responded in a statement that read: “On all of our shoots, our stylists work with the stars to choose pieces they feel good in, and this is no different: Melissa loved this look, and is gorgeous on our cover.” In an interview with Omg! Insider, the actress herself called the cover "kind of amazing."

This is hardly the first time this sort of thing has happened. As anyone who follows fashion magazines will tell you, plenty of other titles have gotten flak for obscuring, even shrinking full-figure cover girls.


Adele—Vogue, March 2012

Eyebrows were raised when, on Vogue’s March 2012 cover, the singer Adele appeared significantly slimmer than she had in recent real-life appearances. Most readers seemed not to mind: The issue was Vogue’s second-best seller of the year.


Gabourey Sidibe—Elle, October 2012

Another Elle cover, in October 2010, featured plus-size Precious star Gabourey Sidibe photographed from mid-chest up. Critics said the image had been deliberately cropped to hide the actress’ body and lighten her skin. Magazines More and Ladies’ Home Journal used similar chest-up approaches when they photographed McCarthy for their own recent issues.


Kelly Clarkson—Self, September 2009

Self, in September 2009, ran a cover photo of singer Kelly Clarkson looking noticeably thinner than usual. (There was even a label on the cover that, critics claimed, had been strategically placed to hide her derriere.) In response to the criticism, editor in chief Lucy Danziger said, “Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best. Did we publish an act of fiction? No.” She added, “In the sense that Kelly is the picture of confidence, and she truly is, then I think this photo is the truest we have ever put out there on the newsstand.”


America Ferrara—Glamour, 2007

In 2007, when Glamour magazine showed a surprisingly svelte-looking America Ferrera on its cover, there were reports Ferrera’s head had actually been Photoshopped onto a thinner woman’s body. The magazine denied allegations of digital manipulation.


Kate Winslet—Vogue, November 2012

Elle isn’t this month’s only magazine cover controversy. November’s Vogue features a heavily airbrushed version of Kate Winslet—or as Fashionista puts it, “someone or something that vaguely resembles a human being … who vaguely resembles Kate Winslet.” 


Kate Winslet—British GQ, 2003

Winslet has spoken out against overzealous retouching. After being digitally slimmed down on the cover of British GQ in 2003, she stated: “The retouching is excessive. I do not look like that and more importantly, I don't desire to look like that.”