The Size Issue: Melissa McCarthy’s Elle Cover
You’ve read about all the backlash and outrage, now it’s time to talk about it.
Oh, sure. We’re pretty fond of each other, but the truth is you all are our favorite contributors to The Man Repeller. Really! We’ve formalized that fact with “Let’s Talk About It.” This weekly column is a forum for conversation, communication, and complete distraction from the jobs you’re supposed to be doing right now. So get involved. We promise we won’t tell your bosses.
Last week, you all indulged my hypothetical musings as we discussed the finer points of Kate Winslet, filters, and Photoshop. This week, the conversation continues. Sort of.
Earlier this month, Elle revealed the much-anticipated covers of its annual “Women in Hollywood” issue. Championing the industry’s seasoned celebrities and rising stars alike, the November release recognizes Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon, relative newcomer (and inevitable It-girl) Naomie Harris, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, and Melissa McCarthy for their formidable achievements. Befitting the magnitude of their talent, each superlative stunner received her very own cover. Of course, none have been quite so scrutinized as McCarthy’s.
Because while Reese graces her edition of the glossy in a very little black dress and Shailene is (barely) outfitted in Calvin Klein, Melissa fronts the magazine in what critics are calling a deliberately oversize, woolen coat. So much has been made of the controversy that Andy Samberg cheekily christened it “Jacket-gate” at the issue’s own launch party. Slate’s June Thomas summarized the indignation, saying: “This year, Elle’s token plus-size cover girl is McCarthy, who was photographed in a Marina Rinaldi coat so huge that she could hide her Mike and Molly co-star Billy Gardel underneath . . . Perhaps photographer Thomas Whiteside only knows how to photograph the usual stick insect models, because he clearly has no clue how to highlight McCarthy’s curves.” Ouch.
The outrage is understandable, especially when considering fashion’s rocky past with size. There’s also no denying the contrast between McCarthy and her dressed-down costars. Still, this much is equally obvious:
She looks beautiful.
Her skin is glowing. Her hair achieves a brand of French-girl nonchalance to which we mortals can only aspire. Frankly, she looks like she just got laid. (Do you, Mel!) The full-length shot may not sufficiently celebrate her curves, but the image by no means denies them. McCarthy is glorious.
You don’t need to take my word for it. Take hers.
On Tuesday, McCarthy told E!:
I grabbed the coat. I covered up. I had a great black dress on, but I thought, ‘It comes out in November.’ I was so sick of summer. I live in Southern California. I was as like, ‘Give me a big coat to wear. Give the girl some cashmere!’ I picked the coat. They were like, ‘The dress is really great,’ but I was like, ‘Yeah, but look at this.’
So, let’s look. If McCarthy not only approved, but also demanded the coat in question, is it fair that we pressure her to show more skin? Isn’t that sort of what Maxim is for? As far as I’m concerned, there’s something subversive and bold and impressive about putting any woman — be it Blake Lively atop September’s similarly styled Lucky or McCarthy for Elle — in an outfit that isn’t sheer and short.
Of course, we all know that this issue isn’t just about McCarthy or Elle or even “Women in Hollywood.” It’s about whether fashion can figure out how to celebrate curvier women in a way that neither disguises nor makes a point of their size. In 2011, the actress told The Hollywood Reporter, “Trying to find stuff that’s still fashion-forward in my size is damn near impossible. It’s either for like a 98-year-old-woman or a 14-year-old-hooker, and there is nothing in the middle.”
Could this cover be exactly that? Maybe.
Let’s talk about it.