A Few Thoughts on Mindy Kaling's Elle Cover

I am a girly girl. I like makeup and clothes and shoes. Hell, I run a breastfeeding blog called Lactivist in Louboutins. One thing I have always noticed in American fashion magazines is the lack of people in them that look like me. There will occasionally be a few photos of Frieda Pinto or Padma Lakshmi, maybe a blurb about Priyanka Chopra or another Bollywood actress, but never on the cover of an American fashion magazine.

I was so happy to see Mindy Kaling’s Facebook page post a pic of an Elle Magazine USA’s cover with her face on it! Sadly my happiness was short lived. After a little Googling to see which issue it was and when it would be on newsstands, I learned there are actually four different covers for Elle’s February TV issue.  (see HuffPo piece here). The other three covers feature beautiful photos of Amy Poehler, Zooey Deschanel, and Allison Williams. After looking at their covers, I realized that Mindy’s cover was the only one in black and white.  Why is the only woman of color not in color?

Photo from Elle

In the past, various versions of Elle magazine have come under fire for lightening the skin tones of women of color featured on their cover. Aishwarya Rai was reportedly thinking of suing Elle India for digitally bleaching her skin when she was on the cover in 2010. Elle USA was accused of lightening Gabourey Sidibe’s skin tone and cropping her body out of the shot  for their 25th anniversary issue, also in 2010. Perhaps by posting a photo of Mindy Kaling in black and white, they thought they would avoid any skin lightening controversies.

I suppose I should be happy that there’s a South Asian woman on the cover of a major American fashion magazine. That is an achievement in itself.  I don’t believe Elle USA has ever featured a South Asian on their cover; but why is this cover in black and white? It would have been nice to see someone that looks like me on the cover of a magazine in color. I have read a few tweets from others that make me wonder how the cover could have been approved without anyone pointing out this “oversight.”

I feel as if I'm not supposed to be angry about this, that I'm supposed to shake my head and say, "Oh the fashion industry! Silly me for expecting more." I feel as if I am supposed to be desensitized by the constant images of beauty not looking like me. I hope to see more images of South Asian women on magazine covers in the future, but in full, beautiful color.

Edit: Mindy Kaling has posted a response on Twitter. She does indeed look glamorous and cool. While I am glad that she is happy with her cover, I think it could have been done differently and better.