Story at a glance
- Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is the Vogue February cover star.
- Her photos have drawn backlash as being whitewashed and disrespectful.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris stepped into the fashion realm as the cover star of American Vogue’s February issue. Initially, the photoshoot seemed like a progressive step toward increased representation for women of color in high fashion media, as well as a gesture to the cultural significance of women in power.
But the magazine’s debut has been overshadowed by controversy, as critics are calling out Vogue for botching the photoshoot of the 46th vice president. Being of Jamaican and Indian descent, Harris is the first woman of color to serve as vice president of the United States.
Vice President-elect @KamalaHarris is our February cover star!— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) January 10, 2021
Making history was the first step. Now Harris has an even more monumental task: to help heal a fractured America—and lead it out of crisis. Read the full profile: https://t.co/W5BQPTH7AU pic.twitter.com/OCFvVqTlOk
Once the images of the forthcoming magazine issue were released on social media, users were quick to voice two main issues with the photos: the apparent whitewashing of her skin tone and the overly-casual outfit choice, both of which have been seen as disrespectful.
Some fashion magazine news....— Yashar Ali (@yashar) January 10, 2021
1. The February Vogue cover featuring VP-elect Kamala Harris has been widely criticized on social media this evening
But according to a source familiar with the publication plans, this is not the cover that the Vice President-elect's team expected pic.twitter.com/lBC9DnfYNC
Vogue showcased two images of Harris, one with Harris set against a golden background in a light blue suit, and another featuring Harris in a black pantsuit, wearing Converse sneakers in front of a pink curtain. The latter photo will be the printed cover sold in stores, while the image with Harris in a blue suit will cover the digital edition.
Harris’ team was reportedly unaware of the cover choices, believing the photo of Harris in the blue suit — perhaps the more official, tailored photo — would be the one to hit newsstands.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Vogue released a statement defending its artistic choices, including depicting Harris as more casual to reflect her “authentic, approachable nature, which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden-Harris administration.”
The pink and green colors used in the photo set to be the print cover are also meant to mirror Harris’s college sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha at Howard University, which is a historically Black organization.
While the choice of the cover photo has been branded as lazy and overly-casual, Vogue has also faced criticism for whitewashing Harris’ skin tone.
Both photos appear to have used lighting on set to brighten, and lighten, Harris’ natural skin tone.
One Twitter user wrote that the photos were a “washed out mess.”
Kamala Harris is about as light skinned as women of color come and Vogue still fvcked up her lighting. WTF is this washed out mess of a cover? pic.twitter.com/5O2q0axA0G— E. Vaughan (@HypeVaughan) January 10, 2021
Some criticized Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour directly, and many took to social media to voice their disappointment in the photoshoot.
What a mess up. Anna Wintour must really not have Black friends and colleagues. https://t.co/8oCpEPkltU— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) January 10, 2021
Here’s 4 images of Kamala Harris that I had *saved in my phone* that are better than that Vogue cover.— Carmen Phillips (@carmencitaloves) January 10, 2021
I’d say something about how women who exude power in ways that aren’t traditionally read as “feminine” get played in the media, and that’s true. But also Tops Deserve Better!! pic.twitter.com/L3Q8fE1dYh
Other magazines that profiled Harris, including Elle and Time, have been praised as portraying Harris in a stylish light while not washing her out.
The February issue is set to hit stands next month.