Elle Put Melissa McCarthy on Its Cover, and Then Covered Her Up

What Women Really Think
Oct. 15 2013 12:35 PM

Elle Put Melissa McCarthy on Its Cover, and Then Covered Her Up

Elle

Elle

Melissa McCarthy is on the November cover of Elle, and everyone’s excited. It’s a plus-size woman! On the cover of a magazine! But should Elle really get credit for this?

Every November Elle goes cover crazy. For its annual “Women in Hollywood” issue, instead of picking just one woman to grace the cover, the magazine awards a whole bunch of actresses the not-so-singular honor.

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This canny tactic provides Elle with a chance to branch out from the familiar shots of skinny women who appear to have been photographed from about two inches away, as Lady Gaga, Shakira, Kerry Washington, Taylor Swift, and Claire Danes have been in recent months.

In a business where covers have a profound effect on newsstand sales, taking a chance on an unexpected subject represents a big gamble. You might think that by splitting the risk six ways, there’d be less riding on one actress’s slender shoulders. But in fact, there’s typically just one newsstand cover; the other choices go out in the mail to subscribers. Last November, full-figured Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer gave great face on an Elle cover, but it was Sarah Jessica Parker’s scrawny bod looking out from the newsstands. (This isn’t necessarily a smart business move—Adele’s 2012 turn on the cover of Vogue was that year’s second-best-selling issue.)

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. McCarthy’s hair covers a quarter of her gorgeous face, and with her hands stuffed deep into her coat pockets, the only visible flesh is a tiny triangle between the coat’s lapels and the briefest glimpse of calf. 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.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.