It was the historic moment that gripped the entire world and created a beacon of light in an otherwise devastating year: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris beat Donald Trump in the 2020 US election.
The election of Kamala Harris was especially significant. Not only the first woman to hold the position of Vice President, she also became the country’s first culturally diverse female leader. For women and girls of mixed heritage the world over, Harris’s moment signified a moment for each of us. It was a considerable step forward into a more equal and inclusive norm.
Unfortunately, this huge and historic win was trivialised beyond measure by the latest edition of Vogue.
The iconic fashion magazine has been responding to online accusations this week of whitewashing, after releasing its February cover featuring VP Harris.
In it, the political powerhouse is shot in lighting that dulls the colour of her skin and portrays her wearing casual slacks and Converse trainers, despite her advisors requesting that a more formal image of her wearing a Michael Kors suit be selected instead.
Whether this was a deliberate move by producers or simply a way to make it fit within their design, it doesn’t really matter. It was laughably tone deaf and a wasted opportunity to create something poignant and meaningful.
It did a disservice to Kamala Harris but also the millions of girls and women globally who are regularly fed this kind of subliminal messaging: “It’s okay to be a person of colour, but only if it fits squarely within a white paradigm”.
Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, spoke today about the controversy telling the New York Times that, “Obviously we have heard and understood the reaction to the print cover and I just want to reiterate that it was absolutely not our intention to, in any way, diminish the importance of the vice-president-elect’s incredible victory.”
Robin Givhan, fashion critic at the Washington Post, wrote that the image “did not give Kamala Harris due respect. It was overly familiar … Vogue overstepped. It got too chummy too fast.”
Wintour denied that Vogue’s producers had deliberately ignored the requests of Harris’s reps by choosing the more casual shot for the cover.
“There was no formal agreement about what the choice of the cover would be,” she said. “And when the two images arrived at Vogue, all of us felt very, very strongly that the less formal portrait of the vice-president-elect really reflected the moment that we were living in.”
She added that she felt the picture was “very, very accessible and approachable and real”.
There’s not a helluva lot of “real” in lightening the colour of a person’s skin however.
It’s not the first time Wintour and Vogue have come under fire for whitewashing. In August last year, the magazine was accused of lightening the skin of cover star Simone Biles. And in June, Beverly Johnson, the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue, criticised Wintour’s apology for not elevating black staff members or focusing adequately on inclusion.
This latest decision shows that Vogue, a once powerful and ground-breaking publication, has lost touch with the everyday woman.