So it's official. Lena Dunham is the cover girl for the February issue of American Vogue. But much as I love the woman, I really wish she'd turned the offer down.
When it comes to female self-esteem and body image, Vogue is unequivocally part of the problem and not part of the solution. It is the gold standard in an industry that wilfully damages self-esteem to cultivate a dependent market. By being their cover girl, Lena is not just lending them her credibility but also a tacit approval of their methods and behaviour.
For someone who speaks so openly about positive body image, Lena's decision to become Vogue's cover girl is both extraordinary and worrying. As Beyoncé sings rather scathingly in Pretty Hurts, the powerful anti-beauty industry anthem from her latest hit album, "Vogue says, 'thinner is better.'" (I'd love to see Beyoncé back that up with abstaining from any of its covers. We shall see...). But anyway, it's that powerful unbreakable link that exists between Vogue's obsession with being thin and how that impacts women it wants to profit from that should concern us.
The truth is, if Lena weren't famous, a most definitely hot property celebrity, there is no way her looks would be welcome in Vogue. But now that she is famous with an army of admiring women, Vogue has jumped on her, desperate to get cool by association.
That exchange is not two way. Lena is getting nothing out of doing Vogue. She was cool because she wasn't the type of woman you see on the pages of beauty magazines. Women love her because she's real, because she speaks to them, and because they can relate to her.
And it's not as if Lena Dunham needs the coverage. This is a woman who has already won two Golden Globes for her hit series Girls. This is a woman who is judged for her content, for her intelligence, for her talent - and has come out on top.
In fact it's hard to fathom what Lena gets out of doing Vogue at all. If she thinks that she is somehow helping Vogue to evolve, to change, to embrace women who don't look like models, she is very much mistaken. Vogue is simply appropriating her credibility. Her cover is a token gesture, a superficial offering in exchanging for all of the cool Lena lends to it.
It is also a way of harvesting new readers, young women who love Lena but are not Vogue readers. And that's where it begins. Vogue charms these young women to their pages. Then when their celebrities disappear, all that's left are the impossible beauties of the modelling world. And so the cycle of self-loathing and dream body image begins for all those readers that picked up the magazine because it had Lena on the cover.
Vogue is not averse to harvesting celebrities for its covers and using them for their own benefit. Katy Perry was on the cover of the magazine last year and even though she was already thin, she was honest about the lengths she went to to get "glowing for that cover."
Oprah went on the cover of Vogue in 1998 and was famously 'asked' by Anna Wintour to shed 20 pounds for the privilege. Incredibly Oprah agreed. Why she let Anna Wintour diminish her like that I'll probably never know. But this is the power of Vogue. If media's most powerful person kowtows to the body fascism of Anna Wintour, what does that say about the emancipation of women?
Anyway Oprah shed the weight, did the (airbrushed) cover then promptly put the weight back on. And the pages of Vogue were not filled with plus-size models and 'real women' afterwards. No. Vogue simply returned to the double zero dress size diktat it has had for so long.
Now I appreciate that Lena has done magazine interviews before and that the accompanying photos were also photo-shopped, but Vogue is different. It doesn't follow fashion, it leads it. And not only that, its editor is the most powerful person in fashion. We still live in a world where to be invited to be a cover girl for it is a dream come true (just look at how hard Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian lobby for the honour). We should want more for ourselves than this.
Female self-esteem cannot begin to improve until Vogue becomes irrelevant. By agreeing to be their cover girl, Lena has just delayed that day of reckoning. I wish she had told Anna Wintour to shove it. Whoever does becomes my hero.
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