Advertising: Headed in Right Direction or Missing the Mark?

Recently, the comedian Melissa McCarthy has found herself in a little bit of controversy. She has made it to the cover of the popular fashion magazine Elle, but with one caveat. The comedian graces the cover with stunning makeup, beautiful hair, and a trench coat that covers up most of her body.

"Controversial" Melissa McCarthy cover

“Controversial” Melissa McCarthy cover

The trench coat has become the focus of people’s disdain for the McCarthy cover photo. They see it as a failed opportunity for Elle to show their appreciation for all types of women. The plus sized McCarthy is the only women whose body is shown covered up. To some, it looks as if the magazine is trying to purposely hide her full figure body. Here are some comments taken from an Yahoo article on the issue:

@Roundraglanroad tweeted, “Oh look, it’s Melissa Mccarthy on the cover of @ELLEmagazine, let’s cover her up in the LARGEST COAT POSSIBLE”; @Runawaycow wrote, “Melissa’s cover shot is just lazy, it shows that stylists don’t want to work with a plus size body or designers”; and @OhhSuzannah wrote, “That is just terrible and lazy. Ugh.”

Now here’s the thing. These comments assume Elle had malicious intent, but how does the situation change if the coat was chose by the comedian herself? In fact, this article says just that:

“What I found so bizarre is I picked the coat,” McCarthy told E! News. “I grabbed the coat. I covered up. I had a great black dress on, but I thought, it comes out in November. I was so sick of summer. I live in Southern California. I was like, ‘Give me a big coat to wear. Give the girl some cashmere!'”

McCarthy added: “I picked the coat. They were like, ‘The dress is really great,’ but I was like, ‘Yeah, but look at this.’ I was just shocked I didn’t steal it. Now I think I really should have the coat. I’m petitioning for that coat. Give me that coat. I earned it, damn it!”

There comes the agency question coming right back at us. Is it wrong for McCarthy to decide to wear the coat? Is it wrong for people to get mad at what they believe to be a missed of opportunity? If so, where does the anger go, McCarthy or Elle? Do actresses, models, and pop stars have more agency than we think? If they do, how are they supposed to balance it with the ideals their fans put on them? Then of course we have the million dollar question: Is McCarthy’s choice a true display of her agency or the unconscious result of dominant societal ideology of beauty that we are all subjected to?



4 thoughts on “Advertising: Headed in Right Direction or Missing the Mark?

  1. This ‘controversy’ really highlights is the deeply felt desire for more honest representations of women in popular culture and the media.
    I don’t think we can really talk to McCarthy’s agency or lack thereof – she has asserted that she chose the coat and made that editorial decision, and it isn’t for us to say whether that choice was correct. McCarthy certainly seems to have agency – I imagine there is a hell of a lot of pressure on her to conform to a more standard Hollywood body type (i.e. teensy) and instead she hasn’t felt the need to conform to these standards.
    At the same time, I think that we are so used to having women with non idealized body types have to cover themselves up, hide, or otherwise conform that to see McCarthy on the cover of a major magazine all bundled up, could have seemed disempowering. There’s a thirst for representation that doesn’t conform to these idealized standards. Yet it is unrealistic to expect McCarthy to be the standard bearer for all women who do not look like a typical Hollywood starlet. Policing McCarthy for her choice to wear that coat is to continue to reiterate judgement on the female body.

  2. Another question that comes to mind is about those who are not covered up on the covers of these magazines. Will they prefer the cashmere as well? How come no controversies are raised about them on the covers? who is to blame for this? I don’t know, or rather,i’m not sure but i’m really curious.

  3. I feel like if McCarthy hadn’t covered up, the comments about the cover would have been just as, if not more vicious. If she had been showing her body, people would’ve criticized Elle for promoting unhealthy weight/lifestyle, or something like that. There is just no winning.

  4. Without knowing that McCarthy chose the coat, her cover is controversial. In most if not all of the past Elle covers, the cover models are dressed in form-fitting outfits. Even if Elle had chosen the coat because it was gorgeously made, it doesn’t change the fact that Elle chose the plus sized celebrity to put the coat on. Therefore, we would never know for sure if Elle had really chosen the coat to cover McCarthy or to showcase the coat.

    In my opinion, everything changes because McCarthy chose the coat- we now know for sure that the coat was chosen for its design.

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