|Liya Kebede on the May 2008 Harper's Bazaar (image from here)|
The thing is, back in the old days all you had to do was be of model looks and build and be known to the editors, but not necessarily to the general public. Of course, a handful of girls went on to be supermodels, known by name across the world, but more often than not, it was less about the model herself and more about the photograph, the mood, the colour, the clothes. For me, this might mean that someone with no real ability except to pose nicely has made it onto the news-stands, but at least they're doing their job and doing it well. It seems somehow more innocent, in the sense that they are there to show the trends of the season, fashion at its purest, rather than to plug their new album/film/show like most celebrities tend to do these days.
|Vogue December 1965 (image from the Vogue Archives)|
Please don't think I'm naive or idealistic. I realise that this is just the way of the publishing world today, and the age of celebrity was bound to manifest itself somehow. I also have to confess to being a total sucker whenever I spot Emma Watson, Vanessa Hudgens or Karlie Kloss fronting the latest issue of some magazine I've never bought before - out comes the money and away I go with my shiny new magazine. But now we come back to the odd question of whether someone should be on a cover. Surely the main reason an editor would put them there is to sell copies? Is that all that should matter, or do they also need to be accomplished at what they do, have a great sense of style and be a role model to girls everywhere? There certainly seems to be this idea that cover stars, particularly for magazines aimed at younger audiences, should be a positive role model. I see the logic in this, but I think we're forgetting something about the roots of youth fashion.
|Jean Shrimpton in the iconic 1962 New York shoot by David Bailey for Vogue|
When teenagers started to make themselves known as a part of the fashion scene, a huge part of the aesthetic was the idea of rebellion. Against your parents, against society, against what was expected of you. We look back on images of young models and early celebrity cover girls who led far from wholesome lives (sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, you know, that sort of thing) and celebrate their ingenuity as an innovation in the way we saw fashion. So doesn't that leave the demand for a well-behaved, non-smoking, innocent cover girl looking a little, well, hypocritical? Besides all that, a lot of magazines are criticised when they feature someone who is deemed not to have achieved anything 'worthy'. Well how do you define that? Do they have to have been in an Oscar-winning film rather than a TV sitcom? Should they have produced a self-written and critically acclaimed album rather than appearing on the X Factor? What we end up doing is creating a divide between 'high' culture and 'low' culture to determine who gets that coveted spot. Some may say that none of those people have done enough to warrant this amount of attention and we should see politicians, doctors, lawyers, academics, philanthropists and entrepreneurs on magazine covers. The way I see it, we'll never be able to decide whose achievements mean they deserve this honour, perhaps it is best to admire instead the achievements of the magazine's team in terms of the design, styling, hair & makeup on the cover, and don't forget the quality of the written articles and interviews inside.
I suppose what I'm saying is, sometimes it's best not to judge a magazine by its cover girl (or boy).