Mindy Kaling is one of the most successful women on television, so it makes perfect sense that Elle would honor her for its fourth annual Women in TV issue. After her cover was released on Monday, Jan. 6, however, critics were quick to point out that Kaling received a different treatment than fellow honorees Zooey Deschanel (New Girl), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) and Allison Williams (Girls).
Kaling, creator and star of Fox's The Mindy Project, is the only woman featured in black and white. She is also the sole person whose picture is cropped to focus on her face, as opposed to her entire body.
"It could be a total coincidence—after all, when the internet got up in arms over Melissa McCarthy's covered-up treatment, both the star and the magazine spoke out to say that McCarthy herself picked out the coat that sparked the controversy," Fashionista's Tyler McCall argues, recalling the November 2013 incident that plus-size actress McCarthy jokingly dubbed "Jacket-Gate."
According to Styleite, "Kaling has said publicly that she's a size 8, and while that's an average size for normal women, it's not exactly the Hollywood status quo. It would have been a powerful move for Elle to show a full-length shot, especially considering that they've landed in turmoil for failing to do just that with Gabourey Sidibe [one of the magazine's October 2010 cover girls]."
The Gloss' Julia Sonenshein, meanwhile, tries to play devil's advocate. "Maybe they all were supposed to be close-ups, but the other women (who were shot in basically identical styles) couldn't carry a close up in the way Kaling could. For all we know, Kaling picked the final picture, or requested that she be cropped out. Maybe," she writes. "But that really doesn't seem all that likely, especially when you consider, as Fashionista pointed out, 'that Kaling, the only woman of color to get her own cover, is also the only cover image rendered in black and white.' I don't entirely understand the intention behind releasing four covers that act as a set, but painting one subject specifically as the odd-man-out."
"For all we know, Kaling directed the whole shoot. Does it matter? The message is still the same: we treat a certain type of woman differently than the other celebrities in her cohort. Kaling is different based on an arbitrary set of rules, so we'll treat her as such," Sonenshein continues. "The Huffington Post, for their part, practically wet their pants with excitement over the Kaling cover, proclaiming 'FINALLY!', 'It's here! It's here!', and encouraging Vogue to book Kaling for a cover."
"This seems like an awful amount of back patting for something that's long overdue: a woman of color and some size who's known as much for her talent, intelligence, and humor as she's known for her looks land a major cover. This shouldn't be a thing. This shouldn't be news. We shouldn't be this excited to see Kaling, or any woman of color who's not 'model-thin' on a major magazine cover. But we are excited, and worse, applauding Elle for doing so, as if it's some brave stand to feature a person on the cover of their magazine, instead of the fact that major magazines are woefully behind the times."
Jezebel's Madeleine Davies writes, "Maybe the fact that Mindy Kaling was shot in close-up while the other women were shot in Elle's typical 3/4 fashion is just a coincidence. Kaling's photo is practically oozing with glamour so it's not like we can accuse the magazine of publishing a bad or unflattering shot of her. That said, this isn't the first time that Elle has depicted women who are larger than your average cover model in ways that obscure their bodies from view."
Writing for Yahoo! Shine, Elise Solé argues that "the creative direction is curious, given Elle's murky history when it comes to showcasing fuller-figured women."
Elle stands by its cover treatment, telling E! News in a statement, "Mindy looks sexy, beautiful and chic. We think it is a striking and sophisticated cover and are thrilled to celebrate her in our Women in TV Issue." Kaling, 34, has yet to comment on the controversy via her Twitter account.