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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 03/23/2009

Comment Box: A Magazine Cover Double Standard?

By Liz Kelly

Jennifer Hudson on the cover of March 2007's Vogue. (Vogue)
Comment Box

In last week's Celebritology Live chat, we got a bit verklempt in discussing Tyson Beckford's statement that actors and musicians should leave magazine covers to models, saying it takes "a lot of tweaking and airbrushing to get the same from a celebrity that you would get from a model."

I won't excerpt the entire back-and-forth here, but to summarize: One reader wrote in to agree with Beckford, recounting his (or her) disgust upon finding a plump Jack Black on a GQ cover. I countered that I'd prefer Black over Beckford; he's got character. Then, another reader took exception to my logic saying that, "No women with the appearance quirks of Jack Black is ever allowed on a magazine cover (or really onscreen) -- no Janeane Garofalo, Kathy Najimy, Nia Vardolos, or Katey Segal allowed."

Okay, fair enough. For the most part, you're right. The preponderance of fashion mags are splashed with images of waif-like minors -- fashion mags are in the business of selling a fantasy and, as evinced by their continued survival, we generally buy into it.

But, here's where I think the logic is flawed:

First -- although men's fashion is a big part of GQ, it isn't exclusively a fashion mag in the same sense as Vogue or Elle. A more even comparison would be Men's Vogue -- which this month, by the way, features a fetching image of non-model Robert Downey Jr. And, in the past, has put Barack Obama, Daniel Day Lewis and Tony Blair on its covers. But does recent news that the mag will be cut back to a twice-a-year special publication mean that men aren't buying the above-average Joes on the cover or that character doesn't sell? I doubt it. It's more likely a function of men's fashion mags being a notoriously hard sell. The same tactic (as we'll see below) actually works for female-targeted mags.

Second -- Jack Black, like it or not, is a huge star. He's got big-time box office cred. Not only for his own quirky films ("School of Rock," "Nacho Libre"), but for starring opposite some of the biggest names in the business (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet). And as much as I admire and respect Janeane Garofalo, Kathy Najimy, Nia Vardolos and Katey Segal, they are not now and never have been A-listers. So, putting myself in the place of Anna Wintour or any other fashion mag editrix, I probably wouldn't choose any of them for my cover either.

But I might choose these non-models:

First lady Michelle Obama, who in 2009 has already graced the cover of both Vogue and People.

Beyonce Knowles, whose dangerous curves would disqualify her from runway work, is featured on April's issue of Vogue.

Oprah Winfrey, who is a stalwart on her own mag cover, but has also been featured on Vogue, among others.

Jennifer Hudson, again a woman who could never be accused of conforming to supermodel standards, who made the March 2007 cover of Vogue.

Queen Latifah, who has graced the cover of many mags and is also a spokesmodel for Cover Girl makeup.

Drew Barrymore, who was chosen as cover girl for Vogue's April 2005 "shape" issue, is another Cover Girl face.

Kate Winslet, famously protective of her shapely figure, was featured on British Vogue's January 2003 cover. (Though she does admit to being airbrushed for the cover of a 2003 British GQ and was outraged last fall when it was claimed that Vanity Fair doctored her cover shots.)

Tyra Banks, a former supermodel who (thankfully) started eating as she transitioned into her new life as a talk-show host, and has famously defended her more realistic weight.

Salma Hayek, the 5'2", curvy actress who made British Vogue's June 2003 cover.

Are these women as, ahem, hefty as Jack Black? No. Are they standout examples of the diversity of human beauty? Yes. Were they air-brushed? Yep. So are the supermodels. Was Jack Black's GQ cover airbrushed, too? I'd count on it.

By Liz Kelly  | March 23, 2009; 10:43 AM ET
Categories:  Comment Box  
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"Jack Black, like it or not, is a huge star."

With a gut and butt to match.

Here's a role made to order for Jack Black:

Have it your way, folks.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 23, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

"Jack Black, like it or not, is a huge star."

Sas, you beat me to the punch.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 23, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Liz, I'd posit that Vogue and Elle aren't entirely fashion publications either, but rather lifestyle magazines, based on the variety of articles they contain.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 23, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Tyson Beckford is just jealous because every magazine publisher would rather have a celeb on the cover than some anonymous model. Most magazine purchases are spontanious and if you see a celeb you like on the cover you are more likely to pick it up while standing in line at the grocery store. Even mags like Cigar Aficionado have celebs on the cover every month.

Posted by: buffysummers | March 23, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

OK, as one of the original Jack Black snarkers (I think there was a "her" invovled too, but I believe she defended him), I picked him because he was a star. I had no idea he actually had been on the cover of GQ. Probly should have picked Jorge Garcia or Michael Moore.

Also, thx for the link to Salma Hayek.

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 23, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I guess i think this misses the point. The women you listed are still beautiful. Janeane Garofalo, Kathy Najimy, Nia Vardolos and Katey Segal are awkward looking and is probably part of the reason they are not a-listers. But an Ugly man (it's not just that Jack black is Fat, He's Ugly) can still becapme an A-list star, an Ugly woman can not.

Posted by: spg2 | March 23, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

This kind of irks me. Mr. Beckford, what about those cross-overs who go between modeling and acting, such as yourself? Should we have told you to stay out of the movie industry because of any re-dubbing or looping you might have done due to poor line delivery?

Magazines put certain people on their covers because those people will make the magazine sell better. I can't think of any currently-working model who would be recognizable enough for a magazine - at least any currently-working model who didn't get there because of reality TV. These days, it seems the spokesmodels are all actors/actresses, the super-models of yesterday are hosting talk shows and reality shows, and the actual models are all on the runway. In that case, designers won't hire a model who will outshine the clothes, so most tend to be obscure, nameless walking clothesracks.

Touch-ups and airbrushing happen, even to the most beautiful among us. I don't see why it's a big deal if it's touching-up an actress vs a model.

Posted by: eet7e | March 23, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I find it hard to believe that Tyson Beckford has never been airbrushed. His teeth have never seen whiteners. His skin has never been botoxed or peeled.

However, when he opens his mouth to talk, I also find it hard to believe that Bravo thought he was the ideal male model to host the "Make Me a Supermodel" show.

Posted by: mdreader01 | March 23, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

while the Chunky Mrs. Obama is on the cover, it doesn't have anything to do with her.. just her hubby

Posted by: tru-indy | March 23, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

while the Chunky Mrs. Obama is on the cover, it doesn't have anything to do with her.. just her hubby

Posted by: tru-indy | March 23, 2009 12:52 PM

Anyone who thinks Michelle Obama is "chunky" has issues. As they say on, "IWAHT" ("I would absolutely hit that"). Same goes for Jennifer Hudson or Sara Ramirez or Cheryl Burke. Like a big bowl of non-vanilla ice cream...yum. :)

Posted by: SportzNut21 | March 23, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of male non-models on magazine covers, has anyone seen the Seth Rogan cover of Playboy? (I work in a bookstore, and have free visual access to the covers' of most magazines.) Playboy has only featured a very few men on their cover, and quite a few voices argued Rogan wasn't on par with those (eg. George Clooney) men. Well, the final product does feature Seth Rogan, but it's just his head at the bottom of the page, using a fan to blow up a woman's skirt, Marilyn Monroe style. It's like the Playboy editors said, "well, we're contractually obligated to show do we make him as small as possible?!" clearly, this was in deference to Celebritology popular opinion.

And to tru-indy..."chunky Ms. Obama?" Are you serious?

Posted by: ishkabibbleA | March 23, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I think Tyson was just trying to motivate the wanna-be-supermodels to behave professionally. If there's any thing I've learned from the show it's that it takes skill to pull off a good pic.

Posted by: ideallydc | March 23, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Is it just me or does Jack Black kinda look like Rosie O'Donnell on that mag cover? Yikes.

Posted by: jaybbub | March 23, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tyson Beckford, President, United Supermodels Local #0.

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 23, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Just discovered the airbrush was invented in 1878. And the first picture was airbrushed in ...1878. Looks like it's been happening ever since.

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 23, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

"The women you listed are still beautiful."


Posted by: VTDuffman | March 23, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse


I think you're on to something. However, Tyson needs to know that if he thinks he can act (or host, or whatever) that there are actors and hosts who think they can model.

And some of them can. Tilda Swinton did a fashion spread in AnOther magazine depicting "future fashion." The outfits were challenging to wear and her poses were sculptural.

And I think John Hamm has more than enough panache to pull off a proper fashion shoot. David Beckham is no slouch, either. And he's a "dumb jock."

Posted by: mdreader01 | March 23, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

When I see Beth Ditto on the cover of a fashion mag, I'll consider buying. But until then, forget it. Even though I would prefer to see models and not celebrities on magazines. The fiftieth cover photo of Jessica Alba does not induce me to buy your crummy rag publishers. And I would vomit in my mouth a little bit to see Jack Black on the cover of any mag. Not funny, not smart, not sexy, and definitely not easy on the eyes.

Posted by: jelo | March 23, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Ooo, la la!

Posted by: schafer-family | March 23, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

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