Vogue released its February cover featuring Vice President-elect Kamala Harris yesterday and it’s already generating heated debate.
Photographed by Tyler Mitchell, Harris appears against a draping, pink and green backdrop, donning a Donald Deal jacket and Converse sneakers—an outfit she herself picked for the portrait. The image captures “Vice President-elect Harris’s authentic, approachable nature—which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration,” a spokesperson for the magazine told CNN.
But that sense of authenticity and approachability proved contentious online.
Social media users were quick to criticize the casualness of the image, including Harris’s everyday outfit, arguing that it wasn’t a worthy treatment of the first female, Black, and South Asian Vice President. When the photo was leaked online before being publicly shared by Vogue, many even speculated it was a fake.
“The cover did not give Kamala D. Harris due respect,” wrote Washington Post senior critic-at-large Robin Givhan. “It was overly familiar. It was a cover image that, in effect, called Harris by her first name without invitation.”
Meanwhile, others accused the magazine of whitewashing Harris. “Kamala Harris is about as light skinned as women of color come and Vogue still [f*****] up her lighting,” said another Twitter user. “WTF is this washed out mess of a cover?”
A representative for the magazine told Artnet News it did not alter Harris’s skin tone for the cover, but declined to comment further.
“What a mess up. Anna Wintour must really not have Black friends and colleagues,” added lawyer and playwright Wajahat Ali.
Circulated alongside the cover shot was a second, more formal, perhaps more “presidential” photograph of Harris, also by Tyler Mitchell, which will appear inside the magazine. In that image, Harris wears a pale-blue suit and stands, arms folded, against a gold background.
Adding fuel to the fire was an Associated Press report that Harris was “blindsided” by the cover selection. A member of the Vice President-elect’s team told the AP that staff, including Anna Wintour, agreed to feature the blue-suited image for the cover.
“In using the more informal image for the print edition of the magazine, Vogue robbed Harris of her roses,” wrote Givhan. “A bit of awe would have served the magazine well in its cover decisions. Nothing about the cover said, ‘Wow.’ And sometimes, that’s all Black women want, an admiring and celebratory ‘wow’ over what they have accomplished.”