Was 'Elle' Wrong to Have Cover Girl Melissa McCarthy Wear a Giant Coat?

The actress looks gorgeous on the magazine's cover, but why hide her curves?

Fashion magazines favor a pretty predictable type of model -- so when someone like Melissa McCarthy makes the cover, people take notice. The star of The Heat is one of six actresses featured on variant covers of the new "Women in Hollywood" issue. The others -- Reese Witherspoon, Penelope Cruz, Naomie Harris, Marion Cotillard and Shailene Woodley -- could pass much more easily as fashion models. But McCarthy's cover isn't generating controversy because she's "the fat one." It's generating controversy because she's the only one wearing a ginormous coat.

In her photo, a glammed-up McCarthy is wrapped in an oversized gray duster, which ends just above her knee. Her hands are buried somewhere in the folds. The only skin showing is her neck, a sliver of her calves, and her face -- which is partially hidden in a giant pouf of side-swept hair.

Several bloggers have called out the magazine for camouflaging Melissa's plus-sized body. Fashion writers The Fug Girls noted that the other cover subjects are really scantily clad, and the contrast is jarring. (We don't see what Cruz is wearing in her photo, but presumably the image only shows her face because she was pregnant at the time.) A Slate editorial suggested that the photographer had no idea how to photograph a curvy model. Others, like Jezebel, have praised McCarthy's look, and lauded Elle for featuring a woman who breaks the mold.

So which is it? Should Elle be criticized for putting McCarthy in a big coat, or praised for giving her a cover in the first place? Maybe a little of both. Honestly, our first thought upon seeing the cover was, "Wow, she looks gorgeous." And she does! We love that Elle didn't make a joke out of her appearance, as so many other magazine photographers have done. The outfit is flattering and seasonally appropriate; she's not the first celeb to wear a coat for a winter magazine cover. Also, Elle didn't airbrush her into looking like a size six, and sad as it is to say, they should be commended for that. And McCarthy was honored by her cover-girl status. “[Elle is] a magazine I grew up with and I hadn’t done anything quite like that,” she told omg! Insider. “I was nervous… It was kind of amazing.”  

So the problem isn't really with this specific magazine cover. The problem is that fashion magazines are terrified to show us the bodies of average-sized women. (Like, you know, the ones who buy the magazines.) Nine times out of ten, if Adele is on a magazine cover, we'll see only her face. Same with McCarthy (unless it's the aforementioned joke cover). The industry standard for magazine covers is "skinny and willing to get naked." If you can't meet the criteria, then you might as well not have a body.

That's why McCarthy's cover has let people down. Many women are dying to see bodies more like their own in glossy magazines. How disappointing, then, when those bodies are hidden away, like they're offensive, or embarrassing, or not good enough for fashion.

Melissa's Elle photo isn't so bad. As the magazine said in a statement, "Melissa loved this look, and is gorgeous on our cover." The double standard, however, is a problem. When fashion magazines start allowing women who are not stick thin to flaunt their actual figures, then no one will care about one actress and her enormous coat.

Donna Kaufman is a freelance writer and iVillage contributor. Find her on Twitter and Google+

WATCH: Why Melissa McCarthy's Elle Magazine Cover Recieves Backlash

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