For both celebrities and magazines, publishing the right person on the right cover at the right time can be a synchronized marketing triumph. But readers eager to see their favorite stars get a high-fashion treatment from their favorite glossies can also be harsh critics, and until now, A-list names have sided with publishers and defended their depictions.
A few examples: After Lena Dunham appeared on the February 2014 cover of Vogue, Jezebel paid for and published unretouched images from her shoot under the assumption the actress was very edited. Dunham later said she felt "completely respected by Vogue." That same month, Elle was criticized for featuring only Mindy Kaling's face on the "Women in Television" issue, when the three other covers were full body images. Kaling defended the magazine on Twitter, writing: "It made me feel glamorous & cool. And if anyone wants to see more of my body, go on thirteen dates with me." Elle faced similar criticism over a November 2013 cover of Melissa McCarthy wearing a large coat and again, the actress defended the outfit choice and told E! News that she picked the coat herself.
But recently, celebrities have been putting print magazines on blast online for what they feel are not-ideal representations. Amy Schumer earned herself a lot of press this month for criticizing Glamour both through Instagram and on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" for including her in their recent plus-size focused issue. The comedian argued that she is not plus-size and was not informed she would be included in the "Chic At Any Size" issue. Glamour apologized in a statement: "First off, we love Amy, and our readers do too — which is why we featured her on the cover of Glamour last year... we believe her passionate and vocal message of body positivity IS inspiring, as is the message of the many other women, of all sizes, featured. The edition did not describe her as plus-size. We are sorry if we offended her in any way." Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive echoed those thoughts on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Kerry Washington released some delicate criticism of her own, after an Adweek cover of her was almost unrecognizable. "It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror," she wrote on Instagram, while emphasizing that she is proud of the story and grateful to the magazine. She's not new to cover drama, but stayed mum in 2013 when a Lucky cover drew more ardent criticism online. Khloe Kardashian had a similar reaction to her current Shape issue and said on Twitter, "I'm thrilled to be on the cover but we took so many better cover images."
So why are celebrities risking their relationships with print magazines when landing covers is a key way to promote projects? "It's a result of a social media culture where celebrities have a way to reach their fans directly, and even have a dialogue with their fans, rather than work through an intermediary," said a celebrity magazine booker who wished to remain anonymous.
Howard Bragman, chairman and founder of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, agreed. "It used to be you'd have a cover of a magazine and it'd go out and it would be beautiful, and unless it was the O.J. [Simpson] cover that Time magazine darkened, no one would say anything. And now everyone has an opinion... celebrities suddenly feel defensive." The feedback builds online, and if it's negative, an actor and her management might decide it's strategic to respond. "It makes them look relatable, which makes them more in demand — even if it's an illusion and a team full of people helped craft (or at least approved and advised on) their response," said the magazine booker. "'Calling bullshit' in a smart way only strengthens their brand."
But is "calling bullshit" worth jeopardizing a relationship with a magazine or publishing company? Bragman says landing covers is still important. "Kim Kardashian can get all the attention in the world, but one of the biggest things she ever did was be on the cover of Vogue magazine," he said, describing the relationship between title and subject as symbiotic. "I would never underestimate the power of a magazine cover... but there's many other options today that didn't exist before." More avenues to promotion means magazines have less influence for celebrities, though the most respected titles still hold weight.
The magazine booker was less optimistic. "Amy Schumer could release her own digital magazine for her next movie, with her on the cover, and assign and edit every article in it, and it would be a huge press moment and more people would read it [rather] than buy any of these magazines on newsstands. She doesn't need to worry about alienating Glamour, they need to worry about alienating her."
Bragman says conflicts between celebrities and magazines could be avoided by more communication beforehand about the direction of the cover shoot. Traditionally, subjects don't have the right to choose images after the fact. "Not many celebrities have that approval today, if any," said Bragman. But a magazine photo editor I spoke to, who also wished to remain anonymous, said some subjects actually do have that right. It depends on the person and magazine, and is decided in a contract before the shoot. A subject can also require notice if an image will be reprinted, but that right varies just as much.
In Schumer's case, no amount of commentary from her can change the fact that the Glamour issue in question is on newsstands right now. Bragman agreed, speaking more generally: "Most of the time, the cover is already out [when celebrities criticize it]... What are you going to do? Are you going to change anything?" So what purpose did Schumer's speaking out serve? Certainly the relationship between Schumer and Glamour has changed and soured, and it will be interesting to see if she's ever in the magazine again. The old saying "all publicity is good publicity" may be outdated, but clichés are clichés for a reason.