Weighing In: ELLE’s Melissa McCarthy Controversy

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by Annie Murphy, Fashion Writer

ELLE Magazine November 2013 Cover
ELLE Magazine November 2013 Cover

Discussing, analyzing, and criticizing weight has become a cultural norm in today’s society, creating a vicious, never-ending cycle. Notably, we blame pop culture figures and the media for manufacturing these unrealistic standards of beauty, but could consumers be just as responsible?

Melissa McCarthy is one of the most recognizable names in the realm of comedic actresses, but concerns about her weight seem to outshine her talent and beauty. It seems as though every time McCarthy is found in the spotlight, whether it be through film or a magazine cover, comments are aroused that result in her having to defend her image rather than celebrate her successes.

McCarthy fans love her confidence and sparkling personality, but mostly they appreciate her for being a woman who has stayed true to herself in an industry that is plagued with the desire to be perfect. Because of this, it seems she would be an ideal cover girl for ELLE Magazine’s annual “Women in Hollywood” issue, but readers and other media outlets were not as appeased as one may think.

“A lot of times, women have had all of their tools taken away [in Hollywood comedies]. It’s like you’re never inappropriate, you have the greatest job, you look great, your hair is amazing, and now go be funny. And it’s like, with what? You have to fall down for us to want to watch you get back up. And it’s like they never let you watch women fall down,” McCarthy said in her ELLE article for the magazine’s November issue.

ELLE Cover Girls - Shailene Woodley (upper left), Melissa McCarthy (upper right), Penelope Cruz (lower left), Reese Witherspoon (lower right).
ELLE Cover Girls – Shailene Woodley (upper left), Melissa McCarthy (upper right), Penelope Cruz (lower left), Reese Witherspoon (lower right).

The controversy over the “jacket-gate,” as Adam Sandberg jokingly coined, galvanized after ELLE’s cover photos grabbed critics’ attention. The general complaints, which have been repeated by news sources ranging from CNN to Good Morning America, stem from the stark contrast between the wardrobe selections for the six cover girls in ELLE’s spread. In comparison to the other five cover girls – Reese Witherspoon, Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley, Naomie Harris, and Marion Cotillard – McCarthy’s ensemble was much more conservative and covered-up.

“I grabbed the coat, I covered up. I had a great black dress on, but I thought, ‘It comes out in November.’ I was like, ‘Give me a big coat to wear. Give the girl some cashmere!’ I picked the coat and they were like, ‘The dress is really great,’ but I was like, ‘Yeah, but look at this!’” McCarthy said on E! News.

It is puzzling to determine why this controversy arose. McCarthy chose to wear the jacket that supposedly “disguised” her curvaceous figure, and stylists at ELLE were happy with the look. With this in mind, the question begs to be posed:

What right does society have to assume an outfit selection is based on an individual’s weight?

Hypocrisy stands out as the main problem in this vicious cycle as society always wants people to be judged on talent and hard work, but in the end proves to not be so lenient. McCarthy’s cover shot for ELLE could have simply been seen as a gorgeous photo. Yet media consumers and various media outlets could not leave it.

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