Vogue India and KJ May Day
“I love my tits being out”. Yup, that’s what Kendall Jenner said in a video interview with W magazine last year. Kendall Jenner is known in the US for mastery of social media outlets to expose her feline figure sometimes even justifying her publicity obsession by joining feminist movements such as “free the nipple.” In her most recent public appearance at the Met Gala, she wore a one-string La Perla dress which looked more like a fishing net than a gown and when I refer to a fishing net, I mean a bad performing one incapable of catching anything due to the large holes. It did, however catch her butt. Should we call this “free the butt?”
With a straight face and ultimate optimism, when my daughter asked me if there was a typo in the small “INDIA” printed on the May edition, I tried to position Kendall Jennar as a champion of Indian heritage and culture. After all, she agreed to leave her $6.5 M Hollywood Hills home to model in a 16th century palace. Not only is the Samode Palace a building of historical significance but a crucial revenue source in a city that thrives on tourism – three major trade promotion organizations have offices in Jaipur. My daughter didn’t buy it and neither did Vogue India’s readership.
In Kendall Jennar’s words, “My favorite thing about doing photo shoots is just being able to have fun, meeting new people, getting dressed up and I just love doing it. So, I have a lot of fun.” And that’s exactly what Kendall Jenner did in India. She agreed to a photo shoot with Mario Testino, she met a lot of Indian people, she wore clothes by India’s hottest designers and she probably had a lot of fun. Or did she? Purpose or fun? We will never know. Her IG account where she has no problems posting the most trivial things, was void of any account of her trip to India. Absolutely nothing of her India trip. In fact the photo posted most recent in time to the KJ May Day publication was of Kendall on a boat somewhere holding a glass of white wine. Her caption: “carefree kenny”. Looks like she didn’t have fun after all.
VogueIndia (944k followers) receives on average 15–30 comments per post. The post of KJ May Day Collectors Editon Cover beckoned over 2000 comments – 99% negative. Followers were upset that a foreigner was on the cover. The comments were as follows, “Boooooooo, Ten year anniversary and you pick her? She’s already ruined Pepsi don’t let her ruin Vogue India; Is this a joke?; Extremely disappointing especially snce India has a bad history with skin whiting products and stigma to have dark skin. You put a white model with no connection to India to show girls this is the beauty standard; Just trying to do the math on this one…out of over a billion people in India (and likely over 500 million) you chose a foreigner….Yet another example of how Indians obsess about being white. How embarrassing.”
I did find a few lonely positive comments but noticed they were from Indian actors and socialites who often frequent Vogue Covers. Lisa Haydon, Indian model and actress, responded “Love it”.
Could VogueIndia have made such a big mistake? Is there a “Kendell” of hope to this story? Let’s take a look at Vogue India’s history of covers. For starters, this is not the first time a foreigner graced the cover. No one was offended when Giselle Bundchen wore a skimpy bikini in the September 2009 cover. No public outrage when Victoria Bekham wore a bhindi on the November 2008 issue. What about Sarah Jessica Parker in the February 2010 cover? Has she ever set a Manolo Blahnik on Indian soil? Cindy Crawford was on the 3rd anniversary (Oct 2010) issue and spoke about everything from retirement to selfies but nothing about India – Mario Testino yes. But public outrage for showcasing a foreigner? None.
If I did a skin complexion comparison of Kendall Jenner vs Cindy Crawford, Sarah Jessica Parker, Giselle and Victoria Bekham, Kendall Jenner probably has the darkest pigmentation out of all of them. The IG comments go on and on about not wanting a foreigner…even drawing comparisons to imperial India and India’s willingness to be subjects of white domination. Where were these voices when Victoria Bekham, Sarah Jessica Parker and Cindy were on the cover?
Herein lies the issue which is something we all have to stand against. The issue is not that it is a foreigner on the cover. The issue is that it is Kendall Jenner on the cover. Let’s make that clear. If we had Lupita on the cover of Vogue India, would there be such an outrage? Probably not. We have no problem with Cindy, Jessica, Victoria…but we have a major problem with Kendall Jenner. And herein lies the ultimate question; who created Kendell Jenner’s? Was it Vogue India? NO! Was Vogue India grossly negligent in upholding their duty to protect their readership from an impression of foreign domination? No. Could Vogue India have chosen another model? Yes.
Bottom line is that Vogue India did not create Kendall Jenner’s popularity and is probably just as confused by it as we all are. Come on, a celebrity that is famous because of her sister who created a sex video back in October 2002. Kendall Jenner has been on covers of Vogue US, Allure, Bazaar, Glamour, Teen Vogue, Garage…you name it. She has over 80 million followers on IG ranking her number 11 – – way ahead of even Michelle Obama (13.5 million) and numerous other female role models we hail. May I note that Kendall’s sisters give her company at #7, #8 and #17.
What disappoints me is our quick reaction and finger pointing at Vogue India when we do not hold these 80+ million people responsible for encouraging such celebrities to rise. Celebrities who are made famous via sex tapes? Celebrities who actually think a can of soda can solve deep rooted racial tensions. Celebrities who travel to India for opportunities of fame, gain even more followers and then leave Vogue India alone to defend itself while sipping away as “carefree Kenny” on a boat somewhere.
Let’s stop using Vogue India as a scapegoat for a deeper and dark reality. Our solution to society’s obsession with undeserved celebrities is as easy at the “unfollow” button on our IG accounts.
Nirva Patel enjoys capturing the opinions of the Indian diaspora – her right sneaker in Boston and left chappal in Mumbai.