For the first time in my life I read Vogue from cover to cover. I was on a plane ride from West Palm Beach to Chicago and with nearly three hours to spare and no iPad, Kindle or gasp an actual book, I was bored out of my gourd.
A flight attendant had a few magazines from First Class and decided he’d be kind to the folks in the cheap seats by offering the elite status literature to us. I won the class warfare lottery, a ticket to the most powerful fashion magazine in the world -Vogue!
And when I looked at the chiseled (some would say bony) back of Angelina Jolie, her swan-like neck twisted back as she looked askance, her smoldering blue-gray eyes bouncing off the simple blue cover backdrop I knew I wasn’t in Kansas any more.
I was hip enough for Sex in the City, I could dig on the Ebony Fashion Fair and heck who doesn’t love Tim Gunn, but Vogue well, that’s a whole nutha’ level. It’s clear flipping through the magazine that I was not the audience she had in mind.
She. We’ve all been affected by her. You may have never heard her name or read her publication but you most definitely have been influenced by what she says. She’s a woman who single-handed replaced the grunge with glamor in the 1990s, turned celebrities into brands and basically dictates the who, what and where of our clothes, even if you purchase your clothes at Wal-Mart. And, what’s probably the pinnacle of her importance, the truest exhibit of how powerful she is, Vogue’s Editor in Chief Anna Wintour is probably the only person who told Oprah to change. Specifically she told the woman, even God calls for advice, to drop a few pounds if she wanted to grace the cover of her magazine.
Subject of countless articles, books, even a film starring Meryl Streep, Anna Wintour, often mistaken for that hot-headed angel who boxed with God, is a powerful woman who thinks I do not count.
Contrary to being angry with Anna for not liking people like me, people she euphemistically called “little houses,” when she stepped out of Gotham City and landed in Minneapolis, (I can only assume she got lost on her way to Paris or Milan), I enjoy her frankness about the nation’s soaring obesity rates. Or as her long-time resident gay, former Vogue Editor-at-Large, Andre Leon Talley (he himself a hefty five-alarm fire) told Oprah, “Miss Anna don’t like fat people.”
Ms. Anna Wintour has had greater minds than mine to criticize her. From PETA, to the National Association for the Advancement of Fat People, to even famed designer Karl Lagerfeld, the editor of the world’s most read and powerful fashion magazine gets her share of heat from many sides. So I won’t harp on the hyper-skinny models that grace the pages of the magazine, the interesting but how do they wear that fashion I’m supposed to love or the high-school-level journalism that serves as adornment to the many, many, MANY, advertisements that feature more hyper-skinny models. (Anna, if you ever want to raise the standard of those little black and white letters that appear between the pictorials of your magazine give me a call…)
I’m no dummy, Anna Wintour did not become Anna Wintour by being meek, mild and mealey mouth. When interviewed for her first job a Vogue she reportedly told the editor she wanted her job. That takes balls, not because she said that, but because she DID IT! For a woman who is so sleekly beautiful and impeccably feminine I admire her moxie.
I also admire that Anna Wintour has a view of the world that she refuses to change. Even though I do not read Vogue regularly I can probably predict what it will look like at each publication. It has a signature style that many in the industry has copied -celebrities who are picked for their symmetry and sharp angles, less for their ability to act or bold choices – wear fashion’s latest and greatest and are so aesthetically austere they seem more like props than cover subjects. Sweeping photography in deep rich colors showcasing European elegant habitats right out of a Bronte novel, mixed with hip trendy snippets on designers and art deco stuff. The magazine is like music without theory, art without contemplation, a play with no chorus, it is pretty, gorgeous and makes you want to be pretty and gorgeous.
The woman Ms. Wintour is speaking to in her magazine is rich, white, and sophisticated. I’m the latter and not the former two and well, that doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t annoy me that when Ms. Wintour slips off her saucer sunglasses she doesn’t see me. But she sees the woman many women, though they would never admit it, would like to be.
Sure Vogue takes a spike at diversity. They feature black women on the cover (once a in a blue moon). This month’s magazine features a spread on Asian models, though I’m afraid I didn’t see any difference between the women in this spread and the women throughout the magazine. They were heavily made up waifs with spiky hear and funky clothes. In their effort to present diversity the fashion industry only succeeds in homogenizing because beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, it’s standard has been set and we’re all trying to slip into its glimpse.
And the feminist may howl, but Vogue teaches us how to wear our bras not how to burn them. It is about the world’s standard of beauty but, as Anna Wintour has clearly shown, it is also about having the confidence to take that standard and turn it to your advantage. So yes, I’m not skinny but hey, skinny girls don’t have my boobs so those low cut blouses of Tom Ford may just be a good deal for me afterall.
There are those that say reading Vogue kills the self esteem of those “little houses,” as Wintour describes them, but I say Vogue cannot ruin something that is not there. Instead of criticizing Anna Wintour for calling me fat, I choose to go to the gym, not because I want to look like Angelina Jolie, but because I want to look good in that red velvet knock off suit I bought. And while Anna may not like fat people, I know a couple of men who do! But not if my hair is crazy, my clothes are askew and my sense of style is invisible. There’s nothing wrong with making my intangible confidence, personality and high self-esteem tangible with thigh-high boots and a cinch-waist belt, now that my tummy is flatter, though not quite as flat as Angelina’s
Men like women who want to be women. And as a woman who did not put on a stitch of make up until age 38, and started plucking and waxing shortly thereafter, being a woman is hard work and magazines like Vogue may fill in the blanks when mom is too busy bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan.
Yes, impressionable young girls should not have a steady diet of Vogue, America’s Top Model and berating from Iman, but they shouldn’t be put into a burlap sack and sent off to the gender wars either.
At age 39 I’m just learning what it means to care about my aesthetics and at the risk of sounding girlie, I like it. When I buy a piece of clothing and I wear it and someone says, “You look fabulous,” it instantly illuminates my joy. Likewise when I’m in a frumpy frock that I find uncomfortable I find it tough to focus. (I’m determined to find winter boots that are easy on the eyes while being sturdy enough to walk on Chicago snow-bound streets!)
So I take my cue from Anna Wintour, not for her magazine which I’ll probably never read, but for decisive action. She wanted to be Queen of the Fashion world and she did the work needed to accomplish this goal. Every woman can be beautiful, she just has to learn how to take that unseen inner beauty and drape it over her shoulder!