HomeIndian AmericanOpEd: The Problem with Kamala Harris’ Vogue Debut

OpEd: The Problem with Kamala Harris’ Vogue Debut

photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons

By Patricia Pan Connor



The leaked February Vogue cover featuring Vice President-elect Kamala Harris caused a Twitter storm over the weekend.  Whether or not you like one image more than the other, the main problem with it is that the Vice President-elect’s team approved a different image (right), which ended up on the digital cover after the print cover went to print and Vogue became aware of backlash.  The actual cover (left) drew criticisms for portraying Vice President-elect in an unfavorable light.



There are a bevy of comments on social media expounding the merits of both photos.  Many people prefer the “approved” version of Ms. Harris.  In it, she looks perfectly coiffed, neat, and exudes a perfect combination of warmth and authority.  She is wearing a feminine powder blue suit, but with arms confidently crossed and she is prominently centered, bearing a strong stance.  It is professional and powerful, but friendly and relatable at the same time.

The other image (right), by contrast, attempts to show Ms. Harris as “a woman of the people”. However, because it is a full body shot rather than a portrait, the image seems too distant, almost out of focus.  Her stance seems both casual and slightly awkward and her facial expression is unsure, bearing an almost apologetic smile.  The pink drapery against a green background, colors intended to symbolize Ms. Harris’ Howard University sorority, are messy and seem haphazardly strewn about.  Vogue defended in a statement that the “informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris’ authentic, approachable image – which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration.” Contrast the vibe with Elle’s cover photo of Michelle Obama (below) and a previous Vogue cover of Michelle Obama. Michelle appears approachable, playful even, but elegant at the same time.

Vogue’s cover fails to fully celebrate the significance of Vice President-elect’s historic accomplishment, being the first woman and first Asian and Black person to hold such an esteemed office in our country’s history. She looks more like she’s on her way to a soccer match or PTA meeting, not en route to the second highest office in the land.  The caption “The United States of Fashion” demeans her accomplishments.

The photos were taken by photographer Tyler Mitchell, the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Vogue when he shot Beyonce.  It is telling that Mr. Mitchell only shared photos like the approved portrait photo on his Instagram.  One must deduce that he also thinks those images tell the story better.

We all remember iconic images of Barack Obama playing basketball and Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on Saturday Night Live.  Yes, they were portrayed as cool and those relatable images helped connect them to regular people.  If this was Vogue’s goal, they missed the mark.  Vice President-elect Harris deserves to be celebrated and venerated as a role model, because she is the first of many but in her own words, hopefully “not the last”.   Choosing a cover photo that was not approved by her staff is brazenly disrespectful for a woman is breaking ceilings everywhere. In Elle’s photo (below), the image of Vice President-elect Harris is impactful, powerful, stunning and aspirational.  Sorry Vogue, but Elle “wore it better”.

Patricia Pan Connor is a freelance writer, investor, and lifestyle blogger. Formerly, she was an investment banker and private equity investor, based in New York City. Patrica currently resides in Montecito, California.  She graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in economics.

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