Size Matters: Taking Up Space


For ELLE magazine's 25th anniversary issue, they featured four different 25-year-old actresses on four different covers of the magazine. One of those actresses is Gabby Sidibe. This choice naturally brought out the fatphobes decrying her health and questioning her level of attractiveness before the cover even came out. Now that it's dropped, well, there's a lot for folks to talk about besides playing "guess her health status".

Some pointed out that she's lighter on the ELLE cover than she was on the cover of Ebony and in real life. ELLE insists it did not overdo it with the Photoshop, but as with other black celebs, it is a matter of course for any magazine to lighten their skin. It's not particularly shocking anymore, although that doesn't mean we shouldn't call mags out for it. Others weeped for the state of Gabby's weave, which I do have to admit does look pretty jacked up. One interesting criticism of the cover that I've read in comments on these articles and elsewhere is concerned with how the cover was shot. Whereas the other three thinner celebrities are featured in full-body shots, Gabby literally covers the magazine. To some, this is an insult regarding her size. I wonder, what's wrong with looking fat when you are fat?


We all, including Gabby, know that she's fat. Even if she was shot full-body, she'd still be fat, and people would probably still be upset about it for various reasons including the fact that she's on the cover at all. There's nothing unflattering about being fat and appearing fat. So many fashion tips for fat women are focused on minimizing the appearance of our fat, wearing "slimming" clothing and basically trying to look as nonfat as possible. When we see a magazine cover featuring a fat woman not trying to beat back the fat but rather celebrating her size, it goes counter to everything fashion mags try to teach us about camouflaging fatness and therefore causes some to feel that she's been "done wrong".

Gabby may take up the whole cover with her size, but her (deserved) self-confidence takes up just as much room -- refreshing, to say the least.

by Tasha Fierce
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Tasha Fierce is a writer living in the occupied Tongva territory known as Los Angeles. You can follow them on Twitter at @tashajfierce and read more of their work on their website.

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14 Comments Have Been Posted

Damn, that Ebony cover is

Damn, that Ebony cover is hot! Much better than the Elle cover, which in addition to the problems mentioned above, looks like an awkward senior portrait.

Great post!

"awkward senior portrait"

"Awkward senior portrait": so true!

I totally agree. The

I totally agree. The contrast between the covers is ridiculous.

I am really enjoying this series, Tasha! Definitely has me rethinking "fat" and what it means.

I felt like the magazine was

I felt like the magazine was using such a close shot in an attempt to avoid Gabourey's body. (The other women all had full-body shots for their covers.)

That was my thought when I

That was my thought when I saw the images compared. It seemed that by using a headshot of her, the magazine was trying to not display her body, while all three of the other covers had nearly full-body shots of the other girls. Yes, maybe in this shot she does take up the entire cover, but I rather doubt that this was the point. Most headshots will take up an entire page, no matter what size the subject is. I feel pretty sure that the magazine or photographer had no idea how to shoot a fat girl for their cover, so they went the easy route of just using her face. And doesn't that just fall into the "you have such a pretty face" bit that is so overused?


That Elle cover made me so mad. It's such an insult, on so many levels. I don't even have anything to say in the way of critique outside of GRRRR. I'm glad to see other magazines are more celebratory of Sidibe's physicality, though.

I actually had an argument

I actually had an argument with some asshole on a forum on which she was the topic (I believe it was right after people said she wouldn't be able to get more work until she lost weight). He took issue with the fact that I said she should be hired based on her talent, not her looks and that if she chose to diet or not diet, we should respect her choice because it's her body. I know, I'm so extreme, right?

"Theater Arts"

I go to a school that's well known for its theater program, so a lot of my friends happen to be actors...I really hate to say this, but some of them are so outright bigoted against people of difference sizes its staggering. I've had conversations that went something like this:
Me: "Don't you think that Hollywood and the stage should open itself up more to men and women who don't and in fact CAN'T fit the normal proportions?
Out-and-About Gay Guy who Preaches Constantly About Gay Right"s: "Please, if anyone wants to be taken seriously anywhere, they have to LOOK the part, in acting more so. Thats because the CRAFT requires a certain DISCIPLINE and OUTWARD APPEARANCE for each character. If writers and directors HAD to include ugly people, it would limit the creativity. of the CRAFT."
Me (fairly drunk and annoyed by the pretentiousness of the word 'craft'): "...Y'know, its really easy to see now how 'acting' used to be a front for prostitution..."

I'm not proud of that remark because of the implications towards sex workers, but goddamn that guy was pissing me off.

I loved your comment--You

I loved your comment--You are awesome!! Especially "me (fairly drunk and annoyed by the pretentiousness of the word 'craft)"!! That totally made me laugh... ;)

I also loved this part

I also loved this part especially: "Me (fairly drunk and annoyed by the pretentiousness of the word 'craft'):" You're so right, and you would think if anything, including different looks, sizes and styles in movies and television would open up a whole new world of creativity in the... you know.. "craft". Anyways, love Gabby, I think she's beautiful and talented no matter what.

To Give Elle a Bit of Credit...

I totally agree that there are a lot of disconcerting things going on- the close up, the skin lightening, the difference in how she was shot- but I am still pretty happy that Elle at least tried. It would have been so easy for them to pick the same blonde underfed girl I've seen a thousand times and not deal with any of this controversy at all.

Great idea, poor execution.

I'm not surprized. At least

I'm not surprized. At least it's a black model this time and not some lady in blackface. At the same time,I'm not impressed. It's like they're using this girl to say 'All sizes are beautiful' and at the same time showing that's obviously not true. And what's with her hair? The Ebony cover proves that she can have a decent hairstyle so why this blatant effort to make her look bad? Not everyone is a size zero so ELLE needs to get over it.
Whoever took her photo did not have to make her lighter,that's not her skin tone. So not only are they trying to say it's not okay to be big by not giving her a full body shot but they're also saying if you're darker than this tone that's not okay either.

gabby and elle mag

i am an african american woman with a deep skin tone. i will say that unless a photographer knows what s/he is doing with lighting we can come out looking all kinds of wrong in pictures. elle is primarily a magazine for beige women (a term used by my Caucasian wife). they don't have the staff (photographers/stylists/etc) who really know how to bring out all of the beauty of dark features and shiny skin. it is no surprise that ebony got it right, i would expect the same from essence and oprah. they have an audience who expects to see themselves represented well. i think miss gabby needs her own entourage who will keep her looking good

Yeah, that Elle magazine

Yeah, that Elle magazine cover really bugged me. The only reason I thought they could have legitmately done the close up instead of full-body was so we could see her eyes. I find they get lost if the photo is too small. I hadn't seen the Ebony cover. She looks rather adorable!

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