Karlie Kloss Apologizes for Yellowface Fashion Photo Spread…But Where’s Vogue’s Apology?

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It’s almost boring how common and seemingly acceptable yellowface and whitewashing Asian characters and culture is in popular media. Yet, when a world-renowned fashion publication purports to do a diversity issue, only to feature a white model doing a six-page, yellowfaced, weirdly orientalist photo spread while relegating non-white models to one page each? That’s enough to make a person un-bored real fast.

As reported by Angry Asian Man, the March issue of Vogue has been hyped as “The Diversity Issue.” And yes, it does feature models of different ethnicities and races on the cover, as well as in its pages. However, while models of color have been relegated to one-page “spotlights,” model Karlie Kloss was given a six-page photo spread called “Spirited Away” (barf) in which she was posed in stereotypical Japanese settings and contexts, including those like in the image above, and this one:

vogue_karliekloss03

Oh. My. God. What is even supposed to be happening there?

Since the issue came out, and displeasure has been expressed all over the damn place, Kloss has issued an apology:

This is a good thing, and she is right to consider refusing such shoots in future. She’s not just some hired hand. Kloss is at a level in her career where she can dictate the kind of work she will or won’t do and force publications like Vogue to rethink decisions like this.

However…where’s Vogue’s apology?

When NBC News reported on the story, they mentioned that they reached out to Vogue, but that Vogue did not comment, and this is the more serious problem. Because while yes, we all have a part to play in either stopping or collaborating with a racist media, it is ultimately the purview of a publication’s editorial staff (or a studio’s executives, or a production company’s EPs, or a publishing house’s editors, or a theater’s artistic director and board) to decide whether or not they want to be a part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Kloss could have said no, but would that have stopped Vogue? Or would they have gone with a Kendall Jenner, or a Kate Upton? The fact that they reserved six pages for a white model while reserving less space for the models of color in their diversity issue (not to mention the fact that the models on the cover, while different races and ethnicities, are all of shades that don’t digress too far from each other), suggests that they probably would have done the latter, replacing Kloss with some other big-name white model and going on unhindered.

This was a conscious decision in the first place. The photo shoot was very well thought out. Well, thought out, that is, when it comes to composition, not when it comes to how those photos might be received by a non-white readership. Or even a white readership that gives a shit.

The apology I’m waiting for is from Vogue’s editorial team. I’m waiting for an apology from Grace Coddington, Creative Director at American Vogue, whose “meticulous” care with photo shoots was highlighted in the documentary, The September Issue. Where was her eye on this? I’m waiting for an apology from Anna Wintour herself, American Vogue’s Editor-In-Chief since 1988. Has she learned nothing in all that time?

So much is made of Vogue setting trends in fashion. Such a shame then that they prove so timid and boringly status quo when it comes to the models they employ, or the types of people to which they cater.

(images via Vogue Magazine)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.