Tina Fey's Vogue cover has been looking up at me from my coffee table all week and, frankly, she's been making me queasy. The reason why is hard to articulate, because I love every fibre of Fey and she makes for lovely company. I just don't love her on the cover of Vogue...
For much the same reason that I couldn't happily reconcile seeing Ellen Page on the cover of Teen Vogue. The whole thing just feels like a forced friendship. Like when your mother encourages you to play with the girl next door but you have NOTHING IN COMMON, because she's into cheerleading, Britney Spears and shopping and you're on the debate team, play the piano and like to collect stamps in your spare time. Try as you might to fake the friendship, you are Vegemite and she is peanut butter – you just don't go together.
From the cover styling to the "this is awkward" nuances in the cover story penned by Jonathan Van Meter, both Vogue and Fey are trying really hard to play nice, but they're from different planets. Vogue graciously allows Fey to fly her geek flag, but I find myself unsettled by the magazine's almost condescending treatment of its cover girl.
There are the sub-heads – "Revenge of the Nerd", "Normal Girls", "Hand-Me-Downs", "Everything She Knows About Fashion" and "Mom Jeans" – and the picture of a nine-year-old Fey looking very tomboyish, which have the effect of making her a spectacle of fascination: like a room full of Bergdorf blondes looking down their noses as if to say, "How did such a plain girl become such a success?".
In her editor's letter, Wintour justifies her choice of cover subject by sandwiching Fey in style speak: "Our choice of Tina Fey might seem surprising to some, and yet in my view she is ideal. The way Fey interacts with her wardrobe, the way her thoughts about her character are reflected through her closet conundrums, is fascinating and familiar in equal measure. Although she tells Jonathan Van Meter that she is the celebrity today who is flying the flag for 'normal', there is nothing ordinary about her brilliance, her perceptiveness, or her beauty. Mario Testino and Tonne Goodman's portfolio of the star captures a woman who fully understands the power of style to elevate the everyday."
What's more, the whole fairytale element – the Prada dress, the Gucci gown, the Dolce & Gabbana bodysuit and fishnet tights – of being made over like an Eliza Doolittle project, has the effect of reducing Fey to a cut-out Vogue prototype, rather than playing to her personality, which other magazines have been able to capture (see below 'Magazine Manifestations of Fey'). There's nothing witty or ironic about the pictures – they've almost sucked the life right out of her.
The profile emanates "Fey-ness" – there are more than a few self-deprecating quotes that amuse (on why spaghetti-strap dresses don't look good on her: "It looks like when you tie up a roast before you put it in the oven."). And four full pages of copy is nothing to be sniffed at. But even that is wedged between a style profile of Blake Lively (the girl most likely) and the "Military Issue" fashion editorial starring leggy Vogue models, a juxtaposition that reminds us just what an "aberration" she is... and, by association, we other "normal girls" are, too.
"Hypocrisy!", you say. "We should be celebrating the fact that Anna Wintour has pushed the boundaries here. Aren't you the one who's always banging on about the embarrassing surfeit of generic celebrities on glossy covers and the need for a broader range of role models? Will you EVER be happy? Can the glossies ever win?!"
Yes, Fey is a wonderful role model for women and it's brave of Vogue to depart from its usual course and allow her to say things which are at odds with Vogue's world view. She is a breath of fresh air in a superficial setting. But I don't really feel Vogue is comfortable with having Fey on its cover and I think she'd feel more at home in her "mom jeans", as fun as it is to play dress-ups and dutifully promote your new film (Date Night).
The whole thing just feels like a fakey, pretendy thing – a fleeting affair that seemed like a good idea at the time but was ultimately a betrayal of values on both sides. Women like Tina Fey should just BE. No nips, tucks, Photoshop, Prada or Vogue validation necessary. Because every time we fake it in the name of fitting in, we lose a little bit of ourselves. And God knows how hard it is to find yourself again.
In an era where "authenticity" is bandied about as the new buzz word, nothing is more disconcerting than seeing someone try to fit a mould they weren't made for. Self-acceptance is hard enough without seeing your role models morph into someone else's idea of perfection. Vogue can have its supermodels, society queens and skinny fashionistas: but, please, leave Tina Fey alone.
Magazine Manifestations of Tina Fey
See also: Through the Glossy Looking-Glass (Everyone Is Thin and Fabulous!)
Girl With a Satchel