Girl Talk: Vogue, Tina Fey and Faking It

Girl Talk: Vogue, Tina Fey and Faking It

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

Totally Fey: the American Express ad as seen in U.S. Vogue, November 2007

The fairy dust of life, which allows us to take flight, is just being true to the inner you.

See also: Through the Glossy Looking-Glass (Everyone Is Thin and Fabulous!)

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Fi said...

Actually, vegemite and peanut butter go together nicely.

marloperry said...

To be honest, I don't think it's a brave choice at all.
Tina is a beautiful, intelligent and stylish woman who happens to play dorky and dowdy roles in films.

How many supermodels looks 'tomboyish' or 'nerdy' growing up and turned out to be stunning? Shall we delve into their past and question why such an inspired choice was made for covergirl?

Alison said...

Couldn't agree more Erica. Read the Vogue interview and it seemed forced and uneasy- it even commented on her losing 30 pounds in the 90's when she saw footage of herself. Yes you can be funny, intelligent, smart beautiful BUT you gotta go on a diet. And I love Tina Fey.

Taraaa :) said...

I agree, Tina Fey didn't seem like a natural choice for Vogue. The cover doesn't sit right with me, nothing against Tina Fey, but she doesn't seem 'vogue' and in my opinion she looks uncomfortable in her cover image.

Style On Track said...

ouch, that interview with Tina was not what I expected, one big minus for women with humour

Anonymous said...

Agree Erica. The Tina Fey vogue cover looks kind of odd for some reason. The model pose with the hands on hips and hair flowing (minus the glasses) looks kind of odd for Tina Fey. Like she is playing dress ups. Also the colour of the cover looks very dull and yellow - not very inviting. I think Vogue should have done a more colourful cover for Fey (because she does have sallow skin and dark hair). I would have liked Tina Fey in a red or white dress with red lips (and wearing her glasses) on the cover of Vogue. Something bright and colourful.

Ruth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DeAnne D. said...

I couldn't agree more with your article. It was brilliantly stated, and there's no reason to reiterate the points...ya know, since you wrote, bravo. And thanks from all the "normal" people that Vogue seems to find so abhorrent and scary.

Anonymous said...

right. because "normal" girls can't look glamorous. tina fey, a "NORMAL" girl, should have been FORCED to pose in MOMJEANS! that's how she's authentic.

like, wtf? imagine if i/you/anyone were tina fey and someone said, "hey be on the cover of vogue! wanna wear a HOT outfit? wanna wear a gloriosu gown? wanna recreate an iconic photograph?" we'd say yes. this is a victory for women.

but yeah, lets have it your way! lets have tina fey pose in some shitty, gross outfit. and let blake lively have the hot outfits! cuz blake is the dumb blonde and deserves to be pretty. and tina is the smart loser and deserves to wear mom jeans!

the guilty party said...

I don't see why they had to truss her up in all those fancy clothes at all. Vogue often does profiles of directors, producers, and novelists of both ganders without changing or even really mentioning their appearance. It would have been more to the credit of both if they had covered her in a more mature manner that focussed on her work.
Besides which, Tiny Fey is actually incredibly pretty. Nothing "brave" about making a pretty woman look even prettier.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why Vogue is so obsessed with celebrities on their covers - bring back the gorgeous models! If I want to read about celebrities, I'll buy People.

And by the way, I don't care for Tina no matter which cover she is on. It seems that the entertainment industry has found one woman who they think can write and they will stop at nothing to shove her down our throats. She's not that funny or intelligent, just look at how many times she resorts to "like" in an interview.

Alexandra said...

I had the same uneasy feeling when I read the article last week, but couldn't quite put it into words. Thank-you!

I'll add...I don't think the mismatch here has to do with Fey's looks (she's very pretty) or her non-glam persona (Sandra Bullock has a tomboyish, smart aura and I can imagine her in Vogue). It's her funniness, or more precisely, her specific brand of funniness.

Fey's whole thing is tearing down self-righteous, self-serious personalities - and Vogue is nothing if not self-serious and sincere. Fey is ironic, cutting and dry, and Vogue simply has no way of dealing with this. Everything funny she said in that article was registered in this clunky, uncomfortable way. The writer dutifully recording Fey's barbs and jabs without even the pretense of playing along.

When it tries, Vogue can handle smart, powerful, and even funny women. Witty ones? Can't even touch them.