Should We Celebrate — Or Condemn — Bella Hadid's Vogue Arabia Cover?

Photo: Gotham/GC Images.
Dare we say it, but: It's not easy being a model. These days, no longer is a model's sole job to be the symmetrical face of a fashion brand — they must also be spokeswomen for social change. And today's It girls — from the Hadids to the Jenners — continue to be met with criticism via social media, one tone-deaf editorial after the next.
Following in the footsteps of her older sister, Gigi, who graced the premiere issue of Vogue Arabia in March, Bella Hadid fronts the magazine's biggest issue yet: September. The Muslim model wears a bevy of high-fashion modest looks (Fendi by Karl Lagerfeld, no less), a staunch departure from her everyday get-ups of navel-baring crop tops and ultra-high miniskirts. And, just as observers reacted to her sister's cover, the glossy's readers have a lot to say.
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After posting the issue to Instagram, commenters started discussing whether or not Hadid's placement on the cover of the Arabian magazine was appropriate or not. Several responses ranged from "Yaaaaaaaassss" (literally), to "Bella is amazing but come on.. This has become so predictable now," and "Still waiting for an actual Arabic women to be on the cover of Vogue Arabia." But perhaps the most heartfelt sentiment across all four images posted can be summed up in this one (albeit lengthy) response:
"This is really bad. I was hopeful with the change in Editor in Chief but I'm disappointed that for this monumentally important and defining September issue, Vogue Arabia has decided to put yet another Hadid on the cover — it's like their half Palestinian heritage and American supermodel status makes them the only worthy Arab models.. AND it's shot by Karl Lagerfeld? Why? There is no lack of competent and able Arab fashion photographers that should have been given this opportunity (Toufic Araman comes to mind.)."
They continued: "I grew up very excited about a Vogue Arabia and have been fairly disappointed with its direction since it was conceived. The MENA region is incredibly interesting and complex, and Vogue Arabia constantly misrepresenting it is disheartening. I understand that many international Vogue's outsource their shoots and use photographers from all over the world but Vogue Arabia should live up to its responsibility as a leading fashion powerhouse in arguably the most under represented region in Fashion. It should be a game changer; creating editorials that push to break conventions and misconceptions about Arabs. It should represent the local industry on its covers and provide a MUCH needed boost to Arabic creatives. Instead, it just mimics a basic Vogue algorithm without appropriate thought to its context. What even sets this Vogue apart? Nothing... And what does Bella Hadid shot by Karl Lagerfeld in Fendi on the cover of Vogue Arabia say? #globalization #misrepresentation #whitewashing #lackofsocialresponsibility."
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Another helpful point raised by one of its readers adds even more depth to the discussion: the idea that the international editions of Vogue are meant to visually and artistically represent what fashion from that region and time looks like, which should include — from the cover to the editorials inside — a strong showing of models, designers, and photographers from said region. Especially for an area of the world that's already so underrepresented in fashion, why not really go for it?
Speaking with The New York Times, the magazine's editor-in-chief Manual Arnaut assures that the content inside of Vogue Arabia's inclusive September issue does just that, including a street style spotlight on prominent modest fashion figures who wear hijabs, a feature on Middle Eastern royalty and their jewellery lines, and a profile on actress Amira Khalil. He went on to defend the decision to put yet another Hadid on the cover: "We constantly look for people and content that will resonate with our core readers. That said, it is also about finding a balance," he explained. "The Arab world is not a ghetto. It is a highly informed, international and cultured region where global stars like the Hadids have a cult following. Karl Lagerfeld is a legendary figure for fashion fans in the Middle East, too. We champion what goes on inside our borders, but our mission as a magazine is to cover what goes on outside them as well. That is real diversity."
Here's the thing: While it's a tough pill to swallow, it's worth mentioning that Vogue Arabia has done a better job at diversifying its cover talent than most international editions of the publishing monolith. In its short existence, it's featured the two American-Palestinian sisters, Dutch model Iman Hamaam (who is of Egyptian and Moroccan descent), Indian model Pooja Mor, Muslim-American model Halima Aden, and Jourdan Dunn (the magazine's first Black British model). It goes without saying that all of these women come from different geographical and cultural backgrounds, and hold their own when it comes to representing the widespread diversity of the magazine's circulation, which spans across 22 countries.
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While we've got nothing but love for Hadid — and we're sure people in the Middle East are infatuated with her as well — diversity and representation are always important, and this cover seems to play more into Western ideals of beauty and culture than the region's very own. Clearly, Vogue Arabia's readers saw that for themselves and they are hard at work to shine a light on how fashion imagery should be a mirror to larger cultural, social, and political issues — and perhaps this September issue will just be the latest catalyst to (hopefully) steer things in a more representative direction.
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