Vogue India fights backlash over Kendall Jenner anniversary cover

Vogue India likely didn't expect the backlash it got after promoting its 10-year anniversary edition, but the magazine is defending its decision to put Kendall Jenner on the cover.

Magazine taking heat online after debuting 10-year special edition with American, rather than Indian, model

Vogue India is on the defensive after getting immense backlash for putting American model Kendall Jenner on the cover of its 10-year anniversary issue rather than someone of South Asian heritage.

The publication posted a message on social media Saturday, saying a "few clarifications were in order" after "all the talk" about the 21-year old Kardashian sister and reality TV star.

"India has given the world so many beautiful faces to admire. After all, we are Vogue, an international brand, and we want to give the love back by featuring some of the best international celebrities on our covers. Occasionally!"

The message added that over the last 10 years, Vogue India has featured "only 12 international covers, including Kendall Jenner, in 2017."

The controversy

Vogue India began taking heat for choosing a Caucasian model over an Indian one as photos from the issue, labelled the "10th Anniversary Collector's Edition," were posted on social media this week. The magazine has since stated it will have a "series of special issues," not just one.

In addition to the cover, Jenner is also pictured in one photo alongside Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, posing at Jaipur's Samode Palace.

While some people praised the pictures shot by famed fashion photographer and guest editor Mario Testino, many tweets called out the magazine for taking a "step backwards" and promoting a "colonial mindset" when it comes to diversity and representation.

Sai Sailaja Seshadri, a Canadian political science student at Arizona State University who runs an online magazine called Women's Republic, says some people might not see the big deal. But because South Asian culture tends to favour light skin and expanding the definition of beauty is an ongoing battle, putting Jenner on the cover — particularly for a milestone edition — can be "very harmful" for younger generations.

All those people who are fighting to change the stereotypes, their work is just being diminished.- Sai Sailaja Seshadri, political science student

"When they see this kind of thing, all those people who are fighting to change the stereotypes, their work is just being diminished," Seshadri, 19, told CBC News. "People see this kind of standard and they think, 'this is what I have to be like.' They don't realize that this is not the only beauty standard out there."

Others pointed to another reason the magazine's choice was disappointing: A 2012 episode of the reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians, in which Jenner agrees with her sister, Kim Kardashian, that Indian food is "disgusting." Kardashian issued an apology after it aired.

Not the first time

The collective disapproval online over the photo spread represents another high-profile gig for Jenner that's been criticized for a lack of cultural awareness.

Her recent Pepsi commercial, portraying the model as a protester who hands a can of soda to a police officer, was pulled abruptly after being slammed for insensitivity to social justice movements, particularly Black Lives Matter.

Model and Kardashian clan member Kendall Jenner's turn as a Pepsi-wielding protester had many on social media decrying the imagery as appropriation of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Pepsi/Youtube)

It's also not the first time the Vogue brand has come under fire for inappropriate cultural representation.

In February, American Vogue touted its "diversity" issue with supermodel Karlie Kloss on the cover dressed as a Japanese geisha. Kloss apologized after many criticized the magazine for whitewashing and appropriation.

​Seshadri sees an upside though: staying vocal is one way to instigate change when it comes to culture and media.

"I'm hoping through this social media outrage, at least other publications and companies in the future will understand how to better do things."