On Thursday morning, Vogue released its August 2017 cover starring real-life It couple, supermodel Gigi Hadid and boybander turned sexy-soloist, Zayn Malik. The accompanying story, however was not about the pair's romantic history, but about "a new generation embracing gender fluidity."
Written by Maya Singer, a regular Vogue contributor and fashion critic who has also written for The Wall Street Journal and The Telegraph, the piece opens with a reference to Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel Orlando, a story in which the title character wakes up one day to find that he "had become a woman," yet by all other accounts, is the same person. (The book has made the rounds in the fashion world lately — it served as inspiration for Christopher Bailey's fall 2017 Burberry collection, and was given to attendees of the presentation.)
Singer segues this tale into a discussion of gender in fashion, regularly using phrases like "gender fluidity" to illustrate the ease by which young people (read: millennials, gen Z) float between men's and women's fashions as they feel comfortable, or as they feel best represents them as a person, without fear of shame or judgment. She uses Hadid and Malik's habit of shopping in each other's closets, despite, say, a fit intended for a woman or a man, as an example of this gender revolution.
Almost immediately, the story caused a buzz online, with several Twitter users criticizing the use of "gender fluid" — a term recognized in the greater, ongoing conversation of gender to be related to individuals who do not identify fully as one gender or the other, but rather somewhere on a spectrum.
On Friday, Fashionista published a piece by Akosua Johnson, who has a non-binary gender identity, in which they wrote, "Words have meaning, and these in particular — gender fluidity — don't mean quite what you think they do." They go on to classify Singer's essay as "authoritatively produced misinformation" and condemn Vogue for using a heterosexual couple, made up of two cisgender people, to represent portions of the population that are already under-represented and often misrepresented when they do receive media coverage. Gender fluidity, they write, is "not a term to describe a casually donned social garment that can be tossed aside as easily as an incredibly expensive blazer."
Vogue released the following statement to Buzzfeed News following the backlash:
"The story was intended to highlight the impact the gender-fluid, non-binary communities have had on fashion and culture. We are very sorry the story did not correctly reflect that spirit — we missed the mark. We do look forward to continuing the conversation with greater sensitivity."
Neither Hadid nor Malik have publicly addressed the criticism of the piece.
On the other hand, some Twitter users have found cause to praise Vogue, if only for putting a "successful Muslim immigrant" on the cover.