Vice's Women in Fiction issue is an interesting package. There's a short story by Mary Gaitskill here, an interview with Marilynne Robinson there, and a short story by Joyce Carol Oates over yonder. And then...there's the fashion spread. Featuring models styled and posed as famous female writers who have killed themselves. At their times of death.
The magazine credits stylist Annette Lamothe-Ramos and photographer Annabel Mehran with the spread.
It's almost breathtakingly tasteless. Suicide is not a fashion statement.
Each photo in the spread is captioned with the name of the author depicted, her dates of birth and death, and cause of death. And the fashion credits for what the model is wearing ("Issa dress, Morgenthal Frederics glasses, Jenni Kayne shoes"), obviously. Conspicuously absent is any information about these authors' actual works.
The featured authors are: Virginia Woolf, the historian Iris Chang, Dorothy Parker (who actually didn't die by suicide, but attempted to end her life several times), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sylvia Plath, novelist Sanmao, and Beat poet Elise Cowen.
The Taiwanese author Sanmao committed suicide by hanging herself with a pair of stockings. Vice includes a fashion credit for the tights. Just in case you want to go buy the same ones, I guess?
Perkins Gilman gets — you guessed it — yellow wallpaper.
Another example of Vice's subtle wit? The spread is called "Last Words." Making light of suicide and underlying mental health problems — or treating those topics as an opportunity to establish your so-edgy-it's-Viacom-and-HBO-affiliated magazine's continued capacity to épater le bourgeois — is sick, sick stuff.
And while time doesn't necessarily lessen the grief of suicide, it's perhaps especially distressing that some of the people Vice depicts died very recently — Chang in just 2004 — leaving still-living loved ones behind. These weren't fictional characters; these were real women, who lived and struggled and died, and to treat their lowest moments as fodder for a silly fashion spread is shameful and sad.
UPDATE: Vice has disappeared the post from its Web site. The magazine's editors say they "apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended."