The Head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has spent most of this year serving as an avuncular figurehead for many Americans desperate for facts and dealing with a truth-adverse administration.
In a special digital issue of InStyle, Dr. Fauci has been styled less as a kindly uncle and verges into all-out daddy territory. (Magazine buyers will find Drew Barrymore gracing the August newsstand issue.)
His black rimmed square sunglasses reflect a sun ray back into the camera’s eye. His blue and white button-up is undone at the neck and his jeans fit tight. It’s as if Fauci is playing Daniel Craig playing Roger Stone in an inevitable biopic. He’s sitting on a foldout chair placed upon a pool deck; this is how an elevated everyman spends his summer in the suburbs.
Under the helm of editor-in-chief and social media dynamo Laura Brown, InStyle’s star has risen. Lady Gaga, Carey Mulligan, and Katie Holmes appeared on the last three covers wearing designer clothes and piles of makeup. Regardless of Fauci’s popularity, it’s quite the pivot to tap a 79-year-old immunologist next.
For whatever Fauci may lack in outright glamour, he makes up for in ubiquity. For much of 2020, his celebrity remains unparalleled. He’s been played by Brad Pitt on SNL, his image has graced donuts, cookies, and other baked goods from sea to shining sea. Without trying—only by showing up to work and sharing facts—Dr. Fauci has reached the type of all-out idolization Trump so desperately craves.
In the simplest terms, Dr. Fauci is a good get for InStyle. The glossy has returned the favor of him allowing a profile by keeping the interview, done by CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell, straightforward and news-oriented. (O’Donnell also happens to be neighbors with Dr. Fauci and his wife Dr. Christine Grady, and describes the couple as “frequent guests at my husband’s restaurant.”)
After InStyle rolled out the cover on Wednesday, it did not take long for critics to bemoan or question Dr. Fauci’s motivations for deigning to pose for a fashion publication. “What’s next....Dancing with the Stars?” read one tweet. “Ridiculous cover for a style magazine,” another added.
Laura Ingraham mentioned the photo on her Fox show. “Here he is on the newest cover of InStyle magazine,” she said. “Oh, what is he wearing? Where’s the mask? Just joking.” (Laura Brown gleefully reposted this attempt at snark on her Instagram page.)
True, there is not much capital-F fashion going on in the Fauci images. He’s just another man sitting by a pool, staring into the sun, and wondering where it all went wrong. (Aren’t we all doing that right now, at least emotionally if not physically?)
Sure, welcoming Dr. Fauci into the glitterati during a time of global crisis and economic collapse reads as a bit frivolous. But why the snobbery over why the NIH director would open up to a magazine like InStyle?
It reeks of elitism, not to mention sexism, to imply that a women’s publication is incapable of handling a “serious” profile just because pretty clothes are included a few pages later.
After the 2016 election, Teen Vogue published a piece by Lauren Duca titled “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America” that quickly went viral. But as much as the op-ed resonated with readers for its content, others were more surprised at its source.
How cute, many reasoned, that a site for young women could allow space for articles about activism along with prom dress roundups. (Anyone who regularly read the site was probably less shook: the then-EIC Elaine Welteroth made a point to enthusiastically cover politics and social justice issues.)
Bryan Goldberg, the often-parodied Silicon Valley bro, entrepreneur, and founder of Bustle, was widely dragged when he announced the company launch back in 2013. “Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips?” Goldberg asked in a blog post, clearly missing the last forty years in media that saw the rise of Cosmo, Glamour, Elle, and countless others.
It is convenient for some to assume there is a binary between general news and “women’s media.” If fashion writers are not “real journalists,” then they’re not considered competition. That might be one reason why the Twitterati could not believe that one of Ivanka Trump’s “toughest interviews” was done by Prachi Gupta for Cosmopolitan.
So do not be surprised when the nation’s foremost anything—including Dr. Fauci—sits down for a photoshoot with a lifestyle brand behemoth. If his choice to do so confuses you, then maybe you have not been paying attention to what’s inside these magazines.