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Mindy Kaling

Was Elle trying to do Mindy Kaling a favour by hiding her body on the cover of its February issue or did the magazine's editors simply misjudge the public's ability to pick up on sly body-shaming?

The Washington Post reports on the controversy that has erupted over the cover photograph featuring Kaling on next month's issue of the venerable fashion magazine.

To recap the past week's events: Kaling, best known for her years on The Office and her current Fox sitcom The Mindy Project, was one of four separate cover subjects for the February edition of Elle.

The magazine's Women in TV issue focuses on successful woman on television and also bestowed covers upon Amy Poehler (Parks & Recreation), Allison Williams (Girls) and Zooey Deschanel (New Girl).

In those instances, the cover photographs were in colour and depicted Poehler, Williams and Deschanel in full-body shots. Each actress looks fashionably thin and suitably glamorous.

Kaling's picture, however, was a closeup of her face and neck and was photographed in black-and-white.

Media reaction to the singling-out of Kaling – the lone woman of colour in the group and the only one in the size six range – was immediate and mostly reproachful.

On fashion website The Gloss, writer Julia Sonenshein opined: "The fact that Kaling is a woman of colour and a woman whose size defies the conventions for actresses are two traits that should never be stripped from her when slender, white woman are allowed to keep their whiteness and bodies."

Elsewhere, the feminist blog Jezebel cited the Kaling cover as yet another example of "institutionalized inequality."

Jezebel also pointed out that Elle has a history of de-emphazing the bodies of plus-sized actresses.

Just three months ago, Elle buried the natural curves of comedic actress Melissa McCarthy in a flowing full-length coat on their cover.

And back in late 2010, Oscar-nominated newcomer Gabourey Sidibe made the cover of Elle – but, like Kaling, her cover shot was a zoom-in of her face and neck.

As should be expected, the Kaling contretemps eventually drew a response from Elle.

"Mindy looks sexy, beautiful and chic," said a statement from the magazine on Thursday. "We think it is a striking and sophisticated cover and are thrilled to celebrate her in our Women in TV issue."

And what about the cover girl herself? Kaling shrewdly used the occasion to help publicize her Fox sitcom.

On Wednesday, Kaling tweeted: "Wishing for more skin on my @ELLEmagazine cover? Chris Messina & I are naked on a brand new #themindyproject tonight, ya pervs!"

All told, the controversy over the Kaling cover will have one inevitable result: Elle will sell a lot more copies of their February issue. And while Kaling was unquestionably wronged, the discussion on female body image has died down for the time being.

At least until the Vogue cover featuring Girls' creator Lena Dunham hits stands on Jan. 22.