Putting Upton on the style bible's June cover is a two-pronged victory: It's symbolic of the high fashion world adopting more of a men's magazine mentality (which, for better or worse is geared toward fleshier, more realistic-looking models), and a step toward fulfilling a promise the magazine made in 2012 to promote images of healthier looking models.
As part of their commitment to the "well-being of their readers" Vogue vowed to not work with models under 16 "who appear to have an eating disorder" and encouraged designers to consider the consequences of making too-small sample sizes that drive models to stay super skinny to fit into them.
Fashion wields a powerful influence over pop culture, and Upton herself has seen the trickle down effects earlier in her career, when she was absurdly labeled overweight by some ignorant critics.
"It was hard at first," she tells Vogue. “You sit there and you’re like ‘Is something wrong with me?"
Nothing is wrong with her, of course, but she still had to make peace with the body scrutiny. "The things that they’re rejecting are things that I can’t change. I can’t change my bra size. They’re natural! I can work out and I can stay healthy and motivated, but I can’t change some things. I really just live my life. I love my body. It’s what God gave me! I feel confident with myself, and if that inspires other women to feel confident with their bodies, great.”
Owning and loving her body? That's awesome.
That said, Upton's health and diet is discussed in great detail (is there nothing else interesting about this woman?), following celebrity trainer David Kirsch's advice to eat "anything that flies or swims", (namely chicken, fish, and vegetables) and avoiding that Carl's Jr. cheeseburger she so seductively ate in a 2012 ad. As The Cut points out, by emphasizing how healthy Upton is—profiling her while she worked out, quoting her sister as saying "she was stick-thin and flat for the longest time", and telling the writer over sushi that she adheres to a militant diet—the take-home message appears to be: Upton isn't fat and Vogue wants everyone to know it. "Would Vogue have put her on their cover if she ate burgers and didn't exercise but looked the same?" wrote Charlotte Cowles.
Vogue also has Michael Kors commenting on Kate's body, which he describes as "healthy" (to us, it's just slim): "To Michael Kors, for instance, who hosted Upton at last year’s Met ball, she conjures an earlier era—when a model’s healthy shape went hand in hand with her sexiness. "'You see her, and her skin is glowing; she’s got a gorgeous smile. It’s optimistic. It’s not about a sad girl on the corner. It’s about a girl who’s enjoying herself.'"
Upton is probably used to this type of slanted compliment in her business. She deadpanned in the magazine, “It’s kind of funny to think, 'Oh, wow, the news is talking about whether I’m fat or not.'" Agreed. It may be a coup that Upton landed the cover of Vogue but the real victory would be a story that didn't mention her weight. Baby steps.