Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

‘TIME’ put Greta Thunberg on its May 27 cover in a ‘controversial’ green dress

When it comes to 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, there are a variety of reasons people admire and respect her, and for the most part, she has the whole world in her hands, as the song goes.

But at the same time, Greta also has her critics and her detractors, some of them rightwing climate denialists and hate-mongers (and outright liars), and some of them on the other side of the debate who are climate activists who basically support her work and public profile but who also from time to time try to offer some constructive criticism about some of the choices she makes as a public intellectual with a global following.

Case in point is the recent and ongoing brouhaha over the way TIME magazine put Greta on the cover of the May 27 issue of the magazine wearing a controversial green dress picked out by a Dutch photographer commission by the magazine to do the photo shoot in Stockholm. The result is an interesting Twitter war of words from people around the world, with some fans of Greta saying they love the cover photo and the green dress (and also the inside photo with Greta pulling the same dress down over her bare shoulders with long flowing hair making her look like a movie star — with others saying they dislike the green dress and the bare shoulders pose and the way the entire photo shoot was staged and styled.

Me, I’m just an observer, and Greta has my full support as a human being and a climate activist. I’m on her side. Her work on behalf of the planet is important. More power to her.

But you? After you read some of these posts below from Twitter, and you look at the cover photo and inside photo with the sexualized bare shoulders look, what is your opinion on this brouhaha? A tempest in a Dutch-Swedish teapot, or something more serious? Comments are welcome in the comments box below this article, as always, pro and con.

So here are some Twitters posts online now:

“Dear Time editors, Greta is great. But why did you choose to lower the public’s empathy for her through this kind of dress?” asked one woman in Europe?

“Is the dress sewn from sushi separators?” tweeted another woman.

And another woman tweeted: “‘Okay I will put on the green dress if I can keep my blue sneakers on,’ I imagine Greta was thinking.”

Yes, in the cover photo, in which Greta was shown looking not very happy as she dutifully faced the middle-aged Dutch woman’s camera and seem to grit her teeth, was allowed to sport her blue sneaker below the green dress, which had been picked out for her by the photographer and was not her first choice for clothes that day.

More tweets:

“Bottom layer on that dress has to go!” said a guy in Britain.

“Is she gifted that beautiful dress? Why is she sitting on the ground?” another tweet read.

“They can dress you up as a doll, Greta, but you still give us the ‘gimlet eye’, that accusing look. Yes! Guilty! Must do more!” said another tweet.

Dutch photographer Hellen van Meene gets the credit for the photos. Some admirers of the photo, and there are many, said on Twitter that “Greta looks like old photos of a young Queen Elizabeth here.”

One expects TIME magazine to get things right most of the time, and it usually does. But for its recent photo for its cover story about eco-warrior Thunberg, TIME got it all wrong, very wrong, many critics on Twitter opined, even though they said they are fans and admirers of Greta and remain in her corner.

Some liked the photo, others didn’t like it. Some love it, others feel its ”styling” was misguided and unflattering to Greta.

On Twitter, a woman wrote: “Great news article about Greta, but who chose that green dress, paired with her sneakers”?

Another woman tweete to TIME: “CAN WE TALK?’ I know GretaThunberg has become a bit of an icon for other reasons. I think she is bloody wonderful. The cover of TIME magazine is a big deal. But can we talk about this dress? With the sneakers?”

A man chimed in: ”I would encourage Greta to refuse to let the corporate media manipulate her image. Including TIME magazine. Greta is Greta and US corporate media insanity has no control.”

CHERYL wrote at Yahoo.com news story about Greta and TIME cover:

On Yahoo, a woman wrote of the photo: ”She looks like a very unhappy child who has been robbed of her innocence.”

But take note and take heart: not all the tweets were negative.

This tweet from a woman in Australia: “I don’t think the green dress is unflattering, I love the random-ness of the dress and Greta isn’t exactly known for being a cutesy smiling person so I like the juxtaposition of the serious face with the interesting frock.”

And said another climate activist in Australia via Facebook: “Maybe the TIME cover photo was meant to be subversive?”

As readers know, the 16-year-old Greta has had quite a year or two, beginning in August 2018.

When Dutch photographer Hellen van Meene was commissioned by TIME to create a portrait of Greta for the cover of the magazine’s May 27 issue, she said knew that she wanted to portray the teenager in a different light to how the world has seen her before. “When someone asks me to make a portrait, I always think about the subject and my opinion of them. Thinking about Greta, I wanted this photo to be different, because her story is bigger than life,” van Meene said.

In the cover photograph, Greta wears a stylish and colorful green dress that the Dutch photographer found in a shop in Copenhagen on her way to Stockholm for the photo shoot. The dress is a departure from what Greta usually wears, favoring more practical clothing like hoodies, jeans and tracksuits, according to TIME reporter Suyin Haynes in London.

But for van Meene, the color has a deeper meaning, especially against the backdrop of a concrete archway in Stockholm’s Old Town of Gamla Stan. “The green for me symbolizes life,” she said. “And the darkness of the corridor is what we will end up in if we don’t pay attention to what Greta is telling us.”

The Dutch photographer’s teenage daughter also accompanied her to Stockholm, and van Meene says the 16-year-old has been inspired by Thunberg to strike from school in the Netherlands.

“We shouldn’t see Greta as a young cute thing, she’s a serious girl with a serious message,” van Meene says. “Don’t get fooled by her age, listen to what she wants to warn us about. She and her generation will have to pay the price, and that’s why we should act.”

According to TIME, van Meene has been best known for her photographic portraits of teenage girls, with her work exhibiting internationally. She favors working outdoors in natural light and with a film camera, giving her work a timeless, painterly-like quality.

“I like that you can’t really tell exactly when any of my work has been created, and that was really important in this portrait of Greta,” she says. “By making a photo not about her age, but about the personality she will grow into, it means that in 10, even 20 years’ time, this image will be important. It’s not so much a reference to her age, but a reference to her story.”

More tweets:

Said one person in Europe: ”Greta Thunberg’s  ‘green shiny bamboo-like dress’  was a big mistake to choose that photographer and to put that unflattering zombie-like  photo on cover worldwide. Tasteless. An affront to brave little Greta. She was used, to sell magazines!”

But the positive side, a woman wrote:  ”Love this cover. #youth #activism #hope GretaThunberg wears a green dress that photographer Hellen found in Copenhagen on her way to Stockholm.”

James Freedman, an art gallery owner in London, tweeted: ”Many congratulations to Hellen van Meene for her Time magazine cover image, a portrait of Greta Thunberg. Stunning work Hellen!”

”What a powerful and beautiful photo, just like you, Greta! Momentum is building. Now is the time to harness and expand that energy. We are with you, Greta,” tweeted a fan.

But a woman took issue with the bare shoulderw and movie star hair shown on the inside photo, saying: “And the hair. Loose hair? Another potent feminine symbol. Have you any idea how impractical, how constricting, hampering these things are? It’s no coincidence. At least she refused the ‘visit to the footbinder’ that is women’s shoes.”

“Chaps, really, ‘something not right’? Look at any other picture of Greta. She is never ever shown wearing one single dress. Those of us girls who notice sexism early, and rise against it, tend not to like being forced into wearing this symbol of our oppression,” tweeted a woman in Europe, adding: ”Dress is now off the shoulder.
It’s ok boys, she’s just a nubile little girly. No need to listen to her!”

And a very positive tweet by Genevieve Cerf‏ in the USA: “Lawdy, how I love Greta Thunberg! Great article in Time Magazine. And I love the cover photo, with this beautiful green dress which looks like a spring field of grasses waving in the…

So there you have it, the pro and the con over Greta’s TIME cover photo and dress. What’s your take?

About the Author
Danny Bloom is editor of The Cli-Fi Report at www.cli-fi.net. Danny graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1971 with a major in Yiddish Literature. A newspaper editor and reporter since his days in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan, he has lived and worked in 14 countries and speaks French, Japanese and Chinese. He hopes to live until 2032, when his tombstone will read "I came, I saw, I ate cho-dofu."
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