The cover of the upcoming summer issue features a middle class white American woman holding several items that represent work and family life in a multi-armed Hindu deity's pose. I get the juggling metaphor, and the sour look on her face informs that she's not too pleased with her conflicting situation. What I'm conflicted and not pleased about is the frequency with which American media and pop culture icons are co-opting South Asian religion to suit their aesthetic fancy.
The multiple arms on a god or goddess represent their strength and ability to multitask, and the multi-armed representation is not one that is appropriate for a human form, as the pose is intended to convey that these abilities are super-human. Another question that begs to be answered is which god or goddess is this woman supposed to be depicting? The number of arms in this cover (8) is quite uncommon. This seems to demonstrate a lack of knowledge on the part of the cover designer about depictions of and difference among Hindu deities, as well as confirms this use for solely aesthetic purposes.
It's completely inappropriate to utilize Hindu iconography in this context, mocks the religion, and diffuses the imagery of its "true" meaning. When a cultural or religious symbol is used for marketing purposes by cultural or religious outsiders that fail to convey respect for and understanding of the intricacies of that culture or religion, it is offensive. Westerners have a history of seeking to eradicate "Other" cultures and religions in favor of their own, and Ms. Magazine's perpetuation of this ethnocentric process is shameful.
Update: I ran across a few posts that mention this one, so I wanted to share them with you. Feel free to add your own blog responses in the Comments.
Keep Your Hands to Yourself - Taz @ Sepia Mutiny
Ms. Magazine Appropriates South Asian Culture - Nina Jacinto @ WireTap