At the age of just 23, Biles is already a four-time Olympic champion and has a staggering tally of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals to her name, establishing herself as among America’s most decorated athletes of all time.
Her popularity has been further burnished by her appearance on the cover of the August edition of fashion bible Vogue, in which Biles has also been praised for opening up about the sexual assault scandal involving disgraced US team doctor Larry Nassar.
But while many responded with praise to Biles’ maiden cover appearance in the magazine (one outlet said she looked “incredible”), others were left nonplussed by the images and the woman behind the lens – renowned American photographer Annie Leibovitz.
“I hate these photos. I hate the toning, I hate how predictable they are, I hate the social crop here (wtf?) and I super hate that Vogue couldn’t be bothered to hire a Black photographer,” ranted New York Times picture editor Morrigan McCarthy.
Similar sentiments came from elsewhere, with Leibovitz having the audacity of being a white photographer taking photos of a black cover model, and standing accused of having a poor track record with darker-skinned muses.
Not to be outdone, some disgruntled Twitterati justice warriors even went as far as to claim that Leibovitz had a “colonizer’s gaze.”
Balance was restored in some part by those questioning why the color of the photographer should be a point of contention at all, with others praising the magazine for choosing Biles as an ideal role model for the cover.
Leibovitz’s credentials down the years include photographing some of the world’s most famous and powerful, with the likes of Queen Elizabeth II (who infamously scolded her during the shoot) and the official American First Family portrait of the Obamas back in 2009.
However, she was at the center of a race row back in 2008 for a cover shoot also for Vogue, on that occasion involving basketball megastar LeBron James.
James, the first black man to appear on the cover of the US edition of the magazine, was pictured holding Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen in a picture some likened to movie character King Kong holding white damsel in distress Fay Wray in the original 1933 movie.
James later dismissed the row, saying he was “just showing a little emotion.”
Biles’ own appearance as a Vogue cover girl has gone viral, with the athlete herself retweeting one post which racked up more than 150,000 ‘likes’, suggesting large numbers of people were at least pleased with the outcome.