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Sheila Hageman

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Cover Girls Images from Sports Illustrated to French Elle (and Me)

Posted: 14/02/2012 04:32

Two magazine cover photos making the news around the globe today include the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and French Elle's February cover.

Both feature photos of beautiful women in scanty clothing; one displays 19-year-old model Kate Upton, your typical swimsuit model in all her svelte shape, and the other introduces "The Body" of plus-size model Tara Lynn.

Granted the SI cover photo is a bit more risqué, in fact, I don't think I ever even wore a g-string that small as a stripper, so that's saying something. But the Elle cover shot is breaking ground by announcing a plus-size woman as being not only gorgeous enough for their cover, but sexy enough to be dressed in revealing clothes.

Both magazines are pushing at borders here. Whereas SI seems to be simply walking the line of how much nudity they can get away with as always (does anyone else think that bikini might be a size too small?), French Elle is pushing at society's accepted notion of what qualifies as a cover model body to begin with.

I'm thinking about these covers on the eve of my book's release, Stripping Down: A Memoir, as I contemplate my own cover image and what that younger version of me represents.

The photo of me when I was 19 was taken by photographer Frank Wallis on Wall Street in New York City one Sunday morning when there weren't too may passerby's.

I was certainly rocking a svelte body myself and not wearing much clothing--okay, no clothing to be exact.

When this photo and others similar to it were taken by photographers, I never really thought about them being seen by that many people. They were not taken as commercial ventures, rather they were intended as fine art; they were nudes for art collectors.

But now that one has made its way to the cover of my book, I find myself stopping and asking--how do I feel about the representation of photographs of women's bodies (including my own)? And why are some images of seminude women acceptable and others are not?

I'm immediately drawn to the different gazes of the models on the magazine covers, the intensity and meaning of their gaze.

Kate Upton stares down the camera with a hot-cha-cha, come and get me look; Tara Lynn's gaze exudes a sense of confidence and mature sexuality. The image that is supplied for the male gaze is more overtly sexual, more insinuating. The image used to sell magazines to women is more refined and elegant.

And my gaze? My image's effect? As in many artistic nudes, my eye line is away from the camera, away from the viewer. There is no invitation in. There is no assertion of my sexuality. There is no request for a commercial transaction in that immediate sense.

In fact, with the sexy bikini or the revealing lingerie removed, only a woman's nude body remains. A blank slate almost, with no room for a commercial purchase.

I remember when I was just starting out as a nude model that I found something empowering about posing for artists. Although there were certainly photos that exuded sexiness in more direct ways, there was often this sense of appreciation of the beauty of the form, pure and simple.

Oftentimes, who I was or any sense I felt of having to "try" to be sexy vanished. The need to be a sexy woman faded into the background and I simply became me.

I have often felt anger at judgments made toward strippers or nude models or porn actresses. The people who argue that what "those" women do is wrong, but that what Sports Illustrated models or fashion magazine cover girls do is acceptable.

Who is to say which does more harm?

And while I agree that there needs to be standards for what we will allow to be shown where children are, I question what we consider acceptable as a society.

Which images of women do we deem "safe" for magazine and book stands?

Are we willing to accept all women's bodies as beautiful? In every shape and every size? And in every expression of self we see?

 

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