(So I'm late to the discussion party. It's still a relevant issue to discuss.)
It's deconstruction time.
First, let's put this magazine in its place.
When I Googled Max!m, this is what I got: Crappy Soft-Porn Lad Mag that, if a man was known to read this frequently and be a big fan and believer of it, should be a real turn-off to everyone carrying double Xs (and by that I mean chromosomes, not porn rating or some other sort of size).
Okay okay that's not what Google really said. It really said (and this part is actual for real true):
Hot Girls, Sex, Photos, Hot Videos, Sports, Movies and Music, Celebrities
Girls, Sex, Sexy, Hotties, Women, Babes, Chicks, Technology, Gear, Video Games, Hotties, Magazine, Maxim Magazine, christina aguilera, Hot Women, Hot Girls, ...
Men, to get your attention, a magazine needs to scream that?
I'm ashamed. For you. On behalf of you. Because I know a lot of you, and you are so much better than that.
Let's be honest, as humans, we like sexy. Don't we? How many other animals consider sex recreational? There's a point here, right? So let's not make this about prudery. It's not.
This is about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Second, let's talk about this vote. Unsexiest Woman Alive.
I can't even bring myself to link to the story or articles about it. The commentary is so, so unsexy. It really is. Let's just say it's nasty and subjective, based on looks. Solely. (Until you get to Sandra Oh, where apparently her fake television character's ambition is a real turn-off. Oy.)
Can we talk about more than looks? Can a smart, successful, solid woman be sexy because of her merits, not just her attributes?
Take the allegedly unsexy Parker.
Sarah Jessica Parker seems like a classy and intelligent person. She dedicates a fair amount of time to worthy causes, such as to UNICEF as an ambassador, to DKMS Americas, and to the Pediatric Epilepsy Project. She's successful in her career, and continues to be a sought after actress and spokeswoman. She seems to prioritize her marriage and family.
Dear Maxim...that? Is sexy.
I am pretty sure the average man who has a mental and emotional age above 20 knows that, too. I know a lot of men and they seem to value these sorts of things. I know their wives, too, and thus know their actions back their words.
Listen, Christina Aguilera and Charlize Theron (often listed as sexiest women) are probably fine people. But I don't think their merits are being evaluated at all. I think their looks are, exclusively. And what message does that send?
It does send one; it's not all just fun.
Thanks to easier digital image altering software, it's barely a second to alter a perfectly naturally lovely woman such as Kate Winslet into a barely recognizable Barbie-like sylph. Our media calls women such as Tyra Banks fat.
What does this do to us, the reader, the consumer, the person living in a society with the readers and consumers?
How do people come to understand themselves? A response to this age-old question involves what has been labeled everyone's "second favorite theory" (Goethals 1986): social comparison. The original formulation of social comparison theory (Festinger 1954) demonstrated how, in the absence of objective standards, individuals use other people to fulfill their informational needs to evaluate their own opinions and abilities.
Source: Social Comparison Processes
Although social comparison theory has been refined since its introduction in 1954, in short, it claims that, "People look to the images portrayed by others to be obtainable and realistic, and subsequently, make comparisons among themselves, others and the idealized images."
It's clear that even though comparison of self to ideal isn't that simplistic, it does affect how we view ourselves and others, affects our self-esteem, and I think it also can strongly affect our expectations.
Magazine and celebrity images aren't real. They are enhanced ideals. Like art, it's a manufactured personal view of how something could look from an individual's eye. Even the famous "sexy" people can't maintain that level of perfection. It's not real, even for them. But it's the image we are subjected to again and again: frozen moments of very young people at the height of their physical game.
A barrage of fakely perfect is bad enough. We don't need an unsexy category. It's just the uglier twist on negative social comparison. That's what's ugly.
But considering Max!m readers put Lindsay Lohan at the top of the sexy list in 2007, I shouldn't be surprised. She's 21.
Askmen.com selected Elisha Cuthbert, who cashes in at a more "mature" 25.
Both have sex scandals behind them.
I suppose young girls who are scandalous are what these 2.5 million men* find sexy.
That's too bad. Lohan seems to be a troubled young woman. I wonder how much of these dysfunctional messages are at the heart of that.
Overtouting the ideal isn't good. Focusing on girls as sexy and sex objects isn't good. (And trust me, I did a little experiment a while back and discovered that according to the online world, boys have lives and girls are bodies. I don't think that's too disparate from other forms of media...or life.)
But rating women according to how far they are from this ideal?
That's so much worse.
Note: For Wednesday's Hump Day Hmm, take this issue---this idea of rating people according to how they fit or don't fit some arbitrary ideal---and debate/discuss some angle of it. Make it general or make it personal---how it affects you, our culture, your kids, your morals...however you want to approach it. Next week we'll discuss atonement. (That will make more sense when I share the story behind it.)
* Max!m has a circulation of about 2.5 million readers, although newsstand sales have dropped slightly more than 12%.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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