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In the world of men’s magazine publishing, does honesty count?

By April 1, 2013 7 Comments

Let’s face it: We live in a world where women are objectified left, right, and center. The focal point of this objectification is magazines — those made for both men and women.

But that objectification usually runs under the surface, insidiously pointing out our flaws by showing women who are impossibly flawless.

Until now.

Two Esquire magazine covers featuring women.

A selection of Esquire’s “ornamental” women.

Speaking at the Advertising Week Europe conference, UK’s Esquire magazine editor, Alex Bilmes, made this unapologetic statement:

The women we feature in the magazine are ornamental. That is how we see them. I could lie to you if you want and say we are interested in their brains as well. But on the whole, we’re not. They are there to be a beautiful object. They are objectified.”

Woah.

I mean, of course this isn’t surprising. This isn’t even news. We already know that women are objectified in men’s magazines. But it’s a little shocking when someone from within the industry admits to it.

Bilmes further shattered any doubt you may have had about the reasoning behind featuring scantily clad women:

One of the things men like is pictures of pretty girls… they are ornamental. We also provide them with pictures of cool cars or whatever. It’s a thing that you might want to look at because you like the look of it.”

Images of cars.

Cars don’t escape objectification either.

He went on to claim that Esquire shows a more diverse range of ethnicities and shapes of women that fashion magazines do, as if the inclusion of “older” women like Cameron Diaz on their cover made them eligible for some kind of diversity award.

Further absolving his magazine of blame for negative images of women, he put that blame squarely on the shoulders of women’s magazines and advertising:

“Women’s magazines do exactly the same thing. I think we are less rigid in our idea of what a women ought to look like. What we do is much more honest [than women’s magazines].”

Of course, fashion magazines are not to be held up as the bastion of representation of women. Both types of magazines objectify women, and perhaps he’s right — the men’s magazines do so in a much more blatant fashion.

Is one type of objectification less objectifying than another type of objectification?

I would argue that both make women feel crappy about themselves. And holding yourself up as a bastion of “honesty” just because you’re objectifying more openly?

Well, honestly, that sucks. And honestly, maybe just nobody should objectify women.

Tessa Needham finished her PhD in Performing Arts at the University of Western Sydney (Australia) in 2008. Her thesis explored the potential of performance to provoke change, and part of her research was Bodily, a solo theatrical performance about body image. She loves technology and the creative arts, and is passionate about the different cultural forces affecting the body image of girls and women. She teaches computers and does freelance creative work: www.tessaneedham.com.