I am a giant Julia Louis-Dreyfus fan. Her estimable comedic timing made Elaine Benes one of the best characters in television history.
These days, I’m loving her Emmy-winning turn as Selina Meyer, the blundering and hilariously crass fictional Vice President of the United States in HBO’s ink-black comedy Veep.
So when I saw her forthcoming Rolling Stone cover — on which she appears wearing only the Constitution of the United States inked across her (admittedly impressive) backside — I had mixed feelings, and I am not the only one. (ETA: I don’t hate it. I still don’t hate it.)
Mary Elizabeth Williams over at Slate also felt conflicted about it.
Undeniably, it’s a hot photo of a hot woman — a 53-year-old woman at that.
As Williams wrote, “There’s the undeniable pleasure that a woman well over the age of 25 can still be portrayed as frankly beautiful and sexy.” I can totes get behind that. And while I’m sure the photo was touched up — Rolling Stone isn’t Vogue, but it doesn’t exactly have the best track record, either — what’s most striking about the cover image is that it looks like her.
The furrows in her brow and the laugh lines around her eyes haven’t been buffed away; and one only needs to watch Veep to know that the woman is in incredible shape.
Considering the monster success she’s had in her career — and considering that she’s on a magazine cover, nude, despite being squarely part of a demographic Hollywood likes to treat as invisible — I can’t help but think, “Good for her.”
But then, JLD is also a conventionally attractive woman — and there are absolutely zero things that are groundbreaking about putting a conventionally attractive woman on a magazine cover, regardless of her age.
If Julia didn’t have an amazing ass, would she be on the cover of Rolling Stone? Would her many, many, many accomplishments over a career — which, by the way, spans four decades and more Emmy nominations than Lucille Ball — have been enough to get her that prime real estate had the years not been so kind to her looks?
And that’s why I also felt disappointed when I saw the cover — just as I felt disappointed when I saw Kristen Wiig’s GQ shoot, or Cosmopolitan‘s spread starring the current female cast of Saturday Night Live (more on that in a sec).
No matter how funny or talented or intelligent or savvy a woman is, her value still comes down to how desirable she is. NEVER FORGET: being fuckable is worth more than all the other attributes.
We still live in a culture in which a woman’s value is largely tied to her bangability. So if she’s still firmly holding on to that bangability past the age of 50 and even 60, is this a victory — or just one more unfair, eternal hurdle?
To me, it feels like a hollow victory at best. Because here’s the other thing: WHY DOES SHE HAVE TO BE NAKED AT ALL? It can’t be because magazines are really that pants-adverse. No, it all goes back to that all-important (but totally nebulous) bangability score, which brings me to a spread in the May issue of Cosmopolitan.
The female cast of SNL — which is a fucking powerhouse, I might add: last weekend’s “Dongs All Over The World” was a TRIUMPH — is depicted in a sexy sleepover scenario BECAUSE OF COURSE. (Can we stop with the trite sexy sleepover iconography already? Nobody wears a neglige to take down a box of Pinot Grigio and an XL pizza with their lady pals. That’s what yoga pants are for.)
The women of SNL look amazing in their silky underthings, but the whole thing feels regressive — as sexy sleepover-themed photoshoots are wont to do.
For one, as Vanessa Golembewski at Refinery 29 also pointed out, it presents a very narrow view of what’s sexy; tellingly my beloved Aidy Bryant’s bod is completely covered in both the full cast shots and her single shot. And though it definitely tries to be — E FOR EFFORT — the shoot is just not funny.
Rather, it feels like a missed opportunity; this could have been a winking, stylized shoot; instead, it’s a 13-year-old’s wet dream. It didn’t push the envelope far enough. No matter how many goofy props you junk it up with, a photo spread featuring attractive women in lingerie isn’t going to be subversive.
To be clear, I’m not blaming these women for participating in these shoots; I’m blaming the magazines. And I’m not saying that women can’t be funny AND sexy; I think these women are proof positive that you can indeed be both. And funny IS sexy.
Is it so much to ask of magazines to think bigger when it comes to portraying their subjects? And to think bigger when it comes to portraying what’s sexy? In a way that, like, maybe involves more pants and less male gaze?
You’re working with women who think really fucking big. Don’t you owe to them to do the same?