My friend Lisa, despite being female, receives a trial subscription to Maxim, which she never signed up for and can’t cancel, so she tends to just hand them off to me when she gets each issue. I accept them gladly, but I don’t really read them, because this particular magazine doesn’t generally seem to contain words. I took a definite interest, though, in the one that she got yesterday, because it was the issue containing the Maxim Hot 100, “the definitive list of the most beautiful women in the world.” I was dubious of the self-aggrandizing subtitle, but intrigued to know what the mainstream standard of attractiveness is, and how I would feel about it. It provides me with another great opportunity to be overly-analytical about something that most men would simply look at and not give a second thought.
The vast, vast majority of the entries on the seemingly excessively long list were names, faces, and bodies that were not at all familiar to me. I think I am entirely too divorced from pop culture. But I don’t think that reconnecting with it would put me on the same page as the editors and readers of maxim, into whose presumably base characters I try to gain some insight by evaluating the mode of presentation of a list of a hundred beautiful women. Among the names that I do recognize is Kim Kardashian, who comes in at number thirty-five, and any list that includes in its top half somebody whose shallow character is so clearly reflected in her shallow features is bound to meet with some criticism from me.
But generally speaking, what puts me ill at ease with the list is not the women who have been chosen for it, but the ways in which they have been photographed and otherwise displayed to the readers, if I may so loosely use that term to describe the people who regularly buy Maxim. That is what really speaks loudly of the impulse to objectification and the lack of self-awareness, and it gives us a top-ten that includes Anne Hathaway looking like a corpse, Cameron Diaz made to look as though her legs make up fully two-thirds of her body, and Mila Kunis arranged in such a disheveled position as to reach way over the top in amplifying her sexuality, and consequently making her look like a crack addict.
But obviously the greater share of analysis needs to be reserved for number one, and it doesn’t take too much reflection for me to arrive at a set of conclusions as to what the image says about the publishers and the consumers. Their number one slot goes to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and the accompanying photograph is decidedly unappealing to me, on account of three identifiable factors. I stress again that this is not a judgment of the appearance of the actress herself, only a judgment about the particular photograph chosen to represent her.
Firstly, despite clearly defined cleavage, her overall appearance suggests that she could be jailbait. Exactly how that comes across I cannot quite tell; it is just a general impression I get from her facial features and expression, and from her posture, which has her extremities kept close, but held in a loose way that to me could be indicative of naïvite, a lack of assertion, and if I may go so far, victimization. It is an appearance probably befitting the appetites of a stereotypically heterosexual man, with the sort of aggressive, unthinking sexual drive that Maxim seems to consider its bread and butter.
Also befitting those appetites is another evident feature of the picture. To phrase this indelicately, she looks mentally handicapped. Her eyes are extremely narrowed, and her lips unnaturally parted, her overall expression entirely vacant. The basic impression, at least beyond the simple observation, “she’s hot,” is that she looks as though she must be either very dumb, or highly inebriated. And I suppose that your average jock would find great appeal in that, because it also means submissiveness, and the kind of girl who is easily bedded, easily deceived, and again, easily victimized or objectified.
And finally, the very clear presentation of a strong jaw-line and wide-spaced eyes amplifies features that, in this photograph, look very masculine. I think that that, too, was an unconscious factor in the Maxim staff’s decision to install that girl, and that photograph of her, at number one, because I think it provides an outlet for repressed homoeroticism in your typical insecure, intellectually limited, sex-obsessed man. It may seem like I strive a little too strongly to set myself apart from that group by making this all a point of public record, but really, I see a lot more on that page than a hot chick.