Glee Girls Strip Down for GQ, Disapproval Abounds

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I feel like I need to start this post with the disclaimer that I don't watch Glee. And no, there isn't a reason. It actually seems (from what I've heard) like the kind of show I'd probably really like, but somehow I missed it when it began and then it seemed too late to start watching, or something. I clarify my position here just so that you know I know next to nothing about this show, the actors, anything. What I know is that it's a popular show, and its characters are largely high school students.

I also know that the actors who play the "kids" are not, in fact, underage.

So the collective gasp prompted by scantily-clad Glee cast members on the cover of GQ affects me not at all as a fan of the show, because I don't watch it. And it doesn't bother me that actors who primarily portray teens have chosen to pose in a decidedly mature manner even though many of their fans are kids, because they're certainly old enough to dress (or not) as they choose. In some ways, the fact that the Parents Television Council is outraged about it almost makes me want to champion the photos, because I think the PTC has a habit of screeching, "Won't someone, please, think of the children?" in defense of a one-size-fits-all morality that I find unrealistic.


Photo courtesy GQ.

But. But. The cover photo -- and additional photos inside the magazine -- disturb me. Maybe not for the reason you think, though. I'm actually less concerned about the young fans who might see the photos (really, are a lot of teenage girls reading GQ?) and more feeling a little bit sad for Dianna Agron and Lea Michele. By all accounts these young women (again, to clarify: both women are 24) are incredibly talented singers and actors. They also happen to be beautiful. And so I guess in our society, regardless of your other redeeming talents, if you're beautiful and you're featured in a magazine, it's appropriate to remove most of your clothing...? Because... I don't even know why. I've never been in that situation, so I guess maybe I don't understand.

Let's step back from the Glee shoot, for a minute. Let's just talk about being a teenage girl in this country. If you have some time, I urge you to read this entire post from Chasing Ray entitled "Can you hear us screaming?" Colleen Mondor writes:

When I was 15 I wanted to scream everyday, for a thousand reasons that ranged from my divorced father, remarried mother, my brother who was gone in the Marine Corps, and the totality of what I did not know and the certainty that I wanted to know everything. Frustration and outright anger fueled me. I was very good at pretending I was fine but I wasn't and those strong emotions are still with me even today. I realized when I read this paragraph that I was not alone in having those intense feelings and I wondered who else felt the same way.

She goes on to share some of the reactions from her group when she asked them what made them want to scream, as teenage girls. Perhaps most compelling is the longest response, which also happens to be anonymous. A small piece of it:

What made me want to scream, as a teen girl? My breasts. When I got breasts, I lost everything else.

Parental trust, affection, respect, and the belief that I had a brain in my head – all of that went out the window, thanks to two largely useless overdeveloped glands.

While reading Mondor's piece, I tried to remember what I felt like at 15. Some of the wrenching responses she received simply don't jive with my adolescent experience. I remember being told that I had a great figure -- mostly by people in my family -- but I wore baggy clothes to hide it, mostly, and was generally regarded by my peers as a somewhat surly nerd. (Because I was mostly a surly nerd.) I remember having pangs of jealousy, on occasion, seeing how the pretty girls could evoke attention and privilege with their looks, but mostly I hung my hat on my "smart girl" identity, and that, to me, was something that didn't "go" with being attractive. It wasn't that I thought I was unattractive, I don't think, merely that I believed dwelling on looks would make me shallow and stupid. So I didn't. And I haughtily believed that the girls who did were less than me.

It wasn't until I came into adulthood and then, really, until after I had children, that I realized I'd actually been pretty as a teen and it was sort of a shame that I'd alternately either not realized it or thought it was a bad thing to acknowledge. (Nothing like a few body-altering pregnancies to make you wish you'd appreciated your younger self.) But today, while reading others' recollections of being teenage girls, I realized that there was a second real shame in my thinking: I discounted girls who took pride in their appearances pretty much automatically. Because if she cares what she looks like she cares about the wrong things. Way to appoint myself the gatekeeper of meaning over the world, right? It's all good and well that I managed to get through adolescence refusing to be force-fed the media's addiction to a very narrow beauty ideal, but my reaction was to reject all beauty as vain, and internalize a standard whereby physical beauty didn't even exist.

I'm glad that I value lots of other things about people; kindness, sense of humor, intellect, etc. But my demonization of "beauty" cost me relationships, and cost me years of feeling comfortable in my own skin.

My point is that there's got to be a happy medium in there, somewhere, right?

Now back to the Glee girls not just baring their bodies, but posing provocatively: I think my knee-jerk reaction is that same sort of haughty, "Why do they feel the need to do that?" thing I had going on when I was a teen. And then my follow-on reaction is, "But they're so talented. They don't need to do that. Why did they do that?" And then I feel slightly guilty for finding the shoot off-putting, because who am I to say whether what consenting adults decide to do is good or bad? Maybe they had a great time. Maybe they've always wanted to pose semi-nude. Maybe I'm a stick-in-the-mud. But maybe, just maybe, both Agron and Michele have their own internalized hang-ups about what it means to be physically attractive, and maybe they decided to do this based upon some of those. Or maybe they just thought it was fun and I'm overanalyzing.

Some of the commentary around the blogosphere hits on some really interesting points, though.

  • Stylite's Verena von Pfetten asks, "Why does everything Terry Richardson touches turn to porn?"

  • Go Fug Yourself is only too happy to jump on the Richardson-bashing bandwagon, too, and despite the hilarity inherent in Jessica's rant about it, you do have to give her props for this:

    You can be cute and you can be sexy and you can be alluring and you can still wear something other than your panties in every single shot in a national magazine, especially when the other people in the spread range from COMPLETELY (Cory) to kinda (Dianna) clothed. I don't blame Lea Michele for this -- although I have to admit that my reaction to these pictures was to say, "oh, god. She really IS unbearable." -- but I do blame SOMEONE for not saying, "hey, this show is all about how cool it is to be different and talented, so maybe our lead actress -- who is crazy talented and would be even if she were wearing a zombie costume -- doesn't need to be styled like the most important thing about her is her body, just like every other anonymous sexpot in every other lad mag in the world. LET'S TRY A SHOT WITH SOME PANTS TERRY YOU DISGUSTING OLD GOAT."

  • Mary MacNamara of Show Tracker notes:

    Of course, Agron and Michele are grown women who only play high school students, and there is some version of satire at work here -- the story "gleefully" references all the complaints from those uptight parental groups. But it's of the smug have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too variety. The result is not so much saucy and in-your-face as it is predictable and depressing -- oh look, more young women being asked to assume the position, this time complete with pom poms and lollipop. No doubt Agron and Michele did it to be sexy and playful, and were not at all manipulated by forces that have put generations of young women in precisely the same poses for precisely the same reasons -- to feed the fantasy, promote the show and sell magazines.

    And that just makes it worse, doesn't it?

  • Strollerderby's Madeline Holler points out a glaring omission:

    It’s GQ, I know, I know. I shouldn’t expect featured females to put on pants or cross their legs in the event they forgot to get dressed. [...] But seriously. The high school girl fantasy feels especially icky when you tuck your future high school girls in every night.

    That aside, if now is the time for Glee Gone Wild, what about the rest of the cast? The fat kids? The kid in the wheelchair. Anyone — anyone! — who isn’t skinny, white and beautiful. Part of the charm of “Glee” is that its cast is inclusive. That’s never been the charm of GQ, so sure, it’s really no surprise.

    In stark contrast, Cory Monteith totally adheres to the school dress code.

And for the record? While I was writing this -- with a couple of windows of the photo shoot open on my computer screen -- my 12-year-old came along and said, "What are those?" I explained to her what I was looking at, then asked her what she thought of the pictures. The first thing she said was, "Well how come he gets to keep his clothes on?" Good question, kid.

So... are you a Glee fan? What do you think of the GQ spread? Good fun for of-age adults, or something worse? Does it start to remind you of the angst of your younger self, or is that just me?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir wonders if she has become old and crusty. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and posts all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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