Each year upmarket English men's magazine GQ bestows the honour of "Man of the Year" on one of its esteemed countrymen (generally an actor with a movie to promote). The anointed gent will then appear on the cover and in an inside spread where he will no doubt be wearing a "suit and watch combo" with the combined value of a home deposit.
This year they ran with four men of the year – John Slattery, Tinie Tempah, James Corden and Robbie Williams – and one woman, Lana Del Ray.
In a series of alternate covers, the men each appear attired in a nice suit, looking like they’re on their way to an expensive awards dinner. They ooze sophistication, taste and just a hint of alpha sparkle in their eyes.
Then we get to Lana Del Rey’s Woman of the Year cover. Rather than being dressed for the ball, she’s stripped down to her birthday suit, seated with legs crossed, in a pose reminiscent of 1970s porn. (No, really.)
Indeed, GQ has a penchant for featuring their Women of the Year au naturel, though the accolade seems to have a spotty history, given (as The Vine points out here) women aren’t necessarily recognised each year. Remember Jennifer Aniston’s topless cover?
Yep, nude covers are nothing new – and as Lindy West notes in her Jezebel post, perhaps we’re so accustomed to seeing women naked on magazine covers that we’ve become desensitised to what they mean.
Personally, I’m on board with women’s freedom to (un)dress as they please, but there's something unsettling about the story GQ is telling here. While the title suggests all the accolades are awarded in a similar spirit, the accompanying images suggest otherwise. The men are celebrated for their successes, but Del Rey is judged - and esteemed - according to her appearance and sexiness. She’s the sole woman in the men’s locker room, and she’s exposed.
The message? We celebrate men and women according to different standards. Consequently, we also recognise their successes in different ways.
Of course, some people will gladly dismiss Del Rey’s nude cover as a desperate blameless attempt to sell magazines. Others might even argue that at least they "kept it classy". But did they, really? Accompanying the feature on Del Rey is a photo of her being groped by a faceless man (in a suit), who turns out to be GQ’s creative director, Paul Solomons. In another shot, she’s half-naked, fiddling with a curtain. (Because, you know, that’s what ladies do in their time off.)
At the GQ awards ceremony last week, Del Rey made an acceptance speech that offered up a bit of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink response to the shoot. She appeared to be in on the joke, saying, "Paul [Solomons], the creative director, was very hands on with the shoot … in the middle of the spread, you'll see a hand hoisting up one of my boobs … That's Paul's hand. Couldn't have done it without him."
But given she also acknowledged that the shoot was accompanied by an "interesting interview - for a change", it’s disappointing that Del Rey didn’t seem too bothered that the photos would probably eclipse anything she had to say.
Some might argue it’s Del Rey’s choice (true), as celebrities are increasingly capitalising on their sex appeal. Yet it seems they’re only getting sucked into what the media has long sold to us: a woman’s beauty (and consequently, her hotness) sells. Anything else is a bonus.
It’s unfortunate that a cover series in which the men look confident, cool and successful while the lone female is naked and looks vulnerable, is how magazines are being sold - though if the ladies at Miss Representation have their way, #NotBuyingIt will trend as people tweet GQ to express their disapproval.
Del Rey is making a name for herself with her old world image - vintage glamour, husky voice, innocence combined with sultriness. Her debut album, Born To Die, was the fastest selling album of the year in Britain. And whether you think she’s authentic or not, she’s selling out tours worldwide.
Yet here Del Rey has inexplicably been reduced to little more than a sex siren, disempowered, applauded for her beauty rather than her work. The GQ cover offers no hint of why Del Rey is being recognised besides her sex appeal. Yeah, Woman of the Year indeed.