Mercedes DeM. sent in this Vanity Fair cover (for April 2009)…

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…spoofing this previous cover:

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The women on the original cover are sex symbols.  We should expect gratuitous nudity.  The men in the spoof, in contrast, are comedians and so a direct comparison, arguing that men’s bodies are more off-limits, would be misguided.  (Not that I think an argument couldn’t be made, but I don’t think this set of images supports it.)

Nor do I think that these images support the idea that we’re more accepting of variation in men’s bodies than women’s.  If that were so, I think the men would actually be nude.  Instead they’re covered up.  My sense is that they’re covered up because their bodies are, according to rigid cultural standards, gross. 

 The relevant comparison, I think, would be between the spoof cover and a similar spoof cover featuring non-skinny women in nude body suits.  The fact that the former is funny points to how men are allowed to be many things.  They can be good-looking and fit, OR they can be not-so-good-looking, but rich, nice, or funny.  And we still like them.  There is no disdain for these men.  We may even like them MORE because they’re willing to pose in ways that reveal how imperfect their bodies are.

I think we would be unlikely to see a similar cover featuring women, even women comedians, because women are allowed to be rich, nice, or funny but they must ALSO be good-looking and fit.  A cover featuring chubby women would JUST be gross.  It wouldn’t be gross and funny.

Being good-looking and fit is ONE way for men to be admire in our society.  Being good-looking and fit is a REQUIREMENT for women to be admired, no matter what else she brings to the table.

I asked myself: in the entire history of Vanity Fair, would we be able to find three women with a similar body type to those men on the cover?

I found two, both featuring Roseanne Barr (images here and here):

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The covers feature a comedian who is well-known for being successful while bucking social expectations for women.  She’s the exception to the rule that proves the rule.  Or is she?  I certainly think so.  That “Oh, Roseanne!” is about how crazy she is.

In any case, notice that she’s still a sex symbol, while the men in the spoof are decidedly not.  They’re spoofing such symbolism.  Roseanne, despite her wacky resistance, still has to abide by it.

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