Body Double (Standard): The celebrity profiles of Megan Fox and Beyoncé

Men's magazines are dubious during the best of times, but so far 2013 is bringing out their worst. Last week, eyebrows were raised by this flimsy GQ profile of Beyoncé Knowles, where author Amy Wallace says Bey's "as hot as fish grease." This week, the same eyebrows are hitting the ceiling over Esquire's bizarre, condescending profile of Megan Fox, in which Stephen "Victim of Feminine Contempt" Marche simultaneously exalts and pities Fox for her "bombshell" good looks.

Both pieces masquerade as profiles of interesting, famous women, yet both are mostly about what it's like to be HOT. How do you organize your life when you have an "unabashedly curvaceous body"? Whom do you choose to marry when you're "a sexual prop used to sell movies and jeans"? (Answers: You keep a record of every photo of yourself ever taken, and Brian Austin Green, respectively.) Not surprisingly, both pieces also include cheesecake photos of Knowles and Fox writhing around in their underwear, looking like the hot pieces of ass the editors of these magazines think they are.

Beyonce on the cover of GQ Megan Fox on the cover of Esquire

Both pieces say one thing and do the opposite. In GQ, Beyoncé is said to be in total control of her image, yet those words appear under a spread of photos of her that couldn't evoke the male gaze more if they were taken by Terry Richardson himself (surprise! They were). In Esquire, Megan Fox is painted as a confused, dejected sex object who needs a break–yet the laboriously creepy descriptions of her body parts, and the photos illustrating them, serve to objectify her all the more.

Of course, given our culture's general sexism and lack of nuance (and love of the J. Geils Band), these women are being blamed for their own objectification. How could they say they want to be seen as more than pieces of meat, and then turn around and pose for these magazines? Why don't they just put a shirt on and get some self-respect already?! "I never fail to be amazed at the high profile, often A-list women who celebrate their professional success by posing near naked on the covers of allegedly classy men's magazines, such as Esquire and GQ," says Hadley Freeman in the Guardian, comparing the photo shoots to porn. Well, I don't know Megan Fox at all (and I'm only best friends with Beyoncé in my diary), so I can't speak to their motivations, but I'd bet my stack of celebrity magazines Fox and Knowles didn't style these covers themselves. And they likely don't have much of a choice when it comes to interviews, either. Not if they want to remain successful. As Marche says of Fox in Esquire, "Her body, her perfectly symmetrical bombshell body, is what makes money and pays her bills." (Ew.) A-list female celebrities know that photo shoots like these are what keep them on the A-list. Do you think Beyoncé or Megan Fox (or Lana Del Rey, or Cameron Diaz, or Rihanna, or Mila Kunis) would make the covers of these magazines if they asked to wear a turtleneck over that push-up bra?

I'm not saying they're hapless victims (though Marche does pretty much say that about Fox), but to say that Beyoncé's profile is to blame for the problems with western feminism, or that Megan Fox must want to be objectified or else she wouldn't be, is to miss the bigger picture. It would be great if Beyoncé insisted on wearing a "This is what a feminist looks like" shirt on the cover of GQ instead of a thong, but it would be even better if GQ never asked her to wear a thong on the cover in the first place. It would be great if Megan Fox didn't feel the need to traffic in her looks, but it would be even better if Esquire didn't name other celebrities like Adele, Lena Dunham, and Amy Adams in her profile to prove a point about how ugly they are—and how hot Fox is by comparison.

We want our celebrities to be everything to us at once. We want someone like Beyoncé, or Megan Fox, or: [insert your favorite famous person here] to be both powerful and vulnerable, secretive and revealing, in our bedrooms and on a pedestal—to look sexy in lingerie while telling the editor of GQ to shove it up his ass. We put these unrealistic expectations on women especially, because even non-famous women are expected to be all things to all people. But those of us who are paying attention—and I do not count Esquire and GQ among us—realize how unfair that is, and how complicated these images really are. We can't ask famous women to comment on their looks and then commodify those looks and call it a "serious profile." We can't accept magazines that objectify famous women on their covers and then trash the famous women who appear there. (Not if we want them to stay famous, anyway.) And until we can look at the bigger picture that is our sexist celebrity culture—one that tells women their value comes from their bodies and then criticizes them for those bodies—and hold ourselves and our media to a higher standard, until we can create a space where Beyoncé actually could wear her own t-shirt on a magazine cover, or Megan Fox could be known for something other than her looks, we're in for more of the same.

Comments

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It is funny to read this

It is funny to read this article so soon after discussing my roommate's gig as (something like) a stripper at Seattle joint called, "Lusty Ladies". Lusty Ladies was more of a peep show, actually, according to my roommate. The ladies posed and danced and writhed and did whatever THEY FELT LIKE DOING behind a glass wall. The curtains opened and closed according to payment. Like a naked lady juke box.

A different room contained a similar set up (the glass wall) but the patrons were allowed to propose sexual scenarios (glass wall permitting) such as masturbation... (by patron or dancer) or specific movements... etc. The ladies decided the prices with the patrons.

My roommate had recently completed her PHD in linguistics... and started working there AFTER completing the PHD because while earning it, she was also teaching. She did not want to run risk running into her students at the Lusty Lady.

She told me (and I believe her, and understand her sentiments) that it was fascinating and PRACTICAL to learn the value of her body in the basic and obvious sent.

The commodification of the human body is not explicitly evil OR BAD.

On the other hand, most girls at the Lusty Lady stuck to the main room where they could do anything they wanted without the possibility of even hearing instruction (the glass wall was sound proof).

The ladies could go to the other room if they felt like it.

So I agree with you in the sense that... GQ and Esquire take advantage... but why not commodify the body? It is POWERFUL. And everybody has one. and it is fabulous to have one.

Sex work is a job, not evidence of a women's worth.

Being pro sex work is great! But dancing is a job. So is having sex for money. And these are jobs that sometimes expire after women reach a certain age, and are not universally available to all women or all bodies. They are also jobs that sometimes privilege whiteness and sometimes employ racist stereotypes about WOC sexually. Just as it would be incredibly unfair to talk about all sex workers as disadvantaged - because many folks enjoy sex work and find it extremely empowering - it is also unfair to make generalizations about sex work as being universally powerful.

The same is true outside of sex work: it's not fair to imply that commodifying the body is universally powerful, or to ignore that our bodies are not all treated equally when commodified.

If I'm not mistaken, the

If I'm not mistaken, the Lusty Lady is one of the very, very rare unionized sex work venues. Hardly a representative example, unfortunately. You're right that there's nothing inherently wrong with commodifying the body, but when people are commodified whether they want to be or not and valued EXCLUSIVELY based on their physical attributes, that is wrong. Especially when that value is based on adherence to an extremely narrow set of standards, one that plays into and derives from a culture of racism and sexism. Not all bodies are equally powerful and valuable in this paradigm.

Anyway, if the women profiled by these magazines could choose not to do this kind of photo spread and still make the A-list that would be one thing, but they can't. For them, being commodified isn't a choice, it's a career requirement, and that's an unfortunate state of affairs. Furthermore, the problem highlighted in this piece isn't just the commodification, it's also the hypocritical slut-shaming and condemning of these women for "allowing'" themselves to be objectified. It's the whole victim-blaming, damned if you do and damned if you don't situation, which is far from fabulous.

I think our perception of

I think our perception of agency in celebrity culture is the main problem here. For some reason, we see celebrities as completely autonomous and in control of their own image, when in the reality, there are multiple groups of people that work behind the scenes to shape the way in which the public views a certain celebrity. For some reason, the public always blames the celebrity for flaws and inconsistencies in her image. It's like seeing a swastika on a birthday cake and blaming the cake, not the baker and company that made the cake, or the store for selling the cake, or the culture that has created a market for swastika cakes.

all of these sexist issues

all of these sexist issues are systemic to the whole Bernaysean paradigm of modern pop culture, you can't ask or tell a predatory reptile to go vegan, and hoping and/or demanding that the existing mass media culture become non (or even less) sexist and objectifying is indeed hopeless; exposing and/or waking up to this reality is not about succumbing to fatalism or depression, its about *questioning the legitimacy of mass culture and the unsustainably large scale civilization it stems from in general*.

You morons should be happy,

You morons should be happy, objectifying women serves only to destroy patriarchal values, cheapen the way men view women etc....
Corporations profit from broken family units, so do banks, and international bankers who loan money to our countries who use human beings as loan-collateral.

Bottom line, bitch all you want, the communist idology you all want for true equality is slowly but surely paving its way throughout the western world. Give it another 50 - 80 years unless there's a few more false flag attacks, whereas presidential orders will make it so.

sit back, watch the show. There's nothing much more you can do.

They are both beautiful &

They are both beautiful & beauty is good. It is a problem with western culture that you see a beautiful woman and immediately think of degradation and exploitation. The theme of that interview is beauty causes her problems and people want to punish her for it - and that is exactly what happened!

Beyoncé is not a child...

I don't know enough about Ms Fox, her career or status to comment, but I think this piece infantalises Beyoncé, one of the most powerful women in popular culture.

By now she has enough cash and fame to last a lifetime. Her A-list status is based on her exceptional talent and hard work, she does NOT need to say "yes" to any crap to maintain that. If her agent or publicist tells her to do it, she can get a new one. Lamenting that someone like her "doesn't have much of a choice", presumably because she is a hot bird, makes her a victim when she is not one and pooh-poohs her achievements and the power they have brought her -- if over nothing else, then at least over what kind of photoshoots and interviews she agrees to.

Yes, she has a choice, and this is what she chose to do. What we all think of that is a different matter.

I couldn't agree more. I

I couldn't agree more. I think this is something most people forget. How you acquire the cultural and social capital matters little if what you do with it is progressive in some manner. Beyonce has the power to, if she so chose to, influence attitudes towards female sexuality and still be successful. Her downfall in my eyes is how she only uses this position to reinforce patriarchal values.