Guest Blogger: Stephen Raulli

Like a Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone–the Godfather of music magazines. A sign of making it in the music industry is landing on the coveted cover. The magazine is so iconic that it transcends music borders. It touches politics, the economy, pop culture, and film, among other things. The one consistent trend I’ve noticed, though? Female singers nearly naked should they land the prestigious cover.

In all forms of entertainment, they say talent always shines through. When Gabourey Sidibe broke out in Hollywood she was like a breath of fresh air. But, if talent really is the trump card to everything, why, then, did Christina Aguilera, who at only 29 is already on first-name recognition with Mariah and Whitney with those powerhouse vocals, pose like this?

Actually, this is tame compared to her “Dirrrty” days. Remember?

Aguilera always claimed female empowerment as she was being raked over the coals for her new provocative image. But, “empowerment” has come to mean different things–especially with women. Is taking your clothes off the ultimate statement now?

If so, then what are these women saying? The nearly-nude aren’t much more than reaffirming that sex sells. Fergie, if you read her interviews, is a cool, intelligent girl with a good head on her shoulders. She comes off as genuine and someone you could sit and chat with. But, her ultimate claim to fame? “My Humps.”

The past few years we have seen a number of young women break out quickly in the music industry. This past summer Katy Perry made the blogs explode when she called Lady Gaga’s video for “Alejandro” ‘blasphemous.’ That’s her opinion; her right to speak out. She later said she was a Gaga fan, and had nothing but respect for her. So, here we have a free-speaking woman with a good sense of herself.

It’s a woman’s prerogative to take her clothes off. It is a form of empowerment. It used to be illegal for women to wear dresses above the knees. But is it really shocking anymore? Above, we see Perry sans clothing. Empowerment, or marketing? After all, she was promoting an album.

Then we have Lady Gaga, who has risen further in the music industry faster than any other artist I’ve seen. When she first made it big, we had this:

Both an homage to her iconic bubble dress and a way to draw attention to her sexuality (“Poker Face” would hit airwaves a few months later). I get it. But, two years later, we have this:

Not so much shocking as it is tiresome. We’ve seen this before. What’s the statement? Is she speaking out against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell? I was more offended that the BP oil disaster and the firing of Obama’s general got the prestigious place next to her butt. But then again: sex sells.

Maybe I’m looking too much into it. But I can’t help it. The nearly-naked woman on Rolling Stone has almost become a cliche. But, if it is to happen, let’s get people talking. Remember this?

Try and label her stupid but Britney is in damn good control of her image. Even back in 2007 when she was having the meltdown of epic proportions, she knew how to recover afterwards. Look at this cover, and try and persuade me it’s not her standing strong, taking back her life:

Even America’s sex goddess can make a statement and remain empowered–and fully clothed. I don’t mean to say, ‘women should be clothed!’ It’s their right to do as they please. But look at some covers of men, and you’ll see they remembered to get dressed–even when they’re selling sex.

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16 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Stephen Raulli

  1. Kathryn Bowering says:

    Ah, nude women and magazine covers…a combination as classic as pb & j. I kid, I kid–sort of. I find this post very smart, and it brings up an issue that I have been thinking about a lot recently.

    Let me ground this in my own life. As a dance major, performativity and the female body is deeply ingrained in everything I do in the studio and on stage. Just think–every single time we create a new piece, we must carefully consider the fact that we are making a statement with our bodies. But what are we trying to say? It’s impossible to ignore the different implications that female vs. male dancers, costuming choices, even music, have on the audience’s interpretations.

    Enter my independent study this semester, where I am studying female gender archetypes in literature and the media and transposing these meanings into choreography. This is a difficult task on its own, and the fact that dancing bodies carry their own meanings and messages makes it all the more challenging. In other words, there is no such thing as a “blank canvas” to start with, because my “tools” (the dancers) are already gendered and already represent ideas of sexuality, power, etc. So, do I fight these pre-existing factors? Try and ignore them? Even exaggerate them? I guess it all depends on what I’m trying to say to the audience.

    The difficulty lies in the fact that embracing female sexuality can be either empowering or objectifying (or maybe both?), depending on how it is done and depending on who is watching. One viewer might be offended, while another is impartial, while another is downright turned on. At the end of the day, being sexy is fun, but the multiplicity of meanings that are attached to it cannot and should not be ignored.

  2. Sarah Canavan says:

    Anyone read Cosmo? The biggest women’s magazine around, and yet the main topic is how to make yourself more appealing to men. “10 things your guy wants to try but would never tell you,” “The naughtiest bedroom tricks that will drive him crazy.” OK, I made those up, but they’re exactly what Cosmo is all about. The cover is always a feature of a “fun, fearless woman” but one of the questions on the Cosmo Quiz that the celebrities fill out is “What’s your favorite body part?” I guess it’s not THAT big of a deal, but you’d be surprised how many of these “awesome women” that Cosmo features choose “D. My boobs.” In fact, did you ever wonder why Cosmo’s cover is required to be covered up when it’s on the rack in grocery store lines? It’s because the cover photos and the headlines are too sex-y to be appropriate for soccer moms and their trail of kids in the grocery line. Next time you’re there, take a look. All you’ll see is “Cosmopolitan” across the top. The rest will be covered.

    As for female empowerment, can you argue that female empowerment is whatever makes that particular female feel empowered? Or is it collective? We are empowered. I’m not sure how empowered I am by seeing Christina naked on the cover of Rolling Stone, but if it makes her feel empowered… Who am I to say that it’s not acceptable? What is the demographic of Rolling Stone? I can’t say that I personally read it, but I know, obviously, that millions of people do. But who are they?

    As for men selling sex fully clothed, I think you have to take into account that men have not historically been branded as sex objects. Open up a Cosmo, and there are plenty of naked men because Cosmo is selling sex exclusively to women. (And honestly, the cover of Men’s Health is always of a sexy guy with his shirt off…) I really like Kathryn’s term “multiplicity of meanings.” Great way to put it. You have to think about audience, producer (what the naked person is feeling about their presentation of themselves), etc.

    I just watched the season finale of Community for the first time and Brita, one of the main characters who’s always all about female empowerment had a great quote that’s entirely relevant. She was nominated for community college prom queen and when another woman asked her what she thought of prom queen since she was all about female empowerment she responded, “What’s more empowering than a woman in a crown?”

    • I’m not saying if these shots are empowering or not. it’s up to the woman being photographed. It’s the trend on this particular magazine that I’ve noticed. The demographic is pretty evenly split between men and women, ages 18-49. So, why is it when a woman is on the cover she’s down to her underwear? Women read the magazine as well. I find the trend tiresome–especially that it’s a music magazine. It’s hypocritical for artists to say “Focus on the music” but then pose like this. Seeing this is just tiresome–we’ve seen it before. What grabs attention is when a woman is clothed. And I agree–men are sex objects elsewhere, but not in this magazine. The covers seem to imply that for a woman to land the prestigious cover, the clothes need to come off. Even if they’re established. Cosmo and Men’s Health are entirely different magazines and different content–which could make up their own blog posts in and of themselves. I did notice that Cosmo was covered. Ironically enough me and the ppl waiting in line made casual conversation about it–how Cosmo was covered but “Brad and Angie’s Sex Secrets” were free to see on the tabloids.

  3. Kylie B. says:

    The images for this blog post depict a newer generation of women. Not only are these women empowering the music industry, they are also showing their sexuality to the world. If we look closely at the images above all the women on the magazine covers are the “ideal” type of woman. Tall, slender, and curvy in the sense of having breasts, hips and a butt. This to me screams objectification.

    As we briefly discussed in WMST 100, objectification or issues with body image, are a huge ordeal in the third wave of feminism and the 21st century. For younger girls that look up to these celebrities and music artists, is this saying that in order for them to gain fame or friendship they need to flaunt their bodies? For example, my best friends 5-year-old sister is infatuated by Lady Gaga, she knows all her songs and yells the lyrics along with us when we go on road trips. But should a 5-year-olds role model really be someone who wears basically nothing on a magazine cover or struts an open Yankees jersey and bikini top at a baseball game? Something tells me no. Remembering back to when I was younger, the media went crazy when Brittany Spears came out with her ‘Baby one more time’ video and chose to wear a suggestive school girl outfit (which if we recall is no where near the images on the cover of Rolling Stone).

    In response to the last image of Brittany Spears in this post, this seems to be truly empowering. She is still “sexy” and “beautiful” but can display this with wearing more than just a bra and underwear or without having the look of enhanced breasts or butt (the first image of Christina Aguilera or the “gun” image of Gaga). To me, some of these images scream photoshop. Remembering back to my WRRH 100 class, the media loves to alter images to favor what we believe to be the ideal body type.

    What happened to “real women” showing off who they really are? That said, December 2008 issue of Brittany Spears is what we should be seeing on the shelves. Sex can still sell, it is just a matter of drawing the line at what is too much.

  4. Ashley Yang says:

    I love this post because it brings up another topic that comes up every year around this time, as predictable as the ambulances in the JPR parking lot on the first weekend of the school year: Slutty halloween costumes. Try finding an adult female costume that ISN’T low-necked and short-skirted. Practically everything comes with fishnets. Even innocent Disney princesses can become sex fantasies on the 31st of October. Last year there was a very good article in “martini” (If I do say so myself) on the topic. I wish I could remember who wrote it to give them due credit, but it discussed whether scanty costumes were playing into society’s sexualizing of women, or actually a counter-culture statement of female empowerment. It’s something to think about–whether we’re dancing, as Kathryn pointed out, or picking out our costumes for next month.

  5. Allison May says:

    I really enjoyed this post. After reading it, I decided to do a little research. I looked at the types of covers that feature leading men in the music industry today. And although these men aren’t scantily clad (in most cases…), their appearances certainly epitomize how the ultimate macho American man should look. Yeah, I get it. It’s rock music. But the Jonas Brothers in matching tight leather jackets? Come on. Most covers featured men either flaunting their various tattoos or shoving their bling in your face as if to say, “yeah, I made it. Don’t you wish you were me?”

    I mean, look…I am not saying that we shouldn’t look up to these people- of course we should! They are talented and fabulous. All I’m saying is that it would be nice to see more covers which show strong independent women, like the 2008 Britney cover in Stephen’s post, and covers featuring men that don’t look like they are going to kill you with their death stares. I know rock music is all about being tough and rugged, but a smile once in a while wouldn’t do any harm. And how about covers featuring men and women together, just playing music? After all, wasn’t Rolling Stone originally solely a music magazine? Bring back the cover with Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar on stage.

    As an afterthought, I just wanted to say something else regarding this post and Sarah’s response. Yeah, I understand that sex sells, but I really wish that the women featured on the covers of Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan were seen as sexy for reasons other than their lack of clothing. For example, I’d like to call attention to my favorite magazine…Nylon. It features fashion, music, art, and culture but most importantly, its cover is always adorned with powerful women actually wearing more than lingerie. Looking at the three issues I have in my room right now, these women (M.I.A., Drew Barrymore and Jessica Szohr to be exact) all look great. They are standing their own and reminding us that they don’t have to be described by the words “dirty” and “naughty” to be on the cover of a magazine. In fact, I even have an old issue of Nylon at home which features cover girl Megan Fox in a flannel shirt and denim cutoffs (not Daisy dukes, either). I don’t even really like the girl, but it was nice to see the woman that most men would call their “sexual icon” looking like the average American teenager.

  6. levenstein says:

    I’m really not a fan of magazines because in my experience there are usually more pictures than words. Ads for things such as clothes, makeup, and movies outnumber the real stories. But it’s also important to note that a story can never sit alone- it has to be accompanied by about 10 photos of the same person. I personally think the pictures seem louder than the words because they essentially place the subject on a pedestal and glamorize them. The accompanying story could be about the person’s downfall, however if there is a pretty picture next to it the reader sees beyond the story.

    Sarah’s comment about Comso is an important one- magazines target a female audience by advertising ways in which they can appeal to the male audience. The best way to appeal? Be sexual. Just as Stephen emphasizes, every woman placed on the cover of Rolling Stone is displayed sexually. And this is easily done with minimal clothing. I’m sure the magazine company has enough money to clothe these musicians, thus this cannot be the reason by they are unclothed. I’m sure if we were to look at the number of men who purchase Rolling Stone magazine it would be significantly higher than the number of women purchasers. Let’s imagine if the musicians were completely clothes with sweater, jeans, and all. Would the magazine sell? Probably not.

    In the 2007 issue with Britney Spears, she certainly is more clothed than other featured artists, however there is still something striking about this image. I notice a few things right away. First of all, her shirt could be full length, it’s just been rolled up. If you’re going to show some stomach then just wear a shirt that’s intended for this purpose. Also, her hand is pulling her pants down only sightly enough for the audience to see a hint of her tattoo. I think this is certainly suggestive of something sexual. She may be implying “hey, I won’t show you everything so come find out for yourself.”

    Every single artist that Stephen included in this post has been incredibly successful in the music industry. People already like them for their music, so why do they also have to be liked for their bodies? Our culture is too fixated on sexuality and I can see it getting in the way of what is really important. The day I see a woman on the cover of Rolling Stone COMPLETELY clothed (no stomach, cleavage, butt cheeks) I will buy it. But until then, I cannot support such a display.

  7. This is a great post. Gender, sexuality, and media all rolled into one.

    I agree with Sarah’s point about Christina posing essentially naked on the cover of “Rolling Stone.” I definitely do not feel empowered – probably more self-conscious of my own body to be honest – but who am I to tell her she can’t do that. If she truly feels like an empowered woman, that’s fantastic. But, I feel like she, and all the other females on the cover, is playing into the “sex sells” and “give the audience what they want” mindset.

    I agree that all of the covers, expect for the second Brittany one, contain the connotations of hyper-sexuality and objectification. In this discussion, however, it’s important to note the social constraints of this institution (the media). At the end of the day, the publication must make money, whether it’s through soliciting ads, offering a special online deal, or through its print subscriptions. In order to capitalize and make money, the creators of a product – like “Rolling Stone” for example – must know their readers and what they want. Most of the people I know who read “Rolling Stone” are male, so obviously a practically naked music star on the cover is going to sell magazines and yield a profit.

    In this example, there are two institutions operating: the media and beauty. Both are socially constructed, and each affects the other. Beauty influences the media, and the media reproduces images of “ideal” beauty. Kylie touched on this in her comment: “The media loves to alter images to favor what we believe to be the ideal body type.”

  8. oliviacarb says:

    What’s important to think about in regards to these covershoots is the context in which they occurred. A few months ago I read an article (written by a man) about Lady Gaga and her “methods.” She plans all of them. Every photoshoot, every song, every “statement piece” she is wearing out in public is deliberate and an extension, an expression of her self – she view her body, her songs, her overall existence as “art.” Now what we define “art” as will vary but what’s important to understand that while we may feel that her being scantily clad all over town and magazine covers is “objectifying” women it is merely her form of self-expression and thus, personally empowering (for her at least). The author of this article was clearly bias when he recounted an instance where Gaga’s vision was being compromised. She was disagreeing with the photographer on the placement of a giant black dildo. The author described her as being “childish” “bratty” “demanding.” Why the fuck wouldn’t she be? It’s her god damn photoshoot and she is trying to represent herself, “create art” in a way she sees fit. If this were a man getting dramatic over the placement of the dildo he would most likely be regarded as “aggressive” “confident in his decisions” etc etc.

    But this is just the context of a Lady Gaga photoshoot – where she is in full control. So what we need to think about is who is making these decisions? Who’s idea is it to go almost-nude on the cover of Rolling Stone? If it is the cover-star herself then by all means, get after it. If it’s the male photographer suggesting she perhaps squeeze her boobs together a little more and suck her stomach in, then the starlet is merely allowing herself to concede to the idea of the “male gaze”. During the Enlightenment in Paris we had the “dandy” who waltzed around town all day checking out women. Women at this time were confined to the private realm so if they were in fact seen outside of the domestic sphere she was most likely going to be mistaken for a prostitute… now its female celebrities on magazine covers. The Rolling Stone was most likely aimed towards a male demographic and the women on the cover are going to reflect the demand for “the gaze.” They want to look at sexy women, they aren’t going to buy the magazine if the woman is wearing a floorlength turtle neck tunic. Female entertainers have been grappling with the issue of how to express their sexuality since the days of “dirrty.” In the early 2000s it was all about looking skanky, gyrating on other girls, smeared makeup, sweat, etc. then the girls realized that perhaps they wanted to be a bit more refined so they went for the “betty paige” pin-up girl look around 2005. Now we are in a new phase, one that is just downright absurd and I’m going to attribute it to Lady Gaga being sooo “avant garde” and “daring” with her “fashion choices” … it’s all about shock value. Look at Rihanna, Christina’s new music video, and that girl who played Cindy Lou Woo… S&M, DOMINATRIX style. I understand wanting to flaunt your perfect body and stick-it-to-the-man by overdramatizing your sexuality… but we must also think about the message we’re sending to everyone else which is where being “empowered” is bittersweet. It’s almost as if we’re letting men drink it up without really altering their understanding of the message we’re trying to send.

  9. PJ says:

    I just read the blog about women trying to gain equal status with men. They are equals and need to stop being objectified and treated as sex-objects. I agree, i think that is wrong, very wrong in fact. BUT! How do women plan on gaining this equal status/ non-sex object status when they are having pictures of themselves half naked everywhere? Biologically men are attracted to women in a different way women are attracted to men, lets face it. Through evolution, male mammals (humans) seek the best of the best females to mate with and many will go from female to female. I don’t think this how we should do it in our society, I believe in relationships and faithfulness. Women have the children and are their source for survival (9 months in womb, breast feeding, etc.) When Christina Aguilera has pictures of herself holding her naked boobs, men don’t say “o good for her, she is empowering herself and all women”. they say, “damn, what a body” and not how she is forwarding herself somehow in society. Yes it may seem gross but that is human nature, men have testosterone, that is a fact.

    And do not make it seem like “well if she decides to do it it’s fine, but if the photograper suggests it thats bullshit”. They can choose whether or not they want to be naked. We have created a society where sex does sell, partly from men being “pigs”, and partly from women wanting to feel “empowered” or trying to make it big in hollywood so they get naked cause thats the fastest way to move up.

    This whole “being empowered” feeling could be accomplished in other ways, like maybe how Hillary became a Senator, then the head of state. Thats a feeling of empowerment huh? I sure think so, and don’t say well its hard for women because she almost became President and if the president and vice president die she is president. (I think that is the order, i could be wrong so disregard that if you want.) Blacks have been oppressed and there is now a half white, half black president and numerous blacks holding high political positions, dominating in sports, business industry, music, etc… they didn’t have to get naked, well some probably did, but you get the point.

  10. Nick says:

    There are certainly a lot of good comments about this piece. I think that, like a few people have said, it is simply Rolling Stone using the female body the way that it has been being used for years. And it is a little strange because it is a music magazine, but it must work. It is a popular magazine and as was mentioned a variety of demographics read it, so clearly it is something a lot of people enjoy seeing. I do not personally read this magazine, so I guess I really do not care what is on the cover, but I also see nothing wrong with the image these women are displaying. Maxim is a magazine that always has a female on the front dressed down for the shoot. Maybe it is like the male from of cosmo, I don’t know. I think that doing this must give the women doing it some kind of joy, because they get most of the famous women to do it eventually

  11. Chris Bramwell says:

    As you mentioned, a woman’s choice to show herself any way she chooses is her own prerogative. After all, there isn’t a gun to anyone’s head forcing women to show off their body the way they do. Even the argument that the “label makes them do it,” holds no relevance – fact: anyone who is considered for a rolling stone magazine cover controls what he or she wears.

    Now down to my point, sex sells. We know this, and it is a simple and plain concept. Depicting mostly naked women is not revolutionary, but manipulating it is as effective as bribing children with candy; with the right kind and amount, you can get pretty much any child to do just about anything (including talking to strangers, jokes) The same is true with adults and sex. I’m sure there is plenty of empirical evidence to support this theory. I’m sure lots of men buy these magazines…for the “articles,” and I’m sure lots of women model their clothing choices after the “written descriptions” found on page 6…In the age we live in sex is everywhere. Anyone can goggle any of these pop stars to see pictures of them parading around mostly naked, or turn on MTV or VH1 to find the same sort of deal.

    Every one of these women made the rhetorical choice (or had this choice made for them by their agents before they made it big) to show off their body. Including Britney who has the most reserved cover on Rolling Stones that I’ve ever seen – yet, even that is riddled with sex. Who knew that just above her vagina there was this “cute” tattoo? Hmm…..

    Other stars like Fantasia would NEVER go on a cover of Rolling Stones dressed lewdly. It would ruin her fan base, since hers is mostly conservative religious affiliates, while ever other star in this post is focused on a broader audience – most of horny America. If we saw Lady Gaga in a nun’s outfit, we’d assume it was some elaborate scheme that will eventually end in a bikini, and possibly a snake (just because it’s her)…. Whereas if we saw Fantasia, we’d think nothing of it. Sex is a rhetorical choice that artists make at some point in their careers, and it is also a continual choice. However, why would a given artist choose a more pious route if money keeps pouring in, and he/she is okay with the (im) morality of portraying yourself as a sex symbol?

  12. stinger10 says:

    For many people (at least for me) a successful diet is a dream. Sticking to a regular workout plan is exhausting as well as time consuming. Spending countless money on cosmetics, hair, nails, and waxing burns a huge hole through most pockets. Being able to compete with the physical looks of mainstream media stars and models is a figment of most of our imaginations. For most, either of these categories are extremely difficult to reach. For a few, it can be done. For an even more select few, they can all be done. The living proof can be found on the covers of many magazines. Personally, I would be very proud of myself for reaching any one of my physical goals. Imagine you accomplished all of them! Imagine you were given a chance to show everybody the outcome of your hard work! Imagine you were given the cover of a magazine to show yourself off to millions! Some people do not need to imagine this, they get to live it. Can you really blame the people that get this chance of a lifetime? You can bet your last dollar that I would be naked wearing only rain boots and yellow kitchen gloves if it would get me on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine.

    I don’t think these pin up photos are meant to mean anything other than… “If you got it, flaunt it”

  13. Isaias says:

    Yall know I love me some women! I was saying in another post that I just wrote women need to get a little edge (bisexuality) in order to survive within the music industry or any big time corporation for that reason. I don’t think this is fair but it is how the cookie crumbles. However, the only way for the females to keep their buzz to keep ringing is to do something out of the ordinary which may mean showing a little skin. Lets face it, when I have gone to clubs, bars, and or parties good looking women that are showing their cleavage typically get in first. Sex does sell and men want to see good looking girls around them. What do you guys think?

  14. Gian Contro says:

    I agree with Stephen that sex sells. Whether these women choose to pose like this because they want to or the want to make some cash. Rolling Stone needs to sell issues so they can make money and people will definitely pick up an issue with a half naked hottie on the front of it. People are attracted to this type of advertisement you cannot deny that. If you had two Rolling Stone covers one with the masked madmen from Slipknot on it and another with Lady Gaga it obvious which one is going to be purchased more. So Rolling Stone chooses Gaga so they can have more sales that month and higher profit. Then look at the people who are on the covers. Is Lady Gaga posing with machine guns on her bra so people will pick up the magazine, read about her then go buy her cd or because she actually likes doing it. Back to the point that sex sells. Now if you had Slipknot on the cover most people would not find them sexy and stray away from the magazine leading them from not being able to learn about the awesome band and definitely not going out and buying their cd. There is a relationship you can see that Rolling Stone will target these good looking pop artist and give them a racy cover and the artist will obliged and do the photo shoot because they know there is a greater financial gain in it for them.

  15. mike says:

    I agree with Isaias that sex does sell and I am a fan of the magazine covers, but I am a little iffy about the idea that women absolutely have to show some skin to become successful and keep their status up. not all advertisement has to portray sex appeal in order to thrive though it is the most common way. there are many women that have found ways around the pressure of the media to “show some skin” and still hold power as PJ has stated. there is no rule stating women have to get naked if they want to succed in our society. You dont see female politicians ( well except sarah palin but i wont go there) exposing their bodies to the media and they hold just as powerful roles in society as men. to some women sophistication is a better way to go than sex appeal.

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