In this month’s GQ magazine, there is a racy photo spread featuring the stars of ‘Glee’ by lecherous fashion photographer Terry Richardson. The two actresses who were photographed, Lea Michele and Dianna Agron are both Jewish, and seem to be having a grand ole time flaunting their fortunate Hebraic genes all around the school locker room.
Because the actresses play high school students on TV (in real life, they are 24), the photos have sparked moral outrage. High school students, the thinking goes, shouldn’t seductively suck lollipops or expose hints of thigh usually covered by underwear elastic. The photos are not beautiful, or even all that interesting. There are probably 8 zillion more glamorous poses they could have struck, but GQ wanted sleazy and sleazy is what they delivered.
Agron, who plays Quinn Fabray on “Glee” took to her blog to clear her conscience. She wrote:
In the land of Madonna, Britney, Miley, Gossip Girl, other public figures and shows that have pushed the envelope and challenged the levels of comfort in their viewers and fans…we are not the first. Now, in perpetuating the type of images that evoke these kind of emotions, I am sorry. If you are hurt or these photos make you uncomfortable, it was never our intention.
Agron added that she grew up “very sheltered” and unaware of “anything provocative or risque in the media”, explaining, “[w]hen I was finally allowed to watch a movie like Grease, I did not even understand what on earth Rizzo was talking about!?” Agron said she understood that young children with internet access might stumble upon these photos but that “there are parental locks” that can help shield young eyes from such scandalous sights.
“I am twenty-four years old,” she wrote. “I have been a pretty tame and easy-going girl my whole life. Nobody is perfect, and these photos do not represent who I am.”
But that’s where Agron is wrong.
The photos are tasteless, yes, but not because they’re inappropriate. Let’s face it Parents Television Council, high school students do worse things than feign fellatio on lollipops. The photos are problematic because they conjure hyper-sexualized images of teenage girls. And they don’t just represent Agron, they represent all high school-aged girls, and ultimately, women. I don’t see Cory Monteith having to run around in his thigh-highs.
When Agron suggests the photos are merely edgy, she’s missing the point. What Britney and Miley were doing was not “pushing the envelope”; they were sucked into a culture that hyper-sexualizes females starting from a very young age. And as long as teenagers feel they have to do that and look like that to be attractive—or really, accepted—no woman is safe.
When I asked the iconic feminist Gloria Steinem last Spring if it bothered her that her beauty has played a role in her success—after all, her breakthrough journalism story required her to go undercover as a Playboy bunny—she said, “The basic problem is that women are assessed by how we look. The problem for all women is we’re identified by how we look instead of by our heads and our hearts.” In other words, how women appear is still, unfortunately, more important and certainly more powerful than what women do. So if two successful actresses don’t have the gall to tell a men’s magazine “no”—how can society expect high school girls to do any differently? Give them what they want, right?
Only, there’s a lot more at stake when you’re 15, and you don’t know who you are, and all you want in the world is to be acknowledged. It isn’t playful in high school; it isn’t theatrical. It’s real.