A facial shot of a pop star staring moodily out at the reader, rather than a semi-nude body draped over a car chassis, is not what one usually envisions as the cover choice for Maxim’s Hot 100 list.
The notorious ranking of female flesh has boasted an array of half-naked bodies sprawled in various states of repose, waiting for men to conquest them. But this year, Maxim decided to go in a different direction by declaring Taylor Swift the hottest of them all.
And Swift was photographed in a black top, rather than a bikini, or barely-there-anything. No cleavage, no legs, not even a hint of butt in sight.
The selection was nothing short of surprising considering last year’s choice of Victoria’s Secret Angel Candice Swanepoel, a generically sexy and, thus, rather boringly safe choice.
Even more surprising is that Maxim’s announcement of Swift was accompanied with an interview that included her opinions about feminism. A hot woman with thoughts, thoughts we actually want to listen to? Kudos, Maxim.
Admittedly, Swift didn’t exactly sound like Simone de Beauvoir. She is currently making headlines—and raising some eyebrows—for saying in the interview that “misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they were born.”
While Swift’s claim and her feminist credentials are far from airtight, the fact that the Maxim Hot List is more than pure spankbank material is a marked and curious change.
In fact, the Hot List has been expanded this year to include the hottest in the world of travel, food, drink, and entertainment. Women are not the only ones to be ranked in Maxim’s new conception.
It’s Maxim’s boldest move under Kate Lanphear’s watch. When the former style director at New York Times Style Magazine was announced as the new editor-in-chief of Maxim last year, it was clear the magazine was going to be moving away from the Hooters-esque T&A shots that had become synonymous with the brand.
Right away, Lanphear was questioned about how she would handle the depiction of women.
“I don’t think nudity or semi-nudity should be equated with poor taste. There is certainly a wrong way to depict women and—as a woman and EIC—I’m aware there is a fine line,” Lanphear told Racked in February when her first Maxim issue was revealed. The close-cropped shot of Swanepoel’s face indicated that Lanphear would put her money where her mouth is.
Swift’s Maxim cover plays with our conception of sexy spreads even more. The image emphasizes Swift’s piercing, brooding eyes. The stare is sexy, but almost uncomfortable. There’s too much gravity in the expression to call it flirty or playful.
In short, Swift seems like a woman rather than a set of breasts—and a successful woman, at that.
Maxim’s accompanying gallery slideshow of Swift features shots of her performing, glamming it up on the red carpet, and strolling through the streets of New York. She appears beautiful with perfect hair and makeup, but we see her as a person in action. Swift is not meant to be objectified, but admired.
“My vision is to show women who will be a partner. She’s not oiled up on a surfboard, she’s carrying the surfboard to the back of the truck you’re going to go to Montauk in together,” Lanphear told New York’s The Cut in February. “That’s the fantasy and the aspiration.”
Witnessing the concerted effort of a men’s magazine to find women hot or sexy for qualities other than their cup size is commendable. It is also, potentially, very powerful.
We often forget that publications are not just a reflection of aesthetic values, but they can be definers of it, as well. Heroin chic become its own standard of sexiness in the 1990s because Calvin Klein told us Kate Moss was beautiful, and every magazine clamored to put her on the cover.
Perhaps the pendulum is ever so slightly swinging the other way. By naming Swift as No. 1 on the Hot 100, Maxim is tweaking how we visualize “hot.” She is sexy, no doubt, but the presentation of her beauty is a sharp departure.
For one, Swift is not in a bikini, unlike last year’s winner, Swanepoel, or semi-naked on a motorcycle, like Miley Cyrus was when she received the honor in 2013.
It was hard to notice anything other than Bar Rafaeli’s barely covered breasts when Maxim named her the hottest in 2012.
Maxim is not the only iconic magazine changing its cheesier, sleazier ways thanks to new women taking charge.
Under the helm of Joanna Coles, Cosmopolitan has altered its often-mocked reputation as a women’s guide for fellating your way to “I do.” Now, the publication takes a more worldly, knowing tone and covers more substantive feminist issues.
Despite some heteronormativity issues in the sex tips, Cosmopolitan seems to be making an earnest effort to appeal to smarter readers, or perhaps, raise their readers’ consciousness.
This is not to say that Maxim is smashing their male readers’ conception of hotness.
Swift is still svelte, toned, and tanned. I wonder if Maxim would have been bold enough to not only change its style of Hot 100 photos, but to more defiantly expand what a woman can look like to be considered hot.
Sure, Maxim makes it clear that Swift wasn’t merely chosen for her pretty face. Profile author Jessica Roy champions Swift as “dazzling, self-assured, and ferociously talented.” She praises Swift for being “deeply unconcerned with whether or not you consider her attractive, which of course only makes her more so.” Swift’s bestie, Lena Dunham, fits that bill, arguably all the more so. Why not choose her, Maxim?
The magazine also plays up the selection of Swift by claiming she is the “most relevant and intriguing woman.” I’m sorry, Maxim, but nobody believes Swift is the most relevant and intriguing woman alive.
Of course, the woman who is actually the most relevant and intriguing (Hillary Clinton) would be wildly inappropriate for Maxim. But what about Amy Schumer, a comedian whose show sparks nuanced debates about feminism and objectification each week?
Maxim made a positive change, but it and many other magazines can do more to improve the way we idolize and glorify women. We should push harder at the conceptions of what makes a person “hot” or “sexy.” Swift is a bold choice for Maxim, but the bar was also set pretty low.
When Tina Fey posed for another men’s magazine, Esquire, in 2010, she dismissed the claim she was the sex symbol thinking men craved.
“What I’ve come to realize is that when people say, ‘The thinking man’s whatever’—there’s no such thing,” she said. “The thinking man also wants to fuck Megan Fox.”