April
24th 2013
Dear Elle Magazine,

Posted under: American history, art, Gender, the body, women's history

In an article praising Kim Gordon’s feminist credentials and history of helping other feminist musicians, don’t you think that you could have run a photo of her wearing something on the bottom?  The photo of her is very flattering, especially considering that you report that she is now 59 years old.  But, honestly:  how many high-status men in their 50s or 60s are featured wearing only panties in glossy magazines like yours?

Just askin’,

Historiann

p.s.  For those of you interested in the politics of size and beauty in women’s lives, don’t miss Haley Morris-Cafiero‘s essay in Salon, “Pictures of People Who Mock Me,” which describes her photo series called “Wait Watchers.”  Morris-Cafiero is an Assistant Professor and Head of Photography at the Memphis College of Art.

15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Dear Elle Magazine,”

  1. Indyanna on 24 Apr 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Stupefying! The pants-less thing would actually make a great deal more narrative and analytic sense for a _Fortune_ piece about someone like Jamie Dimon, of Citibank, after his “London Whale” dood threw away not only the firm’s metaphorical shirt, but also dropped its allegorical trou. Also, I haven’t read into it, but what think about this Dove (beauty products) campaign built around artists’ sketches based on self-description and externally-sourced description? It’s getting a lot of play, and there has to be a bunch of ideology in there. Beyond the obvious “you STILL need our soap products” angle.

  2. truffula on 24 Apr 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    The picture kinda fits the article if you ask me. Gordon’s quotes are great but the article itself is weird praise. Too much “don’t hate me because I’m feminist.”

    the refreshingly girly bedroom of their teenage daughter, Coco

    the ultimate hipster Renaissance woman I aspired to be, a feminist rebel who could make avant-garde art all day, then cook a killer dinner for her family at night.

    “Kim comes off all cool and badass, but she’s really sweet and gentle and feminine,” longtime friend Sofia Coppola says, praising Gordon’s ability to draw power from vulnerability.

    Bleh.

  3. Historiann on 24 Apr 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    Yeah, I know–all of the effort made to feminize her & reassure us that she’s all girl: barf. But I think that’s the author’s & editor’s bag, not Gordon’s.

    Yes, she agreed to the interview and posed for that photo, but she’s in a business in which publicity of any kind is necessary. We don’t know what other outfits she was also photographed in–maybe that was one pose out of 100, and that’s the one that got picked. Someone at Elle chose that photo, just as the author made her own choices, perhaps with the guidance of an editor.

  4. Matt_L on 25 Apr 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Historiann, I think you hit the nail on the head in your comment @ 6.42. The images selected by for the article and the prose that ultimately ended up on the page are the responsibility of the editor and the art director. Kim Gordon (or her agent) might have had a chance to put her two cents in, but there is no chance that she would have had the final say.

    Second, I also think that there might be a bit of baby boomer condescension to the punk rockers here. I wonder if the editors or Elle would have done (or have done?) the same thing to either Linda Ronstadt or Barbra Streisand?

    The last time I saw a major female star posing in a business suit on top and her underwear on the bottom was in a playboy profile of Debora Winger twenty years ago. So since when did the conventions of pr0n slide over into the mainstream fashion press?

    Finally, Kim Gordon is bad ass for what she has done and continues to do for music.

  5. J. Otto Pohl on 25 Apr 2013 at 9:52 am #

    Your edit of the photo is a lot sexier than the actual one. I was picturing something a lot skimpier and pink. Sometimes more is less.

  6. Historiann on 25 Apr 2013 at 10:05 am #

    Heh. I think you’re right, Otto, but I think implicitly humiliating Gordon and making her conform to the prevailing conventions for exploiting women’s bodies was the more important goal.

    Matt: great points. Pr0n culture is pervasive, everywhere. You should read Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy to see her analysis, and her amazement that it’s women as well as men who are mainstreaming pR0n values and aesthetics.

    But, at age 59, Gordon is herself a baby boomer.

    Finally, for more on the domination of antifeminist values in publishing, see Tenured Radical’s post today, for sure.

  7. truffula on 25 Apr 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    The photo just echoes the “strength through vulnerability” trope.

  8. Western Dave on 25 Apr 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    The pose and outfit are similar to some of the most famous photographs of Gordon such as the fringe dress http://i.huffpost.com/gen/538410/thumbs/r-KIM-GORDON-STYLE-large.jpg. My first reaction was, “I’ve seen this shot before.” I’m not a huge Sonic Youth fan but I have seen them in concert and am familiar enough with them like anyone who listened to “college music” in the 80s. I think the photo is supposed to be a take on the earlier Gordon photos in the same pose but now without guitar. But I also think it falls flat. I don’t know if I would like it better with guitar, or in an outfit from a different period of the band. Or if they had just gone in a different direction entirely.

  9. Historiann on 26 Apr 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Good pickup! I like the fringe skirt–it’s rather dignified, compared to the underpants in this photo.

    I guess that’s the thing that chaps my a$$. It’s just undignified for women of any age to be shown in their underwear. Historically in early America and the United States, it’s only low-status women (enslaved women, Native American women, and white prostitutes) who are portrayed in engravings, photographs, or paintings in the nude or partially undressed.

  10. Western Dave on 26 Apr 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    That’s underpants?!!!? Now I’m just creeped out. I thought it was some sort of high concept fashion piece from her new line.

  11. quixote on 27 Apr 2013 at 8:29 am #

    (The link to Tenured Radical’s article goes to a “page not found.” Not your fault. It does this also when trying to reach it from The Chronicle’s main page. Any idea what’s going on?)

  12. Historiann on 27 Apr 2013 at 10:04 am #

    quixote–it worked for me just now–maybe there was an issue with the Chronicle server? And Western Dave: I can’t say whether or not the bottoms Gordon is wearing are intended to serve as underwear or not, but I have a drawerful of things like that, and they’re underpants to me.

  13. Monocle Man on 27 Apr 2013 at 10:27 am #

    My monocle almost fell out when I read this. Rock and roll equals sex and Kim Gordon equals rock and roll Q.E.D. The Wikipedia photo from 2005 shows her in a most athletic position and you can see that performing this sort of propulsive, manic, and most of all electric music night after night has kept her in remarkable shape.

    Can there be any doubt that Ms. Gordon is the most towering and inspirational female figure in the history of rock music? Her unconventional and wide-ranging vocal style was the perfect complement to the myriad alternate tunings deployed by Sonic Youth, and her cryptic poetry reflected a refreshingly diverse and profound attitude towards womanhood, not that I know anything about that, but still.

    I could go all “I was there first” and point to the haunting “Shadow of a Doubt” from 1986, a direct homage to Patricia Highsmith presented with an equally murderous aesthetic.

    But to me Kim’s shining moment will always be 1992′s “Shoot”, a song about a woman possibly killing her abusive partner before aborting their unborn child, but written with an unexpected emphasis on the interaction between the two of them beforehand. Her presentation of the complexity of the human condition was a perfect match for the polyphonous but always melodic strains of one of the greatest bands of all time.

  14. quixote on 27 Apr 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    (Seems to be an issue with Firefox. Works in Chromium. I wonder why the Chronicle hates Firefox?)

  15. The I'm Too Busy to Blog Post: Fat Armpits, Supreme Court Mulligans, and Mad Men's Recent History - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education on 30 Apr 2013 at 7:06 am #

    [...] beauty that are designed to produce mass anxiety and body shame? (See Historiann on this very topic here.) And has anyone but me noticed that it is no longer okay for celebrities to just get pregnant and [...]