For many years, I kept a subscription to Esquire and only recently cancelled it late last year. Of course, they’re still emailing me weekly about renewal fees because magazines are so pesky like that. Why did I finally cancel? I got tired of their avant garde interview style, which was disconcertingly juxtaposed with endless cheesecake photo spreads. Esquire’s own, self-desclared motto is “style and substance,” and I was starting to feel that there was far too much style and not enough substance to warrant paying even $1 per issue of their renewal fee. You know that magazines don’t even care about the subscriber revenue anyway — it’s all about total subscriber numbers, which lead to increased advertising dollars. So I counted myself out of their demographic for good.
At any rate, Esquire’s editor-in-chief, Alex Bilmes, recently gave a little speech at a European advertising conference, and he’s attempting to “come clean” in regards to the mag’s treatment of women. If you weren’t already up to date on recent Esquire features on women, just witness the magazine’s absurd recent pictorials of Cameron Diaz, Mila Kunis, Megan Fox, and (to a lesser degree) Rachel Weisz. It must be noted that Cameron was totally down with being photographed by gross Terry Richardson for the magazine and even subsequently declared, “I think every woman does want to be objectified, and I think it’s healthy.” Now Bilmes is freely (and finally) admitting that his publication freely and openly treats women as a means to objectification:
Esquire editor Alex Bilmes has admitted that the magazine uses pictures of “ornamental” women for male readers “in the same way we provide pictures of cool cars.”
Bilmes, who moved from rival men’s title GQ to edit Esquire in 2010, said that his magazine’s policy was “more honest” than that of the women’s magazine industry, which he claimed perpetuate negative images of women.
“The women we feature in the magazine are ornamental,” he said, speaking on a panel at the Advertising Week Europe conference in London on Tuesday. “I could lie to you if you want and say we are interested in their brains as well. We are not. They are objectified.”
Bilmes, speaking on a panel hosted by Cosmopolitan editor Louise Court about feminism in the media and advertising, added that men “see women in 3D” in many different roles in life “but at certain times we like to see them sexy”.
“[Esquire] provide pictures of girls in the same way we provide pictures of cool cars,” he said. “It is ornamental. Women’s magazines do the same thing.”
He said that in his view Esquire was “more honest” than many titles, citing the “anti-feminist” example of a newspaper using a picture of model Naomi Campbell next to a financial story “because she shopped at Marks & Spencer once.”
He argued that Esquire was, in fact, “less rigid” in its portrayal of women than women’s magazines. “We are more ethnically diverse, more shape diverse,” he said. “In fashion magazines women are much thinner. We have older women, not really old, in their 40s.”
He went on to cite the example of actress Cameron Diaz, who is in her 40s, as an “older” women used on the cover of a recent issue of Esquire. “Most women’s magazines don’t put them [older women] in their magazines.”
He said the women’s magazine industry and advertising targeting women were primarily responsible for perpetuating stereotyped and negative images of women.
My knee jerk response to Bilmes’ words was to acknowledge that, hey, at least he’s being honest about his magazine’s objectives in regards to the female species. However, I also conceded that this is also Joe Francis’ rationale in overseeing the “Girls Gone Wild” videos as well. I really don’t want to seem like a prude because I do like a good display of female objectification on occasion. However, why is Esquire so stingy on male candy? Whenever they do a male-oriented feature or cover, we only end up with a dried and withered Sean Penn whining about how women done him wrong.
Regardless of the presence of Penn on Esquire’s recent cover cache, I do have to admit that Bilmes does have a point about women’s magazines. As far as restricting models to a certain age and size, women’s fashion rags are much more discriminating than Esquire could ever manage to be.
Photos courtesy of Esquire