Yesterday morning the world was introduced to Taylor Swift, GQ cover girl—and my love for the pop star was instantly knocked down a peg.
A text from my best friend nailed my sentiments exactly: “I mean, whyyyyyy is she doing GQ?”
Swift has already covered Maxim in a move by the magazine to go from “mere spank bank” to culturally relevant and fashion-forward men’s magazine. Her cover wasn’t raunchy at all but instead a brooding, minimally made-up headshot. It led to Maxim being lauded as a new feminist Bible, with a female editor in chief at the helm. One need only take a look at its latest cover or the headlines on the website to see that’s simply not the case.
With a Maxim cover in her back pocket, I shouldn’t be surprised that Swift’s now on GQ. But something about it has really bothered me, enough so that I’m writing this article and stating an opinion a lot of people may not agree with.
I’ve written for Verily about how I’m a self-professed Swiftie. I was reluctant to join the fandom, but her 1989 album was just too much poppy deliciousness for me to dismiss. Swift and I are the same age, and I can relate to many of her song lyrics.
So call me a hypocrite, call me wishy-washy, call me overly critical. But when I saw this GQ cover, I expected more of Swift.
I thought she stood for a new wave of pop stars—women who refuse to be defined by their sexuality, their bodies, and their desirability to men. Because here’s the thing: Swift has proven her intelligence. Just see her op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. She’s shown her sheer fortitude and power—look at how she took on Apple and won. One can’t deny that she is talented. Whether you like her or not, the girl can write a song. She has mastered the influence of social media, and she understands how to utilize her brand better than pretty much anyone else out there today.
Yet Swift’s presence on the cover of GQ makes the statement that these qualities aren’t enough. It’s not enough to be smart, strong, and wildly successful. That to really have an impact, to really make people take notice, she needs to show that she’s sexy, too.
What does it say about the status of our current culture that the arguably most powerful entertainer in the world needs men to want her, too?
Swift’s cover is pretty plain and tasteful, especially given the magazine’s history. And Swift wears less during most of her concerts when she’s in hot pants and crop tops. But the wet hair, the nude skintight dress, the peep of a bikini—they’re all designed to subtly promote her sex appeal. I can imagine the editor sitting in a room saying, “Let’s make her sexy but not *too* sexy. We want to get all her 13-year-old fans to buy her issue, too!”
And that’s a huge part of the problem. You can bet that Swift’s issue will extend beyond the average GQ reader—a well-off, educated, 36-year-old male. When Taylor Swift is front and center at the grocery store checkout line, we all notice. Don’t forget that she’s also Instagram’s most-followed user; her photo is already racking up the likes and has more than 17,000 comments:
What a hottie.
As if I need another reason to look up to her. #fitspiration
LIKE HOW. HONESTLY HOW. GOALS.
Just look at her stomach.
So pretty! You look so in shape!
I never realized how scrawny she is.
I had a similar thought as that last user: Wow, she looks really thin. As a woman who already struggles with being borderline underweight, I am bothered by seeing yet another supermodel-like figure held up as the impossible standard of sexy. Swift may be naturally slim, but her body type is held naturally by a mere 5 percent of the population. It’s just not realistic. Yet people continue to label it as #goals and #fitspiration. Women are already thinking this. The GQ cover perpetuates a damaging cycle.
It will be interesting to see what the magazine that calls itself the authority on men has to say about Swift in its “intense, wide-ranging, Kanye West–inclusive interview” with journalist Chuck Klosterman. One thing is for sure: Men will be paying attention. GQ has seven million print readers (three-quarters of whom are men) and eleven million monthly online visitors. Those are no small numbers to scoff at, a fact that Swift and her team are well aware of. Her cover is a calculated move away from girl-next-door and toward sultry, sexy pinup. It’s the last frontier that Swift needed to cross in order to have “officially done it all.”
And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the sexpot images. I’m tired of the goals mentality. I’m tired of the expectations put on women.
So with a cover line that shouts, “Taylor Swift Rules the World, and We Are Her Loyal Subjects,” I think I’ll pass, thanks.