Maas and Gustavsson photographed by Steven Meisel in "Rebel Yell"

Maas and Gustavsson photographed by Steven Meisel in “Rebel Yell” Vogue, May 2013

It used to be that you could look forward to seeing a beautiful bouquet of nipples in Paris Vogue. But with the end of Carine Roitfeld’s tenure those buds were were largely hidden under fashionable foliage of all types. Conversely, American Vogue, under the watchful eye of Anna Wintour since 1989, has been consistently covered up. But it seems Wintour has decided that 2013 is the year that nipples will appear sans pudeur in the magazine’s pagesNow while French Vogue seems taken by a wave of conservativism, American Vogue is flaunting its liberal leanings and liberating breasts. (Don’t worry, Paris Vogue still has nudity, just much less than before.) This dénouement seems to be part of several conversations all taking place quite recently.

Since February the NYPD recognizes that arresting women for toplessness is gender discrimination. As described on Firstpost, women are now empowered to decide for themselves whether or not their breasts are considered private or intimate parts of their anatomy.

Not long after, on February 24, 2013 Seth McFarlane sang the now famous “We Saw Your Boobs” illustrating that although women may have the power to decide whether or not their breasts are “intimate” parts of their anatomy, they have no control over the objectification of their bodies. An actress may reveal her breasts in a non-sexual situation (or a sexual situation) in a movie, but McFarlane illustrates that the  is immaterial to the viewer who can take the image out of the context of the movie and objectify it. MacFarlane’s song says, “Angelina Jolie, we saw your boobs in Gia. They made us feel excited and alive”. This, despite the narrative of a young model’s descent into drugs and her resulting death.

The song also points out that women do not always have the power to decide whether their breasts are private and intimate and little recourse to rectify the situation, as in the case of Scarlett Johansson who sent private and intimate photographs of herself to her husband but whose pictures ended up on the internet without her permission. MacFarlane sings, “And Scarlett Johansson, we saw them on our phones”, effectively making the pictures intimate and public.

It is interesting to note that while NY recognizes the right of women to bare their breasts, there may be moral objections from the public. It is also possible to assert Anna Wintour’s disdain of any moral or religious objections attempting to stand in the way of gay rights and women’s rights: rather than have the magazine pretend bi-partisanship or even attempt  equal reporting of both the Republican and Democratic parties in the last presidential election, Wintour actively campaigned for Obama because of gay and women’s rights. With the pretence done away with, Vogue has decided that being careful of conservative sensibilities is no longer very important.

It is in this context that the perfect opportunity presented itself:

The May Issue of Vogue includes the article and editorial “Rebel Yell” about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Punk: Chaos to Couture”. Punk’s tradition of disrupting norms serves as a context in which to view the breasts of two models. The subject matter of the punk editorial displaces the usual context of a fashion shoot: the Punk ethos allows for exposed breasts to be shown because they are outside convention.

Showing breasts in Vogue in such a way may have allowed the magazine the chance to cite context as justification had there been too much outrage from advertisers or readers. The following issue (June) does not include any exposed breasts (time to let the letters of outrage roll in?) but the July issue does.

In the editorial  for “Destination Detox” photographed by Mario Testino model Karlie Kloss is shot from the side lifting a small weight near a pool with her hair covered in gold leaf. Only one of her breasts is visible. Vogue has chosen not to put the picture on the internet as part of the slideshow of the editorial, available on the vogue.com website. This can be seen as an effort to control the context in which the photographs can be interpreted. Make no mistake that the photograph of Kloss is available online. It is nonetheless impressive that Vogue has made efforts to protect the model’s image as well as reinforce the image’s context as an artistic expression in a woman’s magazine. This seems to reflect the directive handed down through the courts that women can determine when their bodies are private and intimate and tries to limit the ways in which the image can be viewed.

In the case of the  photograph from “Rebel Yell”, no effort has been made to limit viewing the photo out of the context of the editorial. Some might argue that the picture’s definite punk aesthetic sufficiently contextualizes it.

It is interesting to note that of the 3 models appearing topless in Vogue, only have one of their breasts visible and each is photographed in profile in an attempt to differentiate the picture from pornography. There are only so many times a magazine can include the same shot (1 breast), and I look forward to seeing how the magazine will rise to the challenge it has set for itself by including nipples in Vogue.