Katy Perry on the February cover of GQ

Katy Perry on the February cover of GQ

The February issue of GQ magazine is quite short at 124 pages. What’s more, the quality that habitual readers have come to expect from the publication is missing and the smatter of articles veers towards the superficial rather than the well-researched and expansive articles of previous issues. The magazine has simultaneously decided that this February issue of GQ will put particular emphasis on the body.

The Katy Parry article predictably features four breast-centric photographs of her in a bra and open jacket or bra and transparent lingerie combo in addition to the shot of Perry in the cutout swimsuit on the cover. What is more surprising is the presence of actual nipple in the magazine. The riff on Rubens on page 81 wouldn’t make anyone pause but the photograph accompanying “Where to Take her 2014″ featuring a model in unbuttoned long johns with one breast exposed would. The photograph is almost brilliant in its casual inclusion of breast. The model wears worn sneakers with a sport sock pulled up high over the leg, her hair is disheveled and she holds a cup of coffee. It is a most domestic image. A reader could almost miss the breast if the tan lines didn’t make the areola stand out against her pale skin. This sly pushing of the envelope follows the “one nipple rule” that Conde Nast has respected in every instance that their magazines have included breasts ( See previous article “Nipples in Vogue”.) though this image is shot head-on rather than in profile as has been the case when breasts have previously been included.

The image is available with the article  from the magazine on the GQ website, a marked difference from when Vogue decided to omit the nude photograph of Karlie Kloss from the online slideshow that accompanied the article “Destination Detox” on Vogue.com. (The website has since decided to include the photograph of Kloss in the slideshow, perhaps because the image was online anyway or to respect the integrity of the editorial by including all of the photographs.)

The inclusion of nipple is even more surprising for the fact that GQ has consistently attempted to appeal to both gay and straight men, publishing almost no articles on male sexuality apart from those articles with health information. By including photographs of female breasts it is possible that the publishers are now openly trying to court their straight demographic. It is also quite possible that this is an attempt to draw straight consumers to the newsstand to buy a male fashion magazine, a premise that the gay consumer is likely already familiar with or at the very least less reticent about.

The Image for "Where to Take Her 2014" on page 73 of the February issue

The Image for “Where to Take Her 2014″ on page 73 of the February issue

The editorial “28 Reasons to Take Your Pants Off” features ten photographs of a male model modelingdifferent styles of underwear. While this can be seen as being the visual equivalent of Katy Perry in her underwear for the gay reader, it remains tacit because it functions as an advertisement of consumer goods purchased by both the straight and gay male audience. While the underwear editorial is selling sexuality along with it’s underwear as seen by the highly visible prices and brands, the clothing in the Katy Perry editorial has its credits jammed in the crease between pages 68 and 69 and only visible by pulling the pages apart and looking very closely; while someone may wish to buy the clothing on Perry’s back, advertising women’s clothing is not this editorial’s main objective. The photograph for “Where to Take Her 2014″ does not have any credits attached in order to identify the clothing thus confirming that this photograph’s sole purpose is to sell the magazine to the consumer through female nudity.

While some could argue that it is much more acceptable to show female breasts than any of the male sexual organs/specific erogenous zones the magazine does feature a photograph of skier Julia Mancuso dragging the back of her low-cut-back dress down to her natal cleft (or buttcrack). There is no picture of any male model’s butt or even a hint of crack: an editorial featuring Eric Decker from the Denver Broco’s has the athlete fully dressed in 2 shots, shirtless in 2 and with his shirt unbuttoned in 1 even though his (very pregnant) wife is in underwear/lingerie in 4 shots and naked covered in bubbles in the fifth. The magazine misses the opportunity to push the envelope on nudity when it comes to the male subject, (I’m sure Decker has a beautiful butt too.) choosing to once again show a scantily clad woman instead of a man.

The inequality of representation of male and female figures should not go unnoticed especially because the magazine caters to both straight and gay men. The fact that GQ is pushing at the limits of “acceptable nudity” (side bood, nipples visible through clothing) and slowly giving way to exposed breasts and buttocks should also be questioned: even if society as a whole is accepting that nipples are not always “private parts”, does this preclude the pictures from being seen as NSFW? And what does it mean to the readership of GQ that the magazine is going from the most mainstream of magazines to one that contains some nudity?

It would be hypocritical of me to want it both ways; to decry this magazine’s addition of (slight) nudity but accept and even delight in American Vogue’s inclusion of nipples. The photographs in GQ that push the envelope are quite beautiful and inoffensive when questions of representation are not dwelled on. Perhaps unfairly the assumption of heterosexuality allows a women’s publication such as Vogue to produce material with female nudity without any stigma but attaches the assignation pornographic to men’s magazines containing nude women.

Julia Mancuso on page 48 of GQ magazine

Julia Mancuso on page 48 of GQ magazine

My final thoughts on the subject are that it makes sense for GQ to include more exposed breasts, butt-crack, lingerie, and Katy Perry’s bosom in the February issue since Valentine’s Day is this month. In this context I can even view the pregnant woman in lingerie as paean to love and fertility. But this in no way makes up for the fact that GQ magazine produced a sub-par issue. Is the nudity compensation for the content? Is the reader supposed to be too distracted by the boobs to notice?

Oh and a lesson: I remember a teacher in high school who would bring FHM magazine to school and show it to both the female and male students proclaiming “It’s not porn because there is no nudity.” The guy was a disgusting pervert who eventually got fired. (He was also annoying, unpleasant and terrible at his job, but the pervert thing is much worse.) Apart from a weird story about a skeezy weirdo this should serve as a lesson: don’t read magazines that can be interpreted as pornographic in public. If GQ continues to publish photographs of exposed breasts readers will have to start reading at home.