I remember being 13 years old and seeing Britney Spears’ I’m a Slave 4 U music video and thinking to myself, “Huh. I wonder where I can get more of this?”
Go ahead and roll your eyes. I am too. As much as I hate to admit being the typical hormonal male teenager, it was a much harder time to be one back in those days. The Internet wasn’t as big then. Online access wasn’t as easy. One would have to spend a good part of the night downloading one picture of a half-naked girl on his computer –– thank you ISP Bonanza. That’s why raunchy men’s magazines or lad mags were so popular back in the day. Without the Internet, the closest you’d get to seeing more hot girls in barely-there clothing was in magazines like FHM, Maxim, Stuff, Nuts, and other names that connote an overemphasis on sex.
Going back to Britney real quick, I remember buying Blender, a lad mag disguised as a music magazine, because it had her on the cover wearing a neon green bra with a very open leather jacket. It was the closest to egotastic.com we had back then.
Today, the Internet has almost completely taken over print. The photos one would look for in those lad mags have been usurped by an infinite number of websites. And probably, the biggest plus is that the Internet is free. If he lived in today’s world, the 13-year-old me would have easily just gone to Google and typed in “Britney Spears” after watching her video and he wouldn’t have had to buy Blender anymore. But easier access thanks to the Internet wasn’t the only thing making lad mags obsolete. With advancements in technology, society has also in some ways grown up much faster or at the very least, become a little more critical.
The culture has changed since 2001. Almost every landscape (political, economic, entertainment) has shifted for better or worse. Probably the biggest blow of the online era has been print. Once a media powerhouse, print is now going through a cultural identity crisis as more and more magazines and newspapers not only need to compete but also set themselves apart from the online market. Most of those magazines I mentioned above have folded, most notable of all being FHM US, the global brand that couldn’t figure out how to stay afloat in the most competitive market. And with top men’s magazines such as GQ and Esquire undergoing a cultural restructuring in their magazines and offering less and less half-naked women on their pages, it seems the days of T&A publications are numbered.
Once a media powerhouse, print is now going through a cultural identity crisis as more and more magazines and newspapers not only need to compete but also set themselves apart from the online market.
Probably the biggest blow yet to lads mags is the hiring of former T Magazine style editor, Kate Lanphear, as Maxim’s newest editor in chief. This promotion is surprising for two reasons. First, it’s one of the rare times that a woman took on the top position of a lad magazine, and second, this change in leadership marks a total rebranding of Maxim and proof of the changing zeitgeist of men’s magazines in general.
In a recent online interview with fashonista.com, Lanphear, when asked about changing Maxim’s tradition of showcasing sexualized objectifications of women, answered, “There is something sexy about mystery and leaving something to the imagination. I want women to be portrayed as three-dimensional as they actually are, that they are confident, healthy and energetic and happy. I want women that men can fall in love with and not just objectify.” The very first cover of her new (and much-improved) Maxim shows a close-up photo of Candice Swanepoel’s face, a huge departure of how most portray Candice, a model mostly known for her body as a Victoria’s Secret Angel. This cover and the rest of Kate Lanphear’s Maxim is a statement on the current landscape of men’s magazines, forgoing raunchy and immature depictions of sex and focusing more on a sophisticated and intelligent approach to cultural stories.
With so many lad mags folding and more and more men’s magazines going for a more culturally appealing aesthetic, it’s safe to say that the demand for scantily clad women being objectified on magazine covers is weakening.
Most magazines are changing how they create their stories. Even industry pillars like Vogue are in the process of shifting their perspectives as audiences are gravitating towards more niche publications like The Gentlewoman and other magazines that better portray today’s society. But the biggest challenge still remains in men’s magazines. With so many lad mags folding and more and more men’s magazines going for a more culturally appealing aesthetic, it’s safe to say that the demand for scantily clad women being objectified on magazine covers is weakening. This shouldn’t be seen as a blow to men’s magazines but as an encouraging challenge to refocus their philosophies and feature women not as objects but as real human beings whose personalities and successes go beyond their face on a cover.
I’d like to think I’ve hopefully grown up from that horny (or is that thirsty?) 13-year-old. I hope I’ve become more mature in my understanding of society and women. And as someone who’s been working in magazines, I think it’s time that magazines grew up too. The medium I’ve loved the most needs to change and abandon a way of thinking that’s become extinct and false. There will always be men’s magazines and these magazines will always feature women. It’s how we feature these women, the very way lad mags feature women, that needs to end. If not, those who still perpetuate the ideas of lad mags will never take their heads out of their underwear, and will always be seen as those magazines they promote.