em nude spread a ploy?

by Beacon Staff • April 16, 2008

The print issue of Em Magazine will feature high contrast black and white photos of Emerson students "baring it all." Along with quotes from the models which touch on their insecurities and body issues, the soon-to-be-released edition is meant to challenge popular conceptions about the human form in our society. However, despite being superficially noble, the project has some significant flaws that are worth considering.

The issue's theme is simple enough. Andrea Drygas, co-editor in chief and founder of em magazine, wrote that her publication seeks, "models based on personality and [...] looks. We are looking for men and women and models of all sizes-what is most important is how you carry yourself." These intentions are clearly honorable, but let's not assume that the venture is entirely altruistic.

Certainly, em has more to gain from the nude photos than the warm, self-satisfied feelings that will surely come from opposing cultural norms. Provocative and daring, the nude lay-out essentially ensures the success of the first print issue, thus facilitating its jump from the Internet and establishing it as a staple around campus.

Pandering to the pornographic appetites of the college demographic is nothing new. boink, a magazine founded by a Boston University senior, has aroused interest since 2005. Marketed as "college sex by the people having it," boink was forced to dissociate with its parent university when the school declared that it "does not endorse, nor welcome, the prospective publication." With mixed but passionate responses to boink from all directions, the magazine is proud to have done more than survive: It has thrived, and set the bar for similar campus publications (like Harvard's H Bomb).

Em now too risks controversy-even though the edition will allegedly not feature full-frontal nudity-but it also has a good chance of making it big. The risque photos are likely to secure a significant readership around our campus, even if subsequent issues are more restrained.

Drygas stressed, however, in her statement that "the shoot is about skin, not about sex, and we will try our best to make everyone involved comfortable in the process."

So while not as intentionally explicit or sexual as the likes of boink, em is nonetheless entering the realm of revealed skin. Whether there is any negative backlash-from the administration or from average Emersonians-remains to be seen, but there exist reasons to criticize em without even mentioning the possibly scandalous content.

Tone, content and motivation aside, it is not the lack of clothing but rather the lack of originality that may draw ire. The idea of portraying the common as unique is not a new notion. There is a similarly-focused reality TV show, "How to Look Good Naked with Carson Kressley," which is itself little more than the American incarnation of a British craze. Then there's Dove's "True Beauty" campaign, and other attempts to free the human body from the unattainable standards set by the "beauty" industry.

While it is true that many people are depressed by their bodies' failures to look like the those of fashion icons, capitalizing off such melancholy appears just another trend utilized by publications to boost readership.

After all, if magazines always judged potential models based on personality and not pant size, then photos of Emerson students in their birthday suits would not warrant such an extensively hyped spread (at least not without a cutting edge watch or pair of heels in the mix). If this is a new angle that em truly wishes to explore, then they should commit more than one issue to portraying bodies which aren't made to fit inside narrow parameters.

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Lisa Johnson is a senior writing, literature and publishing major and a contributor to The Beacon.