Playgirl Editor: Esquire Objectifies Women -- So What?!

Women were horrified that Esquire editor Alex Bilmes said men think of women like they think of, at a feminism panel. It might have been the wrong place to assert such theories, but is he really wrong?

Speaking on a panel about feminism in the media at the Advertising Week Europe conference in London on Tuesday, Esquire editor Alex Bilmes said that the women featured in his magazine are ornamental. “I could lie to you if you want and say we are interested in their brains as well. We are not. They are objectified,” he told the crowd.

Instead, he was honest about the fact that one of the reasons men buy his magazine is to look at “pretty girls.” Kind of like the way they like to look at pictures of cars.

Women in the audience gasped while the other panelists seemed to recoil at his revelation. But was there really anything so terrible about what he said?

As the former editor-in-chief of Playgirl magazine, it was my job to select men to pose nude in our pages. Did we choose them based on their SAT scores, their political views or their ability to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relatively? Of course not. These men were there to be sex objects, put there by adults for other adults to enjoy. (For the record, I’m a woman, and yes, there were female subscribers!)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with men wanting to look at pictures of beautiful, sexy women. And believe me, people having been doing just that way before Esquire or Playboy were ever on a newsstand (and even before there were newsstands!).

But where Bilmes gets it wrong is his likening a hot woman to an inanimate object, such as a high end automobile. For me, gazing at Daniel Craig as James Bond emerging out of the sea in Casino Royale is pure eye candy, but it’s nothing like looking at inanimate objects I enjoy – like this dress from Anthropologie. Pinterest may be girl porn, but I’d never compare a sexy man to a bottle- green tile backsplash.

What’s the difference? Well, what makes a sexy picture of a woman -- or a man --enjoyable to look at is their engagement with the viewer, the burning sexuality transmitted through the lens to the page. Yes, the boobs, the butt, the washboard abs or whatever may be important to you are part of it, but those perfect lines are only part of the story. So believe it or not, those “ornaments” that Bilmes features in his lad rag are actually skilled professionals who know how to manipulate the viewer (and get paid very well for doing so).

In a world where many of us forget the equal rights for women were not --– and are not --– a given, it’s disturbing that a thought leader in the media actually believes that a beautiful woman is no different than a Ferarri.

But who knows, human sexuality is a funny thing. Maybe Bilmes would get all hot and bothered over a picture of my Honda Civic.

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