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Sex with Dr. Jess


June 3, 2015

Is Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover Just Another Stereotype?

The Toronto Star ran a thoughtful piece on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover today. Columnist, Judith Timson, critiques the sexy cover images and suggests that Jenner’s image is a reflection of stereotypical standards of beauty. I’m inclined to agree.

Timson’s critique is both important and thought-provoking and I share many of her concerns regarding images of female beauty and fantasy. However, I’m not sure I agree on all fronts, as I don’t believe that “the way most women look” is any more impervious to cultural pressure.

I’ve shared a few (incomplete thoughts) about my conflicted response on Facebook and have decided to past them below. I encourage you to read the original article first, as it’s a good piece and I hope that my brief comments below add to the dialogue.

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My thoughts from Facebook:

What if she doesn’t feel she needs to undress, but simply wants to? It’s a complex (and personal) issue and so I feel a bit conflicted. The suggestion that she could pose in leggings and a t-shirt with a laptop is just another culturally-constructed fantasy. Why is it that a fantasy/stereotype that relates to sex and/or beauty is seen as problematic, but ones that are rooted in business success, intelligence and/or “typical” motherhood are revered? Are they not all culturally constructed and gendered?

I agree that our emphasis on beauty is disproportionately high for women. I would love to see a wider representation of beauty and bodies in print and digital media so that each of us could simply love ourselves regardless or the way we look. However, I also believe that it is each person’s right to choose how they dress and adorn themselves as a means of self-expression. I worry that the alternative we’re presenting (i.e. corsets=bad, leggings=good) is simply a formula that suggests that we should try to look nice — but not too nice. That is, it’s desirable to look feminine, but don’t try too hard.

I applaud Caitlyn for doing what makes her feel good and I’ll dare to suggest that most of us would feel great working with her team of artists, stylists and photographers in a similar capacity. We may not want to dress/look like the Vanity Fair cover everyday (it might be exhausting and sitting down in corsets isn’t easy), but dressing up and being admired (for our beauty, our brains, our personalities, our social activism and/or our hearts) can feel great — especially amidst all the criticism and vitriol I’m sure she’s facing in light of her transitioning in the public eye.