Cover that Cover

My reaction to Dossier’s latest cover was instant adoration. It’s androgynous and beautiful, the perfect crossroad between hard masculinity and soft femininity. I love any magazine cover that can make people think, especially when they’re thinking about gender binaries and their perceptions of what makes a man or woman. But apparently what I viewed as a brave step forward, others couldn’t stand the sight of — leading U.S. bookstores Barnes and Noble and Borders’ reaction was to cover up the gender-bending cover.

Both corporate chains told Dossier’s staff they refused to stock the cover, featuring a nude torso, without an opaque plastic covering. If Dossier failed to comply, both Barnes and Noble and Borders would immediately cancel their orders. Although the copies destined for Barnes and Noble and Borders make up only 10 per cent of Dossier’s worldwide distribution, and they were the only stores to request a cover, Dossier complied.

Is this really a shock? If pornographic magazines are covered with a plastic sheath, why shouldn’t a full frontal of a naked woman be given the same treatment? Maybe because Dossier’s cover girl is androgynous MALE model, Andrej Pejic, and amongst all the other topless men on the covers of GQ and Men’s Health, Barnes and Noble is asking only he be covered. Their reasoning? Customers may mistake him for a woman.

Putting aside the argument that topless women should be seen on magazine covers (which I heartily agree with), this is a case of gender discrimination unto itself. The message Barnes and Noble and Borders are sending to their millions of customers is that in order to be seen in their stores, men have to fit a specific, muscle-clad criteria. This double standard creates a very obvious statement: Men need to look like “men”. Pejic, who has modelled in almost as many women’s collections as he has men’s, simply doesn’t make the cut. Evidently for Barnes and Noble and Borders, a man wearing makeup and curlers in his hair is simply too much.

Is it just me, or does this make no sense? Even if customers mistook Pejic for a nude woman, who cares? He’s a man! The root of the problem is the discomfort the cover is causing for sheltered Americans; Pejic has the face of a beautiful woman, but the body of a young man, a concept which obviously confuses a lot of people and raises some pretty serious questions regarding gender performance. The people behind Barnes and Noble and Borders obviously felt so threatened by the confusion they were feeling themselves that they resolved to protect their customers from the same feelings, instead of allowing shoppers to think critically, make their own decisions, and maybe even learn something. Is our society really so closed-minded that questioning gender is no longer even a question?

- Alyssa Garrison

3 thoughts on “Cover that Cover

  1. I completely agree with you on the topic. When I first saw the picture I thought it was really interesting, a clash between femininity and masculinity and I thought it was a great cover for a magazine because it makes people think, which is hard to come by these days, it shows these two things come in different sizes and races and colours, unlike what you see on Vogue, Men’s Health and so on. THe fact that Barnes and Noble & Borders are doing this shows that they believe there is only one type of beauty for men and women, which is absolutely ridiculous and foolish, and in my opinion these people should be ashamed of what they are imposing especially in this day in age. This shows that when it comes to artistic expression and showing different types of things from the normal cookie cutter model of life still has a long way to go. Thanks for showing me this, because now I want to buy this magazine!!!

  2. As a guy who’s struggled a bit with body issues, thank you for touching on the ubiquitous imagery of hunky, muscled men in our culture, on magazine covers and everywhere else. How sad that one kind of bare torso is deemed acceptable and another too troubling.

    For me what’s interesting is who is prepared to question gender norms and who isn’t. Dossier obviously knew what they were doing with this cover, trying to get attention if not outright controversy (and I would argue getting banned from stores helped them, in that I for one hadn’t heard of this magazine before). Publications can court controversy because any publicity is good publicity, whereas stores, who have employees who have to face complaining customers and people threatening to not come back, are much more conservative with what they put on their shelves.

  3. This is such a great piece Alyssa! I especially liked this: “he people behind Barnes and Noble and Borders obviously felt so threatened by the confusion they were feeling themselves that they resolved to protect their customers from the same feelings, instead of allowing shoppers to think critically, make their own decisions, and maybe even learn something.” PREACH IT.

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