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The Evolution of the Cover Girl

Posted on 19 September 2016

Vogue - Michelle Obama

As we look back at the history of fashion magazines we see an evolution of style, of designers and of the cover girl. Magazine cover girls represent two things; they can represent what is happening in society at any given time and also an evolution in what is considered the 'ideal women' because as society has developed and changed so has the ‘ideal woman’ - the image by which other women are often expected to mould themselves to. But has it all been this way?

Vogue 1932

Before photography became mainstream it was commonplace to feature hand drawn artwork on the cover of magazines such as sketches of garments and trends. In 1932 Vogue printed their first full-colour photographic cover and arguably started the trend of featuring photographs of models and celebrities on the covers of magazines.

Cosmopolitan 1967

The 1960s, the decade which impacted so much on the world in terms of culture, progress, technology and richly colourful, larger than life characters saw magazine covers become brighter and bolder. They introduced more text onto the covers and publishers took a generally more maximalist approach.

Rolling Stone - Britney Spears

As the 80s came to a close a new, sexualised era began. The 90s saw an increasing number of scantily clad cover girls, provocative poses and nude covers. Whilst some were done is a tasteful fashion, the overt sexualisation indicates a decisive narrowing of media representations of women. It is not necessarily problematic for women to be portrayed as 'sexy.' But it becomes an issue when nearly all images of women depict them not simply as 'sexy women' but as passive objects for someone else's sexual pleasure.

As study into Rolling Stone magazine covers found that by the year 2000, 17% of men were sexualised compared to 83% of women were sexualised. Among those images that were sexualised, 2% of men and 61% of women were hyper-sexualised.

Glamour - Tina Fey & Amy Poehler

The last decade has seen an increase in cover girls that in previous years would have been seen as ‘unacceptable’; plus sized women, political figures, sports stars and comedians. Whilst many covers still feature scantily clad women there is a noticeable increase in women being photographed fully clothed, with less of an emphasis on sex, and more of focus on their professional achievements.

Vogue - Kate Middleton

Together, these magazine covers reveal a peek into our history. Things have become increasingly sexualised. More superficial. We read less. We have shorter attention spans. But we’ve also gotten more open-minded. At each step along the way, society has pushed the limits of what’s considered acceptable. As women have earned more rights over the years, they now take control of their sexuality.

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