Yesterday, when I spotted the cover of the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone that features a nude Julia Louis-Dreyfus — whose back is tattooed with the Declaration of Independence, for some reason (it represents some very thoughtful Veep-related symbolism from Rolling Stone‘s photographer and creative team, I’m sure) — I thought, “Wow, she looks great. Good for her.” It’s not very often you spot a 53-year-old female performer in this sort of scenario, particularly when the woman in question is a comedic actor. And then I went about the rest of my day, because at this point in my life, I don’t think too much about naked people on the cover of magazines. It’s sort of the status quo, no?
A day later, however, I’ve had more time to process what’s so great about the Rolling Stone cover, which could easily (yet misguidedly) be deemed “oversexualized” and “objectifying” by the knee-jerk reactionists across the Internet who greet every nude photo of a woman with puritanical notions disguised as progressive, thoughtful, social activism. I can’t imagine it will take too long for someone to claim that Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has had a long career on television and somehow avoided the need to use her sexuality to her advantage (other than, you know, being a very attractive woman), has now succumbed to being a sexual object in order to sell a magazine.
I don’t really buy that, and I’ll tell you why. I don’t see much about the Rolling Stone cover that is sexual in nature. Sure, she’s naked. Yes, you can see the very top of her ass. But otherwise, her chest is covered up. She appears in a very natural state with little makeup, her hair not perfectly styled but instead flowy in a particularly messy way (but not, I’d argue, in a suggestively post-coital fashion). Maybe it’s because I’m a gay man and am generally blasé about seeing nude woman — granted, I’m probably not the audience for most magazines with sultry, sexualized covers — but the Rolling Stone cover in question didn’t feel like a case of sexual objectification at all, because the only pieces of Julia Louis-Dreyfus on display are her back and a quarter of her ass, which are body parts that everyone has and possibly are only super-titillating to those who might have a particular fetish for those specific parts of the body.
Let’s also notice what the most striking part of the image is: the faux tattoo of the Declaration of Independence. I’m not saying that it’s particularly subtle or all that clever, really, but it is interesting that it takes up more space on the Rolling Stone cover than the uncovered, un-tattooed parts of her body. And maybe that’s the point. The image is a declaration of sorts — probably not of independence, but of empowerment. Julia Louis-Dreyfus looks great, and she’s willing to show that and be proud of it. And she does so in a way that is not incredibly sexual. In fact, it reminds me more of the Jim Carrey cover from the summer of 1995, which is by all means more physically revealing but in a goofier way than, say, the cover from September 2010 that featured the completely nude cast of True Blood covered in fake blood. Nudity doesn’t always have to be sexual; it’s commonplace and, sometimes even more than that, funny.
But the thing we should actually be discussing is this: why shouldn’t Julia Louis-Dreyfus pose nude for the cover of Rolling Stone? By doing so, does she lose all of her credibility beloved role model with pitch-perfect comedic timing and feminist sensibilities? No, she doesn’t. If anything, the magazine cover reiterates all of those things, and shows a strong, powerful woman — a leading lady in every sense of that title — in her prime taking control over her own image when she very well could have allowed others to capitalize on her body for her.