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21 September 2008

Why do some women look aggressive when trying to look sexy? Like my last question, this is not meant to be crass or offensive.

Over the years, I've noticed a phenomenon when I look at Maxim, Playboy, etc.: Sometimes when a woman is in a sexy pose, she'll have a scowl or sneer. I can't help but think this is meant to be attractive.

How did this phenomenon develop? What are its origins? Has anyone else noticed this, or am I just crazy?
You are not crazy, I notice it, too. Lindsay Lohan, in particular, gets really sneery and scowly when she's trying to look "on" (or, strangely enough, in general when she's not presently sober).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 21 September | 14:29
I believe Dave Barry has documented the phenomenon unmistakably:
The ultimate example of this is the magazine ads for Denaka vodka, where a haughtily beautiful woman is staring at you as though you're the world's largest ball of underarm hair, and she's saying, "When I said vodka, I meant Denaka." What a fun gal! I bet she's a big hit at parties. ("Pssst! Come into the kitchen! We're all gonna spit in the Denaka woman's drink!")

posted by Wolfdog 21 September | 15:15
I noticed it, too. It seems like it's either a withering glare, or else a vacant look. Whatever happened to the sly smile?
posted by redvixen 21 September | 15:33
I always figured they were trying to look focussed and intent on ripping your clothes off or something. Maybe too sexually aroused to be muster sly smiles- we're past that stage, tiger!

In other words, who knows?
posted by small_ruminant 21 September | 15:35
Oh, gosh, this started way back in the 80s at least - that's when I remember the aloof, distant look overtaking most major fashion photography where before you might have seen actual smiles or flirtatious looks.

One thing that always amazes me about retro pinup art, which I mostly really like, is how happy the portraits are. Of course, there's a real difference between that imagery and the reality for women of the time, but the spirit of the portraits is one that shows women experiencing joy, attraction, confidence, and openness.

I'm not sure why the aesthetic changed. It's always seemed odd to me that images of women who look downright contemptuous are being used to market to men (and to women). Is there some sort of attraction in the rejection? Does the apparent disinterest and unattainability of the women somehow spark a desire to consume the product being advertised, in hopes of getting her attention? Or something? I never quite understood the pyschological trope.

It's weird.
posted by Miko 21 September | 15:47
Oh, I think s_r might have it. At least, she has the rationale for the look they're going for. Predatory.
posted by Miko 21 September | 15:49
Actually, the one that baffles me is the "Girls Gone Wild Tongue". UP goes the shirt and OUT comes the tongue. Since when is sticking out your tongue like you are showing someone your tonsils sexy?? It looks like she has a neurological deficit. Apparently, these days, a woman is only sexy if she is contemptuous of you, but stupid enough to get naked in front of you anyway??

What happened to the good ol' days of a wink and a smile?
posted by evilcupcakes 21 September | 15:51
"sticking out your tongue like you are showing someone your tonsils"

This is the default moneyshot pose for women in porn.
posted by Ardiril 21 September | 16:21
There was a great article on (the iconography of) fashion photography on the blue a few years back. (I think it was this Slate piece, but I think there was also an essay.) Basically a lot of the current photographers are doing Helmut Newton lite.

But remember, anyway, that this is a case of women looking sexy for other women. I think it's supposed to be challenging and competitive.
posted by stilicho 21 September | 16:32
I think it is because some men think sex is competition instead of collaboration.
posted by BitterOldPunk 21 September | 16:48
Aggressive can be perfectly yummy, but it's not the same as haughty or sneering. In context of advertising, I always reckoned the latter is not supposed to be "I'm sneering at you", so much as it is "Join me in sneering at the other peons who don't have such sophisticated taste as you and I have." Look around; you know pretty well how seductive that line is. Of course, in common with every successful advertising tactic, absolutely everyone will swear up and down that it has no effect on them personally.
posted by Wolfdog 21 September | 17:13
Seconding the idea that sex photography is mimicking fashion photography.

The mean look seems to have come into fashion with photographers who were themselves drug addled, emotionally and/or mentally ill and wanted their models to reflect that. This started in the 60's that I can recall with one very sick photographer called Bob Richardson, whose drug addiction and mental illness eventually left him homeless.

Through his images in the mid-60's it became fashionable to look mean, no smiles, no friendly expression, a sort of narcissistic aloofness mixed with S&M, a sort of depraved means sophisticated and intelligent look. Samples. A kind of misery is fashionable sort of thing.

Warhol ran with this idea too.

Bob Richardson's son, Terry Richardson [NSFW], is also a photographer of this genre, a type of misanthropic post modernism, chaotic and very much in the gutter. He took up the can't-be-debauched-enough, heroin chic look where his dad left off. It's almost like there is no gutter deep enough.

What bothers me about this look for female models is it seems antisocial, disconnected from any warm emotion. Images that are tools for masturbation and promoting loneliness, disconnection, not representative of a human being one might talk, share anything or cuddle with after.

Hey, besides, sex can be dangerous.
posted by nickyskye 21 September | 17:21
not representative of a human being one might talk, share anything or cuddle with after

But I think that's the whole point. Plenty of men have wives or girlfriends with whom to do that. There's no need to fantasize about it. What few men have, though, is a woman who would jump on top of them, rip their clothes off and ride them with gusto. That's what the "meanness" is about. It's "I will rip you apart and you will like it."
posted by jrossi4r 21 September | 18:06
It's "I will rip you apart and you will like it."

ah. huh.
posted by nickyskye 21 September | 18:08
This thread is all over the place.
i had something definite in mind to say about fashion photography, but the question this is about "men's magazines" which i haven't seen in ages.
There are a huge differences in the objectives between catalog, fashion, etc.
One aspect:
Men's magazines, as far as i know, are trying to be overtly sexual and cater to "fantasy."
You will never have sex with these women and that is to some part of the fantasy. i've got a lot more to say about this but i gotta run in a bit.
But, also, the reactions of men who meet women in men's magazines and porn is telling to what is at work in their mentality.
posted by ethylene 21 September | 18:54
I read somewhere that the brain chemical that activates lust is the same one that activates anger. I don't remember what it's called. Maybe there's something there.
posted by Jaltcoh 21 September | 19:10
The sneer is a challenge and clearly we must ravish the women to remind her of the splendidness of our seed. Yeah, this sounds creepy, but i think most men want someone just like their male best friend, i.e. someone to compete against that you also have sex with.


I dunno. Most of the photography in Maxim isn't sexy. Too photoshopped/airbrushed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher 21 September | 19:23
Not that I pretend to get the femme fatale deal at all but isn't it the same thing? Femme fatale goes wayyyyy back.

Perhaps bitchy = probable rejection = out of your league = more valuable object of your fascination? We all know how boring it is for the object of your lust to actually be, you know, game. /sarcasm
posted by scarabic 21 September | 20:00
I read somewhere that the brain chemical that activates lust is the same one that activates anger. I don't remember what it's called.

posted by jonmc 21 September | 20:12
Fwiw, a photographer and (female) friend of mine does both soft porn and artistic erotica kind of work. She said the biggest obstacle (to her) in doing porn is that the women are a) clearly not enjoying themselves, and b) acting like they think the male gaze wants to see them act. Men, on the other hand, usually have no problem enjoying themselves and being seen enjoying themselves -- actually, that's what expected of them. So she works pretty intensely with her female subjects to get them to be their own erotic selves, and the result tends to be way more sexy than the staged looks you get in mainstream fashion-infused photography.
posted by treepour 22 September | 00:18
I don't know the answer to this, but I also wondered about a (presumably) connected thing: that "crazy chicks are hot" - something I never knew about until hearing it repeated so often at mefi. This is so odd to me because I can't imagine being all "ooh, that guy's a total psychopath - hubbahubba!!" Heh. So... yeah - something about danger and sex, from the male point of view? Or overcoming that danger? I had sex with mean/crazy/haughty/angry Woman, and lived to tell the tale?
posted by taz 22 September | 03:37
that "crazy chicks are hot"

i.e. they'll do anything they're so crazy i.e. threesome
posted by Brandon Blatcher 22 September | 05:10
taz, I think that's kinda like the "you're so cute when you're angry" thing, in that a crazy woman is not seen as much of a threat to a man (maybe there's also a bit of a "well I can deal with her"/taming-of-the-shrew thing) than the way a crazy man might seem very life-ruining to a woman.
posted by Firas 22 September | 07:24
Leave || omg rainbow tongue!