Sunday, July 8, 2007

Analyzing the Hot 100

Last month the magazine Maxim came out with its annual "Hot 100" list, which is a list of the top 100 "hot" female celebrities. The list, which was published in its June "Hot 100" issue was accompanied by a special on VH1, which also aired in May. Maxim, supposedly the best-selling men's lifestyle magazine in the United States, has published a Hot 100 list for eight years now. According to Maxim, the women on the list all have "a tremendous amount of buzz and heat surrounding them, undeniable beauty and a promise of greater things to come over the next year."

Try as I might, I was unable to find out how precisely the magazine comes up with the women on the list. I assume that it is some type of panel of staff members, meant to speak for the men of America. Considering the popularity of the list, I guess the men of America are in more or less agreement with Maxim's choices. (Or at least straight men, aged 18-34 -- the main readership of Maxim). However, the women of America have something different to say.

A website that I like to frequent is Begun in 2002 as a hobby of editor Sarah Warn, the site has since been acquired by Logo, the LGBT cable channel and entertainment source from MTV Networks. AfterEllen contains news, reviews and commentary on lesbian and bisexual women in entertainment and the media. AfterEllen obviously is meant to cater to queer women, but registered users of the site represent a variety of backgrounds. Site content includes reviews of television and film, interviews with musicians, writers, actors, filmmakers, etc. (gay, bisexual or just allies of the community), and more. When Maxim came out with this year's list, I read criticisms of the list across the "blogosphere", but AfterEllen didn't just criticize, it decided to do something.

On May 18th, AfterEllen asked readers to help make their own Hot 100 list. Readers were asked to list 10-25 women that they would put on a hot 100 list. The staff over at AfterEllen tallied the votes (which according to them numbered in the thousands) and created their own list, which was released on June 6th. As the staff proclaimed, the results showed that "Hot" "for lesbians and bisexual women comes in all ages, sizes, colors and styles." Looking at the lists through a feminist lens, I think that the differences speak volumes about the female celebrity culture that is driven by males -- a culture which continues to objectify and infantilize women.

Here are some stats on the two lists: the average age of the women on the AfterEllen list was 34.7 while the average age on Maxim's list was about 8 years younger at 27.3. AfterEllen readers chose 48 women aged 35 and older for their Hot 100 (with the oldest being Catherine Deneuve at 63), while Maxim recognized only 8 (with their oldest being Halle Berry and Salma Hayek at 40). AfterEllen had only 12 women aged 25 and under on their list; Maxim's list contained a staggering 41 women at or below 25 years of age. Various theorists have stated that the ever decreasing weight of women in entertainment can be attributed to a male desire for their women to resemble adolescent girls. In fact, my roommate and I were just recently shocked to see a fashion ad for Marc Jacobs which featured twelve-year-old Dakota Fanning. According to Jacobs, the use of Fanning was intended to help him reach out to a younger market. The ads, however, are featured in fashion magazines such as Elle, intended for older readerships. The fact that a mainstream "Hot 100" list created by men contains only a handful of women over the age of 35 should be no big shocker -- the message being sent to women is that they should try to look as young as possible because they have very little chance of still being considered sexy after the hit the big 4-0. And on top of the age thing -- number 95 on the Maxim list is "Second Life Girl." This is none other than a 3-D "avatar" from an online virtual world. I find this ridiculous and offensive to women everywhere.

But then there's this whole community of folks who are also attracted to women who have a completely different story to tell. Lesbian and bisexual women are saying "Wait -- older women can be and in fact are sexy." They are also realizing that it is more than a pretty face and sexy body that makes a woman hot. Let's look at the #1 on the Maxim list -- Lindsay Lohan. At barely 21 years of age, Lindsay Lohan is already on her second stint in rehab. After some very successful films in her earlier days, she has produced a series of flops and all of her media attention lately has come as a result of her hard partying. Yet she tops the list of women who are supposed to represent a promise of greater things to come in the next year. Well, maybe Maxim figured that she's so far down she really can only improve. Here's a classy picture of Lindsay after a night of partying:

Now let's look at AfterEllen's #1. At 36 years of age, Leisha Hailey is not very well-known outside of the lesbian world. For the past four years she captured the hearts of women everywhere with her dead-on comic-timing and emotional riveting performances as Alice on Showtime's The L Word. She was known in the community before this as well as former girlfriend of musician k.d. lang and as a singer/songwriter in the girl group The Murmurs. With Leisha as number one, women are saying that talent and personality both contribute just as much to a woman's "hotness" as a pretty face and "hot body." Here are some clips featuring Leisha's comedic talents. The first one is from the first episode of Season 3 of The L Word in which Alice has gone a little crazy after her break-up with longtime girlfriend Dana. The second clip also features Kate Moennig (see #17 on AfterEllen's Hot 100) and Mia Kirshner (see #81 on AE's Hot 100) as Jenny (I LOVE Kate's facial expressions in this clip!) The third clip is a compilation of Alice moments from all 4 seasons.

As it turns out, the "lesbian" list has been getting a lot of attention. AfterEllen editor Sarah Warn has a blog entry entitled Straight Men and the Hot 100 list which gives some insight into what other people have to say about this. Reactions seem to range from negative to very positive. Here are the comments of one straight, male reader (who was responding to another comment which stated that all the women on the list were "manly"):
"The Maxim guys tended to pick cutely-hot, bubbly, girly girls (seriously, dude, Linsday Lohan won, need I say more?). The AfterEllen list tends to be populated by strong, confident, powerful women. Nothing manly about them, unless you live in Crazy 1950s World where strength and confidence are the exclusive province of men. I do think it's a very interesting litmus test of what people find sexy in women; but then, I also find interesting how many guys are agreeing more with the lesbians' list than the Maxim list."

Here, here! If only women would take the initiative more often in countering the negative, anti-feminist actions taken by the patriarchal media institutions! It seems to be that a lot of the world is interested in what we have to say.

For your interest, here is Maxim's Hot 100 list: (I put the ages of the women in parentheses)

1. Lindsay Lohan (21)
2. Jessica Alba (26)
3. Scarlett Johansson (22)
4. Christina Aguilera (26)
5. Jessica Biel (25)
6. Ali Larter (31)
7. Eva Mendes (33)
8. Rihanna (19)
9. Eva Longoria (32)
10. Fergie (32)
11. Sienna Miller (25)
12. Angelina Jolie (32)
13. Beyonce Knowles (25)
14. Katherine Heigl (28)
15. Avril Lavigne (22)
16. Ashlee Simpson (22)
17. Maria Sharapova (20)
18. Megan Fox (21)
19. Cameron Diaz (34)
20. Keira Knightley (22)
21. Kate Beckinsale (33)
22. Nicole Scherzinger (29)
23. Hilary Duff (19)
24. Sophia Bush (24)
25. Elisha Cuthbert (24)
26. Nelly Furtado (28)
27. Kate Hudson (28)
28. Carmen Electra (35)
29. Sarah Silverman (36)
30. Rebecca Romijn (34)
31. Amy Smart (31)
32. Lacey Chabert (24)
33. Roselyn Sanchez (34)
34. Vanessa Minnillo (26)
35. Jennifer Garner (35)
36. Jaime King (28)
37. Ashley Olsen (21)
38. Shakira (30)
39. Rachel Bilson (25)
40. Moon Bloodgood (31)
41. Jessica Simpson (26)
42. Minka Kelly (27)
43. Kate Mara (24)
44. Rose McGowan (33)
45. Bar Refaeli (22)
46. Kristen Bell (26)
47. Katharine McPhee (23)
48. Mandy Moore (23)
49. Mischa Barton (21)
50. Miss Maxim (Cristina Dumitru) (19)
51. Alessandra Ambrosio (26)
52. Kate Walsh (39)
53. Adriana Lima (26)
54. Missy Peregrym (25)
55. Halle Berry (40)
56. Michele Merkin (30)
57. Tricia Helfer (33)
58. Penelope Cruz (33)
59. Jamie-Lynn Sigler (26)
60. Jessica White (23)
61. Nadine Velazquez (28)
62. Danneel Harris (28)
63. Bianca Kajlich (30)
64. Lena Headey (33)
65. Autumn Reeser (26)
66. Joanna Krupa (26)
67. Gabrielle Union (34)
68. Evangeline Lilly (27)
69. Danica Patrick (25)
70. Stacy Keibler (27)
71. Willa Ford (26)
72. Ciara (21)
73. Mena Suvari (28)
74. Tara Conner (21)
75. April Scott (28)
76. Diora Baird (24)
77. Hilarie Burton (24)
78. Joss Stone (20)
79. Adrianne Palicki (24)
80. Abbie Cornish (24)
81. Emmanuelle Chriqui (29)
82. Dita Von Teese (34)
83. Ivanka Trump (25)
84. Hometown Hottie
85. Kelly Ripa (36)
86. Michelle Trachtenberg (21)
87. Padma Lakshmi (36)
88. Raquel Alessi (30)
89. Haylie Duff (22)
90. Salma Hayek (40)
91. Isla Fisher (31)
92. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (22)
93. Christina Milian (25)
94. Kelly Carlson (31)
95. The Avatars of Second Life (cartoons – no ages)
96. Shanna Moakler (32)
97. Kim Kardashian (25)
98. Yunjin Kim (33)
99. Mia Maestro (29)
100. Noureen DeWulf (23)

Next, you will find in photos, the AfterEllen list in its entirety (because, really, why pass up the opportunity to show off some lovely women?)

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