GLEE Stars Show Skin…And Get Too Sexy for GQ?

By: Kelly Ahern, guest blogger

Critics remain conflicted regarding GQ’s November cover.

Lea Michele, Dianna Agron and Cory Monteith tossed aside their wholesome “Glee” personas—as well as some clothes– for a GQ photo spread that is sending shockwaves through newsstands.

With an array of commentators, ranging from Katie Couric to Entertainment Weekly, everyone’s jumping at the chance to share their two cents.

It wasn’t extreme Playboy-esqe nudity, more along the lines of naughty school girl, but the micro minis, sexy pink stilettos, lacey lingerie bottoms and classic uniform knee-highs sure made some parents shudder.

The core criticism that still is at hand is why the need for the scandalous skin?

So many viewers, from trendy adolescents to their trend-attempting parents tune into FOX eager for a dose of some-what wholesome teenage drama. They view these stars as they appear on screen; young, beautiful and in high school.

The most recent, and probably the harshest, attack made against the photoshoot to date began on Wednesday, fueled by the Parents Television Council. The organization released a statement, using some fairly strong language, condemning the images.

“It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses who play high school-aged characters on ‘Glee’ in this way.

It borders on pedophilia. Sadly, this is just the latest example of the overt sexualization of young girls in entertainment,” declared Tim Winter, President of the Parents Television Council.

Winter continued to argue GQ’s inappropriate decision stating, “Many children who flocked to ‘High School Musical’ have grown into ‘Glee’ fans.

They are now being treated to seductive, in-your-face poses of the underwear-clad female characters posing in front of school lockers, one of them opting for a full-frontal crotch shot.

By authorizing this kind of near-pornographic display, the creators of the program have established their intentions on the show’s direction.

And it isn’t good for families.”

It’s easy to agree with this idea of over-sexualization to some degree. We see it everywhere in the media today; for example the once innocent-turned-highly-provocative Miley Cyrus, but to compare it to child pornography is pushing the argument a bit too far.

TIME’s reporter James Poniewozik recently fired back with an extremely rational and valid point: Lea Michele is not her character, and neither is Dianna Agron.

Provocative photos of adult women don’t just magically transform into criminally scandalous images of children simply because those same women portray young students on television.

Yes, the images are certainly not appropriate for children, but let’s be realistic for a second—GQ’s target audience isn’t children—it’s men. Grown, adult men.

One can also argue that these stars too are adults, capable of making very-adult decisions—even if that means posing spread eagle on a locker room inspired set like the lovely Lea.

However it was Dianna, featured in the Terry Richardson-shot photo spread, who was the first Gleek to speak up.

The 24-year-old actress took the initiative to share her side of the story via her personal blog; making it very clear to skeptics that she and her co-stars are far from the first celebrities to get a little risque for the sake of publicity.

“In the land of Madonna, Britney, Miley, Gossip Girl, other public figures and shows that have pushed the envelope and challenged the levels of comfort in their viewers and fans…we are not the first,” she writes.

“Now, in perpetuating the type of images that evoke these kind of emotions, I am sorry.

If you are hurt or these photos make you uncomfortable, it was never our intention. And if your eight-year-old has a copy of our GQ cover in hand, again I am sorry.

But I would have to ask, how on earth did it get there?”

Dianna goes on to explain that the actors were asked to portray “heightened versions” of their “Glee” characters—think “Hit Me Baby One More Time—and also admits that the shoot’s theme wasn’t her favorite idea but that she agreed to it anyway.

“I must say, I am trying to live my life with a sharpie marker approach.

You can’t erase the strokes you’ve made, but each step is much bolder and more deliberate. I’m moving forward from this one, and after today, putting it to rest.

I am only myself, I can only be me.

These aren’t photos I am going to frame and put on my desk, but hey, nor are any of the photos I take for magazines.

Those are all characters we’ve played for this crazy job, one that I love and am so fortunate to have, each and every day”

At this point I don’t know what concerns me more; the fact that these photos are sucking the life out of my Twitter feed or that Dianna is the one apologizing for images that are barely comparable to her co-star Lea?

Better yet, maybe it’s the fact that these images reveal a sense of inequality and a strong double standard.

NPR’s Linda Holmes made an interesting point in her recent commentary.

She agrees that yes the spread is tactless and inappropriate but argues their relation to pornography.

Quite simply she states that the criticism geared toward the images is right, but for the wrong reasons.

“Not all sexualized photos are created equal, and these, indeed, are in particularly and specifically poor taste,” Holmes begins.

“The problems start with the cover,” she explains.

“There are plenty of reasons it’s bothersome, but let’s start with the two major ones: (1) the women are half-naked, while the man (Cory Monteith) is fully clothed; and (2) Monteith is possessively palming both of their behinds simultaneously.

It makes them submissive to him, which they aren’t on the show.”

And what about “Glee” as a whole? Has the brand been tarnished within the eyes of over-protective parents?

“Glee” has become a super-power in the branding world.

Millions everywhere have heard of the show, know someone who has seen the show or is an addict themselves.

Let alone, look what it has done for the music industry, releasing bank-breaking covers of some of the world’s top hits.

It simply cannot be expected to live up to virginal expectations.

It has already touched upon real-life, mature topics from teen pregnancy, divorce, bullying and difference in sexual orientation.

And what do you know… it was seductress Britney Spears, whose featured episode, which aired on September 28th, broke the hit show’s rating records.

“Britney/Brittany” brought in “13.3 million viewers and a 5.8 preliminary adults 18-49 years rating” according to, a 4% increase from the season’s highly anticipated premiere.

It’s clear that with the show’s overwhelming success this was no PR stunt. Shedding a few layers of clothing wasn’t a cry for more viewers nor was it an attempt for the stars to make a name for themselves.

Cast mate Mark Salling (who plays Puck on the series for all you non-Gleeks) has the most fitting reaction. He hardly finds the magazine spread to be newsworthy.

“Personally, I think it’s not a big deal,” Salling said in an interview with L.A. radio station 102.7 KIIS FM.

“I mean, come on! We’re obviously not in high school. It’s tongue-in-cheek that we’re in high school…there’s more important things to worry about in the world.”


Kelly Ahern is a recent Roger Williams Univeristy graduate living in New England. She graduated with a degree in Communications-Public Relations and a Core Concentration in Italian. She is an aspiring PR professional who loves social media, fashion and traveling. You can find her on Twitter @Kelly_Ahern.

Copyright © 2009-2010 Sasha H. Muradali. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about the GQ spread, not because of the controversy it created, but wondering how it could represent a shift in marketing for “Glee.”

    When the show came out last year, it seemed that the marketing targeted families and teens. I recall my mom telling me she loved watching the show with my younger brother (aged 14) becasue it opened up the opportunity for dialogue about challenging subjects in a smart, tasteful way.

    It's no secret this season's content is a bit different and the writers seem to be catering to the teen/young adult crowd rather than families. (I mean, it did mention “scissoring” at 8:05pm.) Maybe the GQ spread is part of a broader push to engage a more mature, though less familial, audience.

    Just one idea I had!

  2. Should we focus to make things better, and not bigger?

  3. Should we focus to make things better, and not bigger?

  4. Great work transforming a tacky GQ series into a challenging and intellectually provocative piece of journalism.