The online men’s magazine AskMen.com recently announced their list of Top 99 Most Desirable Women of 2012. In announcing the list, the site asks and then answers the question, “What does it really mean to be a desirable woman?” Their answer? “Is it solely about a pretty face or a career accomplishment? Is it about having perfect proportions or about being ‘wife material’? You answered these questions by voting in our annual Top 99. And judging from your responses and those of our staff, one thing is clear: Desirability isn’t any one of these things, but all of them. You chose women who represent the complete package of beauty, brains, ambition and charm. And we think you chose wisely.”
So, according to the 2 million-plus votes submitted to the site, which has a motto of “Become a Better Man” and features such important content areas as “The Guy’s Guide to Romance,” “From the Bar to the Bedroom,” and “The Style Bible,” who are these most desirable of all women?
Some of them I have never heard of, though that does not really surprise me since my interaction with so-called popular culture is not as extensive as many of the readers of AskMen, I am sure (and that doesn’t trouble me in the least!). In checking it out, I worked my way up the list. So number 99, for instance, is Bérénice Marlohe. Apparently I am not to be troubled by not knowing her, though, as the site’s description says, “While your average Joe probably doesn’t know all that much about this French beauty, he will before long.” Reading further, I learn that Ms. Marlohe was the latest in the long line of Bond girls in this year’s James Bond film, Skyfall. So, given the attention and popularity that has been granted so many Bond girls of the past, and the obvious focus the film series places on sex appeal, perhaps I should be encouraged that this newest member of that growing-but-exclusive club is the final entry on the list. Could that mean that the majority of the respondents to this survey truly did look beyond the physical in casting their votes? I would soon see…
Right away I was encouraged, because Kim Kardashian checked in at number 98. When someone as ubiquitous in the celebrity-worshipping culture as she is was next-to-last on the list, there really might be hope, I thought.
Unfortunately, the list does not continue to encourage me. Checking in at number 92 is Paulina Gretzky, daughter of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky. I had never heard of her, either, but the description posted with her entry says that she has proven to be “a prolific poster of provocative pictures on both Twitter and Instagram,” and after mentioning that her father has complained about her photos, the site says “we sure won’t,” before ending her entry with this statement: “This year, she’ll continue to be one of the best arguments for social media, Daddy’s dignity be damned.” Not only is such a statement disrespectful to the opinion of a father (who has every right to “complain”), it clearly emphasizes an appreciation for this young woman’s willingness to show off her body. The site’s description states that Ms. Gretzky gained her following by being “crazy hot and proud of it.” While we are still in the nineties, my hope that the poll would support women famous and “desirable” for more than showing skin is dwindling at this point…
By the time I reached number 85 and read the description for Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (whom I had also never heard of) I was afraid to go on. A Russian, this young lady, according to the short description, is an inmate in a Russian prison, was part of punk band with a name I will not even include here, and “participated in a public orgy” to protest the election of Dmitry Medvedev in 2008. If this is even close to desirable we are in real trouble.
Deciding it had to get better, I decided to venture on. Remember, I am less than one-fifth of my way through the list at this point.
I found more of the same. Cassie, the entry at number 77, is apparently known as a recording artist, model, dancer and actress, and for a “love affair with P. Diddy” and “jawdropping topless photos.” Sherlyn Chopra, number 63, “became the first Indian model to ever appear nude on the cover of Playboy magazine” in 2012. If these are most notable accomplishments the magazine could produce when giving a brief bio of these women how could they seriously suggest that this is a list of women that “represent the complete package of beauty, brains, ambition and charm”? The emphasis is overwhelmingly on “beauty,” though I feel I must set that apart in quotation marks since the true emphasis seems to be on women willing to show off their bodies, not necessarily on “beauty.”
That kind of focus seems to be the trend of the majority of the list, and certainly seems to be the focus of the editors of AskMen. Even those women on the list who are famous for reasons not involving taking off their clothes or splashing revealing pictures all over cyberspace are almost always depicted in the most revealing or suggestive photo the site could likely find. There were two notable exceptions, and at least the site had the decency to avoid overly suggestive photos or comments in those instances (which will be revealed below) but one need not “AskMen” to figure out where the attention was focused.
There were a couple of encouraging things about the list. First, the list includes women from a variety of fields… Plenty are actresses. Some are athletes (tennis player Ana Ivanovic is number 96; Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn is 73; Olympic javelin thrower Leryn Franco is 64; Antonija Misura, 53, is a basketball player; Lolo Jones, 41, is an Olympic hurtler; Hope Solo, 30, is an Olympic soccer player; and Michelle Jenneke, number 10, is a hurtler). Some are models (Kate Moss is 95; Bar Paly is 87; Liu Wen is 82; Joan Smalls is 78; Doutzen Kroes is 55) or musicians/singers (Iggy Azalea, 81; Carly Rae Jepsen, 75; Solange Knowles is 50; Beyoncé is 32; Katy Perry is 21; and British pop star Cheryl Cole is 16). One, Marcela Valladolid (number 60) is a chef and another one, Marissa Mayer, is the CEO of Yahoo!. Ronda Rousey (43) is a mixed martial artist and Olympian, and Sara Carbonera (37) is a sports reporter. First Lady Michelle Obama is number 33, and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is number 25. These last two are the list-makers that the site was decent enough not to turn into sex objects, though they did deem it necessary to mention the topless photos that appeared during the year of the Duchess.
There are as well a variety of nationalities on the list (see Marlohe and Marion Cotillard  both French; Ivanovic [Serbian]; Amrita Acharia [94, Nepalese]; Rocsi [91, Honduran]; Paly and Bar Refaeli  are both Israeli, and actress Natalie Portman  is a dual Israeli-American citizen; Imogen Poots , Keira Knightley , Rosie Huntington-Whitely , and Emma Watson  are all British, as is Middleton, of course, and Cheryl Cole  and Emilia Clarke ; Liu Wen [Chinese]; Azalea, Jenneke, and Miranda Kerr  are Australian; Tracy Spiridakos  and Cobie Smulders  are both Canadian; Smalls [Puerto Rican]; Bipasha Basu  and Chopra  are both Indian; Morena Baccarin , Alessandra Ambrosio , and Adriana Lima  are Brazilian; Leryn Franco [Paraguayan]; Kroes and Freja Beha Erichsen  are both Dutch; Misura [Croatian]; Sofia Vergara [12, Colombian]; Candice Swanepoel [11, South African]; and number 2, Mila Kunis, was born in Ukraine).
It was nice to see an age range, too–Jenneke is only 19, several entries are barely out of their teens, with Selena Gomez (56) the second-youngest by my reckoning at 20, while Mayer and Christina Hendricks  are 37, Heidi Klum (61) is “pushing 40,” Vergara is 40, Tina Fey, (80) and Rachel Weisz (72) are both 42, and Lucy Liu (69) is 44. The First Lady is 48 years old.
The emphasis AskMen has is revealed in many of the comments provided in the descriptions of the 99 women. The description for Antonija Misura, for example, says, “Antonija Misura is a women’s basketball player you absolutely have to see. Just to clarify, you don’t actually need to see her play (she only averaged 3.3 points per game for Croatia in the 2012 London Olympics); rather, you just need to see her because she’s one of the hottest women to ever play the sport.” Their focus for Jenneke? “Dressed in the smallest two-piece tracksuit available, Jenneke bounced and danced, swaying her hips and swinging her hair like a total coquette. She finished first, winning a gold medal for her race but also for the sexiest warmup of all time.” That was their description of her performance at the World Junior Championships…and a young woman who is only 19 years old!
The number 84 entry “made waves when she revealed her bisexuality” and number 49 is “openly bisexual.” I cannot help but wonder how in the world these things would make one “desirable.”
So, after all that, who was number one? Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who starred in The Hunger Games.
So what is point in exploring all of that? There are a few points, actually. One is at least potentially positive, and that is that the list clearly reveals how small current technology has made the world. I cannot help but think that if such a list had been generated twenty years ago there is no way there would have been women from nearly twenty countries included. However, I said “potentially positive” because if we are using this incredible technology just to objectify women from around the world, that is a problem.
Two, I have to ask whether or not it is even possible to “vote on” women in a poll like this without objectifying them. After all, of the two million-some votes that were cast, how many of those voting, if any, actually know any of these women? Can I or anyone else determine the desirability of someone I do not know by any other than the most superficial of means?
Third, shouldn’t there be something troubling about considering someone else’s wife as desirable? Many of the women in the poll are married. I cannot imagine many men would appreciate having their buddies come up and say, “Hey man, we think your wife is really desirable!” I suspect there would be a very serious conversation that followed such a comment, if not a fist fight. When I was in middle school I had a youth pastor who was also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. One evening he and his wife were entering a fast food restaurant and some men in a truck in the drive through line whistled at her. He politely but in no uncertain terms told them to knock it off. Somehow their expression of her desirability did not strike him as complimentary or appropriate. (And the men in the truck were not willing to heed his warning, so they got out of the truck and started a fight. Given his background, my youth pastor dispatched them quickly).
Fourth, I was struck by the fact that there are either a lot of men who have warped concepts of “desirable” or else are more than willing to “enjoy” behavior from women not their wives or daughters that they would never condone or tolerate from them.
Having said all that, I have to point out that the Scripture also describes a desirable woman. Interestingly, the description in Proverbs has no similarity to the one on AskMen.com. The woman in Proverbs 31 is industrious, wise, physically fit, generous, a sharp and fashionable dresser, pleasant to be around… The same proverb addresses charm and beauty; the first is deceitful and the second is vain.
In the government class I teach we have been discussing recently the diminishing influence of biblical values in public life today. It would seem that AskMen has provided ample evidence of the diminishing influence of biblical values in social life, too. Unfortunately, many of the women on the list expresses appreciation for their inclusion. If only they could see that such activities serve only to diminish their professional accomplishments. There is nothing at all wrong with women being athletes, actresses, singers, models, business professionals or almost anything else. And there is nothing wrong with a woman who is any of those things also being physically attractive–or even with men noticing that she is physically attractive. But when her physical attractiveness becomes the sole focus of those around her, she is diminished. When we allow ourselves to not only let that be the sole focus, but to celebrate that we have done so, we are diminished.