Glee: Change the Wrapper

I love Candy Corn, that festive white – orange – yellow buttery honey candy that lets us know autumn and Halloween are here. I think what I enjoy most about Candy Corn, is that it never tries to be something it is not. The company that makes Candy Corn knows enough to put the stuff with the black stripe, and those pumpkins, in an entirely separate bag, entirely separate wrapper. You know, so as not to confuse the original Candy Corn lover.

So imagine my surprise last week, while munching a few Candy Corn, I nearly choke when someone sends me a link of a popular tv star (whose character is a high school student on FOX’s “Glee”) in sexually provocative poses that are both a little bit porny and a lot bit distasteful. These weren’t photos leaked through an unfortunate social media posting. They were taken by a professional photographer in order to sell a popular national men’s magazine. And there is very little change to the wrapper.

Glee star Lea Michele says she doesn't know how photographer Terry Richardson got her to do the things she did.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not falling from my chair in shock that there are desperate Hollywood starlets ready and willing to take it off, bare it, and spread it on a few glossy pages of a men’s mag so that we remember their name for one more month. The only thing is that the women who posed in these shots aren’t desperate. They are on a hit show, incredibly talented, and seemingly at the top of their game.

These adult actors were still in character during the shoot that takes place in what looks like a school (cheerleader, letter jacket wearing drummer), and otherwise wearing childish items like lacy anklet socks and pigtails…while bending over suggestively or spreading legs wide on a bench with an “Oopsie!” look on their faces.

My problem is that this whole ‘dirty school girl’ shoot didn’t change enough between the high school tv characters and the adult actors to qualify as changing the wrapper. Certainly not for that tween fan who a few months from now will Google photos of their favorite diva singer from Glee and see crotch shots and objectification in a way that leaves the female subject childish and vapid. (That’s where the sexualization comes in, fellas.) I’ve read statements from three of the cast members of the show saying things like, “I don’t know how they got me to do half of what I did” and “There are bigger problems in the world, like hunger and the losing Dallas Cowboys” and finally “well I’m sorry if your 8 year old is holding a copy of GQ”.

What I’m sorry about is that none of the Glee producers, or the actors’ agents, or the actors themselves, gave any thought to the outcome these photos would have. The photographer that was hired is Terry Richardson, Uncle Terry as he is known, infamous for being a skeevy and allegedly sexually assaulting many of his subjects. When you hire a guy whose motto is “Rock out with your cock out”, you know what you’re getting yourself into. So at some point, when Uncle Terry says, “Good, girls, now you bend over and you jump up and down in your bra and panties and lacy ankelts…” maybe one of the two actresses, would look at the other and say, “You know, we don’t want to be type-cast as high school students for the rest of our careers, but maybe doing this isn’t taking us in the right direction either.”

And when you are now a famous tv star with a fan base of millions of teens and tweens, you need to give some responsibility to your agency and say, you know, this doesn’t represent me or my character. Let’s move this to the beach or shoot us on the street or at a bar so that all those kids who made me famous know that this is me the adult, not me as their idol and favorite on a show they watch religiously every Tuesday night.

We do have bigger problems than the losing streak of an NFL team, we have the sexualization of youth and the objectification of women going on with such complacency in the media it is as if their eyes are wide shut.

If you are going to sell Candy Corn, I’ll buy. If you are going to then try to sell me Candy Corn packaged in porn industry costuming being ass palmed by a fully dressed male while coyly playing with a bright red lollipop, I’ll tell you I’m changing the channel and not buying the insincere and apathetic apologies trying to act as damage control.


  1. Great post. I don’t watch Glee but I obviously know about the show and I’ve unfortunately seen some of the pix via the TV, internet….. I’m with you. My heart aches over the over sexualization of our youth. Even walking into a Halloween Costume store or getting one of their flyers is revolting. Costumes aimed at tween girls is entirely to provocative.

    As a mom of four girls, I am very aware of the media and what it wants to do to my kids. I say NO. I talk to my girls. I monitor what they watch and talk to them about why I don’t think some shows are good for them. I teach them to value themselves. That they are worthy. Parents have a huge influence over their children. Yes, its true we can’t protect them from everything but we can talk to them about important topics. Kids are listening. They want to know you care.

    This is a crisis in our society and we all need to keep talking about it.

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

  2. I agree entirely. And – could the point have been made without re-posting the most offensive photo?

    • Hi Jennifer –
      Perhaps, but for the parents whose children watch the show and don’t yet know about the controversy, I felt that knowledge is power. The photo is strategically positioned between paragraphs so for those who find it offensive, you can easily scroll up and down and avoid it all together.

      Unfortunately, my job calls for the viewing and discussing of a lot of offensive materials. Parents need to know what’s out there.

    • That’s a conundrum I have ALL the time on Shaping Youth, whether to ‘add to the shock schlock’ or to avoid calling any further attention to it even in a media literacy context…The marketing side of me KNOWS this is only ‘fanning the flames’ and it’s ‘bait and wait’ for the outrage of ‘parentals’ like me (and like you!) 😉 I used to do ‘thumbnails’ to get the point across but now I think it’s gotten so much worse since I first started blogging in 2006 that it’s ‘gloves off’ so parents know EXACTLY what we’re dealing with here.

      In 2008 I wrote about the ‘Miss Bimbo’ digital game in this post, “Bimbo Bait: Is Silence or Outrage the Solution for Digital Drek?” Take a look…I think you’ll find why we need to deconstruct it fully: Without the context the debates fall flat, as people shrug it off in ‘what’s the big deal’ mode. Sadly, show and tell trumps reading all the details, I’ve documented this convo at length too…

  3. This post changed my opinion of the photoshoot. While I initially wasn’t thrilled with their choice, I was of the mindset that they are still adults and entitled to DO a photoshoot like this if they so chose. I also disagree with people who complained about the photos because “Glee is a family show.” Glee most certainly is not a family show.

    However, after reading your thoughts, I do agree with “changing the wrapper,” and love this concept. As an activist for young women and a former teacher, I am constantly patrolling the way my image is presented. I also refuse to “friend” former students on Facebook, as that is where I present the adult me, and don’t think they need to see that on a regular basis. I do think it is fair to expect the same of stars who present themselves as role models to teens and tweens.

    Well said, Melissa! I am pretty stubborn, so it is a pretty amazing feat to change my mind. 😉

    • I think the ‘candy corn’ and ‘wrapper’ visual is brilliantly positioned as it captures the essence of the ‘wth?’ dynamic.

      As for the ‘family’ show bit, agree w/you, not drinkin’ that KoolAid, it never WAS…But as for the ‘they’re adults’ argument, here’s my ‘why not to buy’ line item on same:

      1.) It mixes up sexualization with sexuality. This is profiteering via self-objectification and cliche fetished (snore/bore) pornification pure and simple…I don’t care WHAT age they are.

      2.) One might say, ‘these young kids are now adults’ but what it conveys universally is some sort of tweaked “rite of passage” or ‘coming of age’ benchmark that it seems most every young celeb/Disney diva & Alloy Media ‘property’ has been ‘sold’ as ‘career change’ amplification of “lookee here I’m a grownup now” —That’s not what I’d like to think becoming an adult is all about.

  4. AGREED! This was a terribly bad move on the part of EVERYONE involved – except perhaps for GQ which hasn’t seen this much publicity in a long, long time.

    When I debated this topic on CNN Showbiz Tonight, the other side, an entertainment reporter from Access Hollywood, I think kept saying “Glee isn’t a family show” and I disagreed. While it’s subject matter may have distinct subtext for an older audience, it’s entire packaging, music available for download on iTunes, and recent concert tour around the US is a direct target to the families and teens that love this show. It is tweens and teens that keep most of our programming on the air like this.

    But you make an excellent point – this was clearly a high school, pornographic sex fantasy come to life – playing up the three way love triangle the characters have on the show and most of all – it was lame. We’ve seen it before. It’s not unique or original and the only thing it did for me was tell me that Glee and it’s three leads may have jumped the shark in their own careers. They don’t come off as edgy or smart in these photos. It wreaks of ego and desperation.

  5. So, the women are half-naked and the man is fully dressed. This would serve better as a public service announcement for a teen rape crisis center. Let’s see the “after” pictures of one of the women 9 months pregnant or leaving the abortion clinic.

    • Or sitting with a police officer after she’s been date raped.

    • Ashley Vincent says:

      I think it’s very important to make a distinction – women who are harassed and raped are not victimized because of the way they are dressed, and the statistics on this prove it. Slut-shaming a hypersexualized woman who was raised on this culture instead of educating her to value herself is EXACTLY why men can get away with justifying their behavior based on the way women are dressed. As long as we can say things like, “See, it’s those bad girls that dress provocatively that are victimized!” we spread dangerous disinformation about what makes a predator choose his victims and how prepared and knowledgeable girls should be about keeping themselves safe.

      This does not change the fact that women are subject to harassment and sexual violence on a day to day basis wearing sweats, hoodies, sun dresses, burqas/other religious garb, loose pants, tight pants, long skirts, short skirts, makeup, no makeup, with or without their children present, and for being or simply “looking like” lesbians and feminists, and you can bet more than half of the perpetrators would gladly look you straight in the face and say, “Well, look at how she was dressed. She was Asking For It.”

      No woman is ever asking for it, and the implication that these sexualized images of adults pretending to be teenagers exploring themselves and each other sexually (albeit, yes in a VERY fantasy porn way that is fetishized for adults) is the same as seeing an appropriate image for a Rape Crisis Center is both extreme and offensive.

      I know I didn’t do ANYTHING to deserve to endure the sexual violence I did at 13 years old, other than have the odds stacked against me by being a mix of two races that are traditionally targeted and stalked for sexual violence, and be a lonely kid with no friends. He could have victimized any number of the hypersexualized, provocatively dressed and suggestible girls in my grade, with all the self esteem issues and limitations they were accepting, and he picked me; I still dressed age appropriately form the most part, and was the loneliest, most isolated, unpopular, sensitive kid with budding feminist opinions in my class. I was the one who was unlikely to have anybody TO tell. It’s NOT always or EVER exclusively about how a woman or child was dressed, because predators don’t operate just like your run of the mill cat-calling bully – they are far more horrifyingly complex.

      • Ashley-
        First let me say how sorry I am that such a horrible experience happened to you, especially at the tender age of 13. I do want to applaud you for giving voice to your assualt and taking power back by telling your story.

        Although I do not disagree with anything you said, I just want to expand upon it.

        It is fact that women, girls and boys have been raped wearing all manners of dress. It is also a fact that when we fetishize sex with school girls and when school girls themselves objectify themselves, IT SLIDES THE BAR OF TABOO. That isn’t the same thing as “Asking For It”, but your scantily clad classmates may very well have played a role in normalizing the sexual fantasies your attacker had about having sex (forced sex) with a young girl, that a young girl is wanting/ready for sex. Then he went out and found the lowest risk victim he could – you. None of you would have deserved or asked for it, but when young girls advertise their bodies (or parts of their bodies) in scanty clothing or clothing reminiscent of an industry that sees women as body parts and not whole beings, it is much like a sandwich board for a deli. They need to understand there are repercussions with men who only see them as a piece of meat.

        So all of the little, subtle implications in this photoshoot that signal childhood – socks with high heels, pigtails, lollipops, school, white panty/virgin complex…..all of it SLIDES THE BAR OF TABOO. That is a dangerous game for anyone to play.

        • Ashley Vincent says:


          I adore you so much. Thank you for understanding my point and expanding upon it in the way you did. I really hoped I wasn’t conveying the idea that I thought this imagery is “okay” in any contextual sense, because you’re absolutely right about the normalization factor of this particular fetishism, and it’s not the sort of thing I want young girls who are fans of Glee to emulate at all.

          My main concern was addressing and emphasizing the fact that predatory behavior has many facets and factors; how a child behaves and dresses can be very secondary to negotiations of access, and risk assessment. It’s exactly because of your point that I want people to know that even if they don’t allow sexualized clothing and images into their homes, this doesn’t make one’s child necessarily safer or less of a target to a person whose only real requirement is access to a susceptible victim.

          I just really hope the commenter I originally responded to understands why there’s an extreme jump between using this as a PSA to bring awareness to the issue of sexualization of childhood and using the same image or the image depicted along with consequences as a PSA for any sort of Rape Crisis program. I don’t know many people who would be able to look at a poster like that, associate it with a Rape Crisis program and glean from it that sexualization of childhood, and not “provocative dress = asking for it/getting consequences” was the issue being addressed.

          • My Dear Ashley –
            I completely agree. I actually interviewed the National Safety Director and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on this VERY topic. Post is forthcoming.

            Also, sending you lots of love tonight. Your voice and your heart are strong.

        • Eloquently stated by both of you, teary now. Voices and hearts are strong indeed. —Serves as an ongoing reminder for why I brought my teen to The Line movie ( in all of its raw/realness…even tho I was squirmy about it.

          “Sliding the bar of the taboo” and desensitization/normalization of fetish factors is part and parcel of sexualization taking hold as age compression dials downward into the horrors pedophilia; a much larger conversation that’s aligned w/this whole ‘school girl’ bit.

  6. I agree 100%. I wrote about this on Friday. I understand that they are all adults, but they represent themselves as teenagers on the show AND in these photos and I think they should be respectful of that. But ALSO why would they even want to take these photos in the first place? If women start to stand up to be objectified in this manner it will stop. It may take a while, but it will.

  7. BRAVO! As always thank you for taking the time to fully unpack what was (and is) so wrong with this picture. There is not a person out there who can state that the lockers alongside Lea Michele don’t spell “SCHOOL.”

    I am beyond tired of the lack of accountability that blankets so many:
    “There are bigger problems in the world, like hunger and the losing Dallas Cowboys”

    Yes there are bigger problems then the losing Dallas Cowboys:

    “Across several studies, women and men exposed to sexually objectifying images of women from mainstream media (e.g. R-rated films, magazine advertisements, music videos) were found to be significantly more accepting of rape myths (e.g. the belief that women invite rape by engaging in certain behaviors), sexual harassment, sex role stereotypes, interpersonal violence, and adversarial beliefs about relationships than were those in control conditions.”
    —Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

    The sexualization of girls has far reaching implications that are infinite (don’t even get me started on the ties to intimate partner violence) and people think by not allowing an 8 year old to grab a copy of GQ that poof all of our problems are averted. What a sad testimony to the pervasive mindset that is eroding this great country.

    Thanks you Melissa for one of the most intelligent responses to the Glee/GQ expose.

  8. Excellent article thank you. You have raised a really important issue that many people are oblivious to. I work with young people and am constantly saddened by the pressure they are under to be “sexy” at such a young age. They are surrounded by sexual imagery from such a young age. There needs to be a tidal change here, and if we can start getting actors/media stars on board, perhaps that change could gain momentum. I hope you have sent this article to the actors involved?

  9. I’d respectfully like to point out that GQ is a publication that children should no way be allowed to have in their hands – and there are ways to prevent children from obtaining a print copy, as well as from seeing the photos on the internet (blocked sites/censors). I feel it’s the responsibility of parents to make that decision and take those actions – it’s not the responsibility of the actresses or the magazine itself. Don’t get me wrong – I’m fairly disgusted when I see photos like the ones in this shoot, because I think women ought to display more self-respect for themselves than that. But it’s not my body or my career to make the decision with.

    Also – Glee is not exactly a “family” show. The second episode of the series featured the club acting out sex, oral sex, and spanking during a performance (‘Push It’), as well as a male character having trouble with premature ejaculation – with some very telltale facial expressions. The Madonna tribute episode featured a number set to ‘Like A Virgin’ that featured three different couples hooking up, complete with one of the female characters mounting one of the male characters like a horse and grinding on him. This season, a male character prayed to a grilled cheese sandwich with the face of Jesus on it for permission to touch his girlfriend’s chest. The Britney Spears tribute episode features, obviously, a number of provocative costumes and dance numbers, as well as one of the characters being caught masturbating in the library.

    So while it’s mostly corny, crazy fun, Glee is not something children should be watching – in my opinion, it’s not even a tween/young teen show. I’d be more concerned with the ramifications if it was the cast of a Nickelodeon or Disney show in these photos – people from a show that specifically is targeted at the younger set. In my personal opinion, Glee doesn’t fit.

    • Hi Sarah –
      I’d respectfully like to point out that with three clicks of a mouse and one search query, these photographs shot for a men’s magazine would be at the viewing pleasure of anyone, of ANY AGE, who search for “Glee”, “Glee on FOX”, “Lea Michele”, or “photos of Glee”. Has nothing to do with an actual copy of the magazine.

      While I agree with you about Glee probably not being the best family entertainment, that doesn’t change the fact that millions of tweens and teens are watching the number one show in America. The accessibility if the songs on iTunes, and all of the concerts being PACKED with young tween girls, aired at a family friendly time slot….that’s pretty heavy handed in the marketing to young people, I think. You’d be more concerned if it were a Disney cast member? I’ve seen photos of the naughty bits of every single ex-Disney starlet desperately trying to stay in the lime light.

      • Zactly. It’s universal/surround sound. Ambient. Urban wallpaper. And though many applauded the star’s backhanded apology, “if your 8-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?” I’d say emphatically: That. Is. So. Tiring. “Blame it on the parents” redux.

        You don’t have to be ’8 yrs old’ (or a parent!) to be offended by the degradation of raw TALENT reduced to raunchy pinup posters repackaged as ‘self-actualization’ of some sort…again, not buyin’ it.

  10. Puritan America… they don’t mind having guns in the homes, watch all kind of violence on tv and cinema, discriminate foreigns, dark people and gays, kill millions of people in their so called needed wars… but they act all shocked when an actress takes some pics without a skirt…
    Maybe you should be asking yourselves why on earth would a young fan have not controlled access to the internet, or the magazine itself near them to see. Maybe, you should be the ones educating your children instead of expecting actors and singers to do YOUR job as a parent.
    This is a magazine for grown up men, if a children have access to it, then that’s YOUR fault, not the maganize creators, not these actors.

    • I’m going to ignore your comments in the first paragraph and simply remind you this has nothing to do with the printed magazine. It has to do with these pictures being ALL over the internet, many on news sites that would get past parental controls. With agency comes responsibility, especially if your fame was built on the backs of young people.

      (cc: Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus)

      • Melissa, troll crossing. Do not feed. 😉 Posting and respectfully engaging and/or ignoring the comment (and the gazillions like it that I receive including the ‘you need to get laid’ pearl-clutching/name calling crud) is part of our daily work, n’est ce pas? Rock on, girl. Deep breath. Let it go.

  11. So y’know… I am much more sympathetic to the POV of the Tim Cain piece you linked than to yours; sorry.

    I don’t know if you’ve actually been paying any attention, but Lea Michele is *not* Rachel Berry — to pick only the most prominent example; not only is she not a clueless teenager, my opinion is that she’s not all that nice a person, either.

    But I don’t demand that of my actors.

    I’m completely at odds, for example, with Adam Baldwin’s Faux News politics. So I don’t follow him on Twitter anymore. I just watch him rock out on Chuck, and I move along with life.

    I wouldn’t want my kids following his political opinions, either.

    Difference is, *I’m* responsible for that. Not him.

    Same thing here.

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep saying it:

    Raise Your Damn Kids. It’s no one else’s responsibility.

    And if you don’t *have* kids, and are not a professional in the having of opinions about the raising of kids, such that you’re listened to by parents on that point… why are we listening to your opinion on this, again?

    Oh: you’re trying to “reclaim girliness”.

    Well, here’s a teachable moment for you.

    • Yes, you’ve certainly schooled me. Except that, shoot, I DO have two children, and I DO work as a professional in the “having of opinions about the raising of kids” – except I call it media literacy advocacy and education.

      The purpose of us all being here is to “Redefine Girly”.

      Just so y’know.


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