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Wired magazine and the brouhaha over breasts

By Melissa Bell

Cindy Royal has a problem with breasts. Not all of them, just the ones on the cover of Wired magazine. The latest issue of the technology magazine features cleavage and not much else on a story about breast tissue engineering.

Royal, a Texas professor who writes about the media and technology, wrote an impassioned blog post about the cover image finally pushing her to the edge. She wrote a break-up letter to the magazine:

You're better than this. You don't need to treat women in this light to sell magazines. You have the power to influence the ways that women envision their roles with technology. Instead, you're not helping.


She criticized the magazine for its lack of non-sexual, non-jokey covers that feature women. The post has rallied online commentators to the cause. Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, wrote back to Royal on her blog (at least Royal thinks it's Anderson and he posts as Anderson, but the magazine can't confirm if it is him or not Just got an email from Anderson confirming it was him.). He responded saying, "We have trouble putting *people* on the cover. It's the same reason: they have to sell, and what sells for us is either big ideas (sans people) or well-known, likable people with interesting things to say ... I could use some help with suggestions."

At the base of the debate is Royal's contention that the technology world as a whole is sexist and Wired does not help contradict that by promoting women as sex objects.

Royal was joined at Poynter in an online chat today by Nancy Miller, the senior Wired editor who conceived and worked on the story. Miller said she loved the cover and expected it to be controversial. The magazine piece talks about the success of regenerative technology and the image of healthy breasts seemed appropriate to Miller. "I think the cover image is strong, beautiful, anatomically accurate, and pretty bad ass," she wrote.

What do you think about the cover? Too inflammatory? Or simply a smart marketing tool?

Update: Reader Yellojkt relays a rather telling tale, "I like to take Wired to read on the plane when I travel for business. This issue stayed home."

By Melissa Bell  | November 12, 2010; 3:37 PM ET
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I like to take Wired to read on the plane when I travel for business. This issue stayed home.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 12, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Women in technology face challenges every day -- it is still a boys' club and Wired should be ashamed of putting a picture on the cover that will make women uncomfortable and give horny geeks something to whisper and joke about. It's ridiculous.

Posted by: vickydobbin | November 12, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I very much doubt that "horny geeks" are rushing to the news stand to buy this issue of Wired for the breasts. There are plenty of places on internet that don't cost a dime and offer everything a horny geek could ask for.

Posted by: nperazich | November 12, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm a woman, and even I think this is a silly outcry.
First of all, photos far more "inappropriate" or graphic are in women's magazines and advertisements all the time. Women's magazines feature photos of hunky looking men half-naked as if all men walked around with their shirts off and displayed their muscles for women on a daily basis -- and these are for articles that have nothing to do with men's body parts. If the feature article is about breast tissue, then what other photo would you deem appropriate?

Secondly, Royal says "you don't need to treat women in this light," yet I'm confused why a photo of someone's chest is "treating women" a certain way. Regardless of whether or not "sex sells," I think it's a bit of a stretch to use this as some metaphor for women's place in the technology sector. The article isn't about how women's breasts can give them an advantage in their careers or something ludicrous like that. It's about science. If people are upset over a picture of cleavage, we have a far way to go in this country before we can have open and serious conversations about the progress of sexual health, science and social acceptance.

Posted by: dcwoody | November 12, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I don't see anything sexual about this photo. Photos of nude breasts do not demean women. It's what's done with the photos and headlines that make the difference.

It's not clear the magazine cover if the article is about breast augmentation only, or about all all body parts that would benefit from tissue engineering.

If the headline and graphics are misleading, then Wired should have done better.

Posted by: cfow1 | November 12, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I don't like the cover because if you were in public and/or home with kids, you will try to fold the magazine cover and avoid being seen as such holding inappropriate image or material.

Publisher has to think about context and medium they are using. If this picture was used INSIDE the would have been fine. OUTSIDE as a cover ..just shows their attempt to be controversial and eye popping..

As far as treating women inappropriately, I don't find picture inappropriate for the story or context. On other hand, i have not seen an article about penile implant with picture of male genitalia.

Sexuality and its perception in society is complex subject. And will remain as such.

Posted by: Washingtonrid | November 12, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

We wouldn't have to worry about things like this if there were no women in the world.

Posted by: htimothyjones1 | November 12, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Are the women who display their cleavage in public promoting sexism?

Posted by: politbureau | November 12, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Could we have nipples next time?

Posted by: leftofcenter2 | November 12, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Given the hundreds of off-topic blathering posts yellojkt makes on Achenbach's blog each month I seriously doubt (s)he travels for work or even has a full-time job.

Posted by: Dawny_Chambers | November 12, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

@dcwoody: Well written, ma'am.

From an editorial/graphics perspective, it's a decent photo, nothing spectacular, but spectacular would actually not work well. It -- as a cover illustration -- is GERMANE to the content of the magazine.

I add that WIRED covers seldom achieve that, IMO.

All in all, as a former graphic artist, a well-done, well-designed cover.

Posted by: rmlwj1 | November 12, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Great cover, nothing wrong with it. If they want to show some half-naked dude on a cover to make women feel better that's fine too.

Posted by: Nymous | November 12, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure why the first reader comment warranted an update. Perhaps there should be another update with dcwoody's opinion.

On another point, this was a moderately interesting news item about two weeks ago. Why does blogPost choose to write about it now?

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | November 12, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

I think dcwoody, above, has it right. Though a guy, I still manage to look at the cover and see an article about technology & breast health. Until we can see women's breasts & NOT think first about sexuality & inequality we're not even close to where we should be.

Posted by: DMWinDC | November 12, 2010 11:33 PM | Report abuse

You morons are so worked up about the picture on the cover that none of you seem at all interested in the article.

Tissue Engineering seems to provide the most hope for women who've had to endure a mastectomy. It seems like women would find this interesting. It also seems like those wearing pink ribbons would want to lure some brainy geeks into working on a technology like this to make women's lives better. Boobs have a way of getting brainy geek's attention.

Posted by: reston75 | November 12, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

First of all, I'm female.

Secondly, this silly matter belongs in the 1950's. When I read the headline I assumed it showed nipples. But no, just what you see in bathing suits and stars at the academy awards. WTF is wrong with everybody? You can download infinite amounts of the most explicit possible porn in every conceivable perversion from any public library.

Fourth and finally, someone wrote:
"There are plenty of places on internet that don't cost a dime and offer everything a horny geek could ask for. "

Yeah, like my blog. Being both:

-- a pathologically shy geek (who subscribes to Wired through my mail drop), and

-- a girl,

I realized that I am in a unique position to make nerdy, GUY geeks remember WTF they really are: naked animals in clothing, seething with (repressed but wonderful) "sexual anger". They and any ambient females would be a lot happier if they unchained the monster within. God knows they'd get ridiculed a lot less.

Gloria Steinham said "All sex is rape", and Woody Allen added "No, only GOOD sex".

Right on!

This non-nipple cover being a big deal is a great example of why the CIVILIZED countries (i.e., Europe) laugh at us.

Like Kirk found out when the transporter split him in half, you need BOTH parts to be human.

And women (i.e. old GIRLS): being stripped naked around boys is still as enthralling and exciting and naughty and deliciously embarrassing as it was in 9th grade--you just FORGOT, that's all.

Now (as Spock said to McCoy), REMEMBER.

--faye kane, homeless autistic-savant who lives in a tent, steals electricity, and walks through the woods: timid, naked, and hoping to be raped because talking to boys is too embarrassing.

My "shock therapy" bare pix compliment my pontifications and explanations, all of it aimed at getting you "intelligent" guys to stop being retarded. All the OTHER animals are smart enough to do what you geeks are too stupid to.

I know:

I'm that way too. It's the "smart man's burden".

Posted by: Knee_Cheese_Zarathustra | November 13, 2010 2:26 AM | Report abuse

As a female in technology I think getting worked up over this cover is completely counterproductive. Being seen as an equal doesn't mean walking around on eggshells or worrying about feelings. We pride ourselves on being more logical and practical than the rest of society however we get incredibly emotional over a magazine cover. The picture is not arbitrary. If we're so smart, how about we step back and take the cover for what it is? A well thought out piece of work.

Posted by: rlarmony | November 14, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

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