The Latest Rolling Stone Cover is A Nod To Our Era of Ugliness

Some of the best, most memorable magazine covers are all about challenging beauty norms and pushing the boundaries of fashion. But in recent years, the world of media and entertainment has lost its grip on what it actually means to be daring and beautiful at the same time.

By Gina Florio4 min read
Pexels/Kate Gundareva

Kristen Stewart started out as the beautiful girl next door. She first rose to fame for her work as Bella Swan in the Twilight saga, a series of films based on the novels by Stephenie Meyer. Her portrayal of the teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire catapulted her into international stardom. During the filming of the saga, Stewart's off-screen relationship with co-star Robert Pattinson, who played Edward Cullen, became a focal point for fans and media alike. Their real-life romance mirrored the on-screen love story, making them one of the most talked-about celebrity couples of the time. Despite the end of their relationship, their names remain intertwined due to the Twilight series' lasting popularity.

Stewart was always beautiful with long, brown hair, porcelain skin, and a naturally slender figure. The more fame she accrued, the more she became interested in fashion. Stewart publicly confirmed her sexuality in 2017 during her opening monologue on Saturday Night Live, where she humorously declared, "I'm, like, so gay, dude." This moment marked a significant point in her public life, and she has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT visibility, sharing her experiences and the importance of living as your gender identity.

Stewart has been linked with several personalities since coming out. Most notably, she has been in a relationship with screenwriter Dylan Meyer since 2019. The couple's engagement was announced in November 2021. Over recent years, Stewart’s hair has gotten shorter and shorter, and she has become more androgynous. So, while it wasn’t exactly a surprise to see her latest Rolling Stone cover, it did confirm something that we’ve seen way too often in the world of Hollywood: the industry has a weird obsession with making women look ugly by giving them terrible haircuts, putting them in unattractive clothes, and dulling their natural beauty – all in the name of being edgy.

Kristen Stewart’s Rolling Stone Cover Was So Boring

Stewart’s photoshoot for Rolling Stone’s March edition has become the talk of the internet, and not for a good reason. On the cover, her hair is in a greasy mullet, and she wears a leather vest with nothing underneath it, along with men’s briefs underwear. She is shoving her hand down the underwear and staring blankly at the camera. It is the most empty, unattractive cover that Rolling Stone (or perhaps any magazine) has ever done. The other photos in the series show Stewart wearing a baggy T-shirt that says “Animal,” paired with that same icky mullet and patterned underwear. In another picture, she’s sitting on the ground with her legs spread, wearing a baggy shirt, and pointing at the camera with her fingers in the shape of a gun. 

The whole idea of the shoot was to supposedly challenge conventional gender norms and allow Stewart to embrace her identity in a groundbreaking manner. Stewart's discussion in the interview revealed her intention to subvert traditional gender roles, reflecting on her past experiences with the Twilight series, where male co-stars were often highlighted as sex symbols. She articulated a bold wish to undertake "the gayest f*cking thing you've ever seen," wanting to explore and visually represent aspects of masculinity in a manner that's rarely showcased for female celebrities.

The photoshoot was trying to use poses typically reserved for male sex symbols, and that was apparently supposed to signify a powerful statement against the conventional sexualization of female celebrities. It was meant to draw parallels to Jeremy Allen White's Calvin Klein campaign, deviating from the magazine's historical trend of featuring women in bikinis (which is now considered offensive, of course). It’s comical to think that this was Rolling Stone’s goal, especially considering the fact that Stewart didn’t actually portray anything masculine or daring. It was just displeasing to the eye, uninspiring, and a complete waste of her natural beauty, as if they were trying to make her look as bad as possible – pale, unhappy, and lifeless.

Stewart's involvement in the thriller Love Lies Bleeding alongside Katy O'Brian is meant to resonate with her gay identity. Her portrayal of gym manager Lou aligns with her personal aesthetic and echoes a sentiment of returning to your genuine self, untouched by societal expectations. Stewart talked about being a “queer woman in the public eye,” situating herself between notable figures like Jodie Foster and emerging artists such as Boygenius, claiming there are evolving challenges and opportunities for openly gay actors in Hollywood. Even the article itself was predictable. They just focus on the plight of gay celebrities, as if they have a tougher time than anyone else and gender roles are suffocating them and their ability to express themselves. 

Kristen Stewart’s Cover Is Just One of Many Reminders That There Is a War on Beauty

This, of course, isn’t the first time that we’ve seen this play: ugly haircut, male underwear, topless woman, and some kind of statement about being “queer.” It’s overplayed and tired. This checklist is supposed to read as forward-thinking, but it really just ends up looking bland and overdone. Rolling Stone did it with Miley Cyrus in January 2021, and we’ve seen plenty of covers with Elliot Page (formerly known as Ellen Page) since she identified as a transgender male. 

It’s all meant to challenge stereotypes, but what these covers actually do is reinforce the very gender stereotypes they claim to hate. The woman is posed in some kind of “masculine” way, with her legs spread apart (usually wearing old, dingy men’s underwear). She has a bad haircut and a terrible sense of fashion, her posture is slouchy, and her face is fixated in a nonchalant expression. These are all traditionally masculine traits to see in a male sex symbol. Not exactly challenging any stereotypes. 

After seeing Stewart’s cover, people can’t help but point out that she’s moving in the same direction as Elliot Page. Hollywood loves to take beautiful women and make them look ugly and unhappy in the name of progress and gender exploration. Page has looked worse and worse every time we see her in a new magazine feature, but that’s exactly the way they want it done. It’s an intentional stripping of beauty, and it fits in perfectly with everything else going on in our culture: the body positivity and fat acceptance movement, the vilification of thinness and slender frames, and the near erasure of supermodels who have the perfect, unattainable figure (see the unsuccessful overhaul of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show). It’s probably only a matter of time before Stewart comes out as a trans-identified male and claims that she’s finally living her truth. 

After the widespread criticism and disgust at the cover, Rolling Stone attempted to clap back and say that “right-wingers are terrified” of Stewart’s photoshoot. Nobody is scared of her pictures. We’re just pointing out the uncomfortable truth behind the facade of progress: This photoshoot strips her of her natural beauty and doesn’t do a thing to challenge gender stereotypes. What happened to interesting, beautiful, and even provocative magazine covers and photoshoots? Especially the ones that feature feminine women who aren’t trying to be men. Judging by people’s responses, we’re certainly not the only ones who miss the magazine covers of the past – the ones that enhance the unique beauty of women, not squash it in the name of gender theory.

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