Posted Saturday, July 18, 2009, at 6:36 AM
Esquire has always taken a gentlemanly approach to the pin-up photo. Let Maxim grease up spray-tanned starlets. Esquire 's game is to dub some top-drawer actress a "Woman We Love" (not, say, a "Woman We Ogle"), pen a purplish essay on the woman's charms, often making reference to her wits, brains, and less obvious body parts (some " cayenne hair ," an exposed " right clavicle ," " long, ribbony limbs ," etc.), and then convince her to cavort in swimwear or lingerie.
Or, in the case of Mary Louise Parker this month : In an apron. And nothing else. Our colleagues at Double X have already discussed the tush-baring photos. But I'm interested in something else: How the imperatives of " search engine optimization " have forced Esquire to drop its genteel mask and confess that—yes—it's luring horny readers by snapping women naked, just like the laddie mags. Consider the disparity between the text of the Parker article, which refers to her "long, platinum neck" and "deep, Guinness eyes," and the text in the title tag, that headline in the bar at the top of your browser window, which is what search engines like Google pay particular attention to: It reads "Mary Louise Parker Naked Photos - Mary Louise Parker Ass - Esquire." You can find similar disparities in recent pieces on Katy Perry (" gigantic" eyes vs. "Katy Perry Hot - Sexy Pictures of Katy Perry") and Anna Friel (" rainbow leggings " vs. "Anna Friel Naked - Tribe Anna Friel Breasts").
That "Tribe" line is particularly slimy. Anna Friel, an actress known lately for her roles in Pushing Daisies and Land of the Lost , also appeared in a 1998 film called The Tribe , and in it—at least according to sites like Mr. Skin that keep track of such things—you can see her breasts. So whoever was writing the title tags at Esquire was hoping to anticipate the Web searches of people looking for the naked Friel of 10 years ago, and steer them to the naked Friel in Esquire this year.
This is not shocking, of course. We live in a world where New York magazine's site traffic spiked by 2000 percent when it ran a gallery of naked pictures of Lindsay Lohan (although that gallery had the accurate, relatively tasteful title tag of "Lindsay Lohan Recreates Last Nude Photo Shoot of Marilyn Monroe"). But it does signal a certain unseemly desperation on the part of Esquire 's editors. They may love these women, but it appears they love the Web traffic more.