Year after year, Maxim magazine chooses its Hot 100, what it describes as “the definitive list of the world’s most beautiful women.” The lad mag’s been shameless in its objectification, simply handing out accolades based on looks alone. But the publication recently changed ownership and underwent an editorial overhaul, landing a woman — former Elle style director Kate Lanphear — in the top job. As editor in chief, she’s deemed misogyny so last season. Feminism is the next big thing, even in the world of men’s magazines, and 2015’s lineup places Taylor Swift as No. 1, based on merit, accomplishments, and an improvised definition of what sexiness means.
“It’s really nice and such an incredible compliment,” Swift said of the recognition. “This year has been my favorite year of my life so far. I got to make an album exactly the way I wanted to make it. I got to put it out exactly the way that I dreamed of putting it out. Every one of these kinds of whims and ideas came to fruition. The videos — I’m proud of those, I’m proud of the tour, I’m proud of the way this has all happened. In the midst of all that, this is really nice. It really feels like a wonderful celebration of my favorite year.”
Swift wasn’t quite honored enough to pose for the cover, though. The barefaced image is from a shoot she did late last year for the British magazine Wonderland’s November/December 2014 issue, shot by photographer Thomas Whiteside. “Traditionally, what we do is hand-pick the images and circle back,” Lanphear told Fashionista.comof the portrait, in which Swift wears a crocheted black Marc Jacobs top. (You can see the original shoot here.) It’s probably the least overtly sexy (that’s not to say it isn’t beautiful) image printed on the cover ever. The fact that Swift even agreed to be featured is shocking in and of itself. The “Bad Blood” singer’s audience is largely young women, and the 25-year-old has been careful to market herself appropriately.
Yet with a new focus on celebrating women, and Swift growing up, the pairing is appropriate. Lanphear even cajoled Swift’s previously secretive (and misunderstood) views on feminism out of her. “I didn’t see myself being held back until I was a woman,” the 1989 artist said. “Or the double standards in headlines, the double standards in the way stories are told, the double standards in the way things are perceived. A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining. Misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they are born. So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality.”
It might seem counterintuitive, but feminism and sexiness can go hand in hand. As Lanphear is calling it: Subtle is the new sexy. “I think sexy is really hard to define. It’s a bit tricky, it’s unpredictable, it’s challenging, and we want the magazine to reflect that,” she said on CBS This Morning. “It’s been 20 years since Maxim launched, and it was time for it to evolve and reflect the times we were living in.” She notes that a lot has changed in the past two decades, and “celebrating sexiness is at the essence of the brand, we’re not going to change that, but I think we can experiment with how we show sexiness.” Sexiness isn’t just about a woman’s body. It’s can also be about someone’s laugh or the look in her eyes. “Our audience is driven, smart, confident, so they’re attracted to women who are just as driven, smart, and confident.” Others who made the list include Emilia Clarke, Dakota Johnson, Lupita Nyong’o, Joan Smalls, and even 50-year-old Italian actress Monica Bellucci.