Scanning a rack of magazine covers, it’s easy to become desensitized to how many images there are of female celebrities stripped to their underwear. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with flaunting what they’ve got if that’s their choice, way too often what they’re wearing — or not wearing — isn’t something they have control over.
That might be starting to change. Karla Souza, who plays Laurel Castillo on How to Get Away with Murder, just did a shoot with GQ Mexico in which she called the shots.
When GQ first contacted her over a year ago, they wanted her to be in a underwear on the cover. But she spoke up and outright refused them until they would let her wear something that didn’t make her feel objectified.
“They wanted me in a bra and panties but I was like, ‘I don’t want to do the bra and panties on a bed thing,'” Souza told E! Online. “I wanted sophisticated, fancy, nice and beautiful and sexy but not that. After a year, they were like, ‘OK!’ Luckily, they said yes to bathing suits and things I felt more comfortable in.”
As Souza says, she was fine with looking sexy. And look sexy she does — she poses in a corset on the cover, and is in a bathing suit inside the magazine. But these are outfits she chose that she felt confident in — rather than outfits chosen to make men see her as a sex object. (As The Mary Sue described the difference, “when you think about it – bikini says ‘beautiful woman in a bikini’ in an image. A bra and panties are meant to suggest ‘I just took my clothes off and want to have sex with you.'”)
The only downside to this story is that it took GQ a full year to accept her restrictions on outfit. (And it’s probably no coincidence that How to Get Away with Murider and Souza have both gotten much more popular in that year.) Originally, they wanted her not just wearing underwear, but wearing nothing at all.
“They had done a lot of the fully naked kind of covers in Mexico,” Souza said. “A lot of my fellow actresses had done that so that was the magazine’s thing. They said that’s what sells but then they told me my issue sold.”
The news that the issue sold well shouldn’t be shocking, but it does prove a point: women don’t have to be stripped naked or made uncomfortable for a magazine to do well. Yes, sex sells, but maybe a more respectful portrayal of women can sell too.
In case this wasn’t good enough news, the spread didn’t have any Photoshop either. So not only did Souza wear what she wanted, she also demanded that her picture on the cover would look just like she does in real life. Given how ubiquitous and seriously harmful Photoshop can be, that’s impressive.
“At the beginning of my career, I did a magazine cover where they gave me boobs that I don’t have, a butt that I don’t have and a waist that I don’t have,” Souza said. “I was appalled. It took me three years to ever be in a bikini again. I didn’t want people to do that to my body again… So GQ did nothing — literally nothing. It was great.”
No wonder such a badass woman ended up on one of Shonda Rhimes’ shows. If I wasn’t already obsessed with How to Get Away with Murder, I would be now just to see more of Souza speaking her mind and standing up for herself.
Image via ABC