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In Defense of Paulina Gretzky's Flare Cover
Sabrina Maddeaux: “I'm interested in the magazine for the first time in years”

photo by Caitlin Cronenberg

I once tried to hire an editor who was also interested in a position at Flare and I couldn’t understand why.

You’ll never be allowed to write anything real, I protested.

You’ll be so bored, I warned.

Do you really want to write about ‘195 party finds?’ I gawked.

Enter Flare‘s February 2013 cover featuring Paulina Gretzky, and I’m interested in the magazine for the first time in years. Why? Because they’ve taken a small step toward publishing content that actually relates to readers on a deeper level than some sort of reformation guide for “returnaholics.”

But not everyone is so impressed. On Tuesday, the Globe and Mail‘s Steve Ladurantaye delivered a rather scathing condemnation of the cover choice. “It doesn’t matter that the rest of the world has never been all that interested in the antics of the 24-year-old woman whose principal claim to fame is that her father was a really good hockey player. That’s not entirely fair — she’s probably just as well known for her provocative Instagram photos,” he wrote.

So, the Generation X male reporter can’t relate to Gretzky? Shocker. But that’s not the real question here. The question is whether Flare’s 20-something readers, a significant portion of their demographic, can relate to her story.

Some are upset Flare granted Gretzky a coveted cover for what they see as little more than having a famous father– but we fawn over celebs’ kids all the time, so I can’t believe this is the real source of outrage. If we really want to go there., the Canadian fashion and media landscape is so unabashedly incestuous (are there any famous Canadian offspring CTV hasn’t hired?) that it’s laughable to think Gretzky is the straw that broke the inbred camel’s back. Gretzky’s glam chops gracing February is the least of this industry’s problems.

And, please, let’s talk about these ‘trashy’ Instagram photos. There’s this one, captioned by the Toronto Star as her “dancing suggestively at a nightclub.” Excuse me, but SHE LOOKS LIKE EVERY OTHER GIRL WHO HAS EVER DANCED AT A NIGHTCLUB. Not to mention I’d like to see a paper chastise a man for “dancing suggestively at a nightclub.” It would never happen. There’s also this photo, where Gretzky appears to be wearing a Herve Leger bandage dress, which the Star writes is “of her striking a pose with back arched and chest out.”  Um, that’s what a bandage dress does to one’s physique– it’s why they’re so popular. Also, please show me an article where you imply a man’s sluttiness for flexing his chest muscles. 

The most risqué photo of the batch, which she has since deleted and says she regrets, is one where Gretzky lies across two companions, legs sprawled wide. Even though she wears a bikini in the photo, we can’t help but shame her for being trashy, presumably promiscuous, and generally undeserving of our respect and — God forbid — a Flare cover. The top-rated comment on Ladurantaye’s column is, “You know that media and Hollywood have sunk to new depths, when skanks who make amateur sex tapes and publish D level photos are ‘celebrity’.”

I feel it’s necessary to point out that Gretzky does not have a sex tape, or even naked photos online– just photos in a bikini. Then we have the gall to turn around and promise the world’s Amanda Todds that things posted in fits of youthful naïveté won’t forever brand them sluts and skanks. In defense of the cover, Flare EIC Miranda Purves writes, “I can’t say for certain that if I were 24 right now, I wouldn’t be posting risqué pictures of myself online.” Purves shows the rare compassion and understanding that young women need from those in positions of power– because what twentysomething hasn’t released potentially regrettable photos into the digital wild? To pretend otherwise, to gloss over and ignore the complexity of the issue, is what the old Flare would’ve done.

In truth, there seems to be a collective sense of disappointment that Gretzky hasn’t lived up to the greatness of her ‘great one’ father. There’s a contemptuous belief that she embarrasses him. But if she were a young, globetrotting playboy, would people be so concerned with her online antics? When Prince Harry gets wild in Vegas, ‘boys will be boys.’ But when Gretzky does it? What trash. How awfully paternalistic it is to insist she plays the classy debutante, seamlessly carrying forward her heralded daddy’s legacy.

Economists predict that this generation will be the first not to surpass the success of their parents, famous hockey players or otherwise. Paulina’s struggle to do so is incredibly relatable.  Rather than explore the confusion, the sense of disenfranchisement, the loss of self-worth that this reality brings, and the resulting surge in self-made social media moguls (which, with 208, 581 Twitter followers and 98,826 Instagram followers, Gretzky tops), Ladurantaye makes fun of the fact that Gretzky hasn’t yet found great success in her career of choice. What 24-year-old has?

Gretzky is “a woman whose only other plans seem to be to focus on her music,” mocks Ladurantaye. “And her music is a ‘huge, huge thing right now,’ so she’s probably totally busy. (After all, she did have a song, the instantly forgettable pop ballad Collecting Dust, featured on the reality-TV series Laguna Beach in 2006, and briefly had a deal with Universal Canada, so it could still totally maybe be a thing.)”

The thing is, that’s actually more success than most young musicians can boast. But because she hasn’t been able to parlay her father’s wealth and success into a quick career of her own, we laugh and discourage without stopping to think that maybe she wants to do this on her own terms. You know, that whole independent woman thing that obviously can’t coexist with a woman who’d post ‘scandalous’ photos of herself online. And so we throw some “totallys” and “maybes” into her sentiments to make Gretzky’s career goals sound more vapid, more like those of a silly girl. Women can only be one thing at a time! Just one!

Sure, as many have pointed out, Gretzky may not be a “role model,” but does this generation of uneasy women really need another too-perfect and too-PR’d celebrity to drive magazines’ stock aspirational (and often unrealistic) messages home? Or do young women need a mirror through which they can reflect and find comfort in their own anxious circumstance?  Covers where Mila Jovovich (Flare, October 2012) boasts, “I always knew when to say no,” and Scarlett Johansson (Flare, May 2012) swears, “I have no career regrets,” seem to foolishly patronize girls who are more uncertain than ever. Paulina Gretzky may not be picture perfect, but neither is this generation. 


Sabrina Maddeaux is Toronto Standard’s managing editor. Follow her on Twitter at @sabrinamaddeaux.

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