Written by Jen Offord

In The News

Feminist pin-ups?

Pirelli’s latest calendar has caused quite the media hoo-ha, what with the models not really being models, but instead being talented women mostly wearing clothes. Jen Offord investigates.

Amy Schumer. All photos: Annie Leibovitz/Pirelli.

Amy Schumer. All photos: Annie Leibovitz/Pirelli.

Tyres aren’t sexy. I think we can all agree on this. So if, like me, you don’t have even a whisper of interest in Formula 1, you might be forgiven for wondering why anyone would give two-tenths of a shit about a tyre company’s annual trade calendar. More so still, you might be baffled by this week’s fuss about (aforementioned tyre company) Pirelli’s unveiling of its 2016 calendar.

Well, tyres are quite sexy if you make them for Formula 1, apparently. So much so that Pirelli’s annual trade calendar, historically given as an exclusive gift to its clients, has borne the bare nipples of supermodels such as Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen and um, Julia Stiles, according to Wikipedia. OK, maybe not her nipples, but lots of others. After all, nothing says, “Happy Birthday Jesus Christ!” like a pair of oily tits.

But the Pirelli calendar is about more than semi-nudity and inappropriate festive greetings – it’s art, yeah? During its 50-year history, the calendar has boasted the work of Mario Testino, Karl Lagerfeld and Terry Richardson, to name a few, and being involved is a huge honour.

Yao Chen.

Yao Chen.

Again, a tyre company: Formula 1 or not (and I bet Formula 1 has seen a mountain of tits, in its time), I still don’t understand. Formula 1 is big business, though. And big business likes… tits? Well yes, probably, but Pirelli likes beauty, according to its chief executive, Marco Tronchetti Provera. And here’s the big thing about this year’s calendar: beauty looks a bit more, well, clothed.

Returning after shooting 2000’s edition, Annie Leibovitz’s 2016 calendar is all about women of “accomplishment”, featuring, among others, Serena Williams, Amy Schumer and Patti Smith, and at this year’s launch, Leibovitz was interviewed about her work by Clare Balding.

Yes it is a shift, one Pirelli had been looking to make for a while, according to Tronchetti Provera, who said that these women of accomplishment represented what Pirelli thinks is beautiful.

It would be impossible to describe the gender representation in Formula 1 as anything other than male dominated. In its history, only five women have entered a Grand Prix weekend, and only two of those actually started a race.

Just last month Scottish test driver Susie Wolff made the headlines, retiring after years of graft when she finally realised there was no way she was making it into a Grand Prix competition any time soon: “It was the harsh reality that the dream wasn’t going to come true,” she explained. Wolff had, in her view, been overlooked and ultimately undervalued, as all too often women are.

Here is the thing about us ladies – and it’s not a novel concept this – alarmingly frequently for the 21st century, our value is still placed in our appearance. I can’t be a hypocrite, and I would be if I said I was against people appreciating the aesthetic quality of a person, because Christ knows I’ve spent a lot of time appreciating the aesthetic quality of Jamie Dornan, for example. But have you ever heard anyone say first and foremost about Albert Einstein that he had really shit hair? (For what it’s worth, I like it. I think it’s bold.)

Serena Williams.

Serena Williams.

Take photographic subject Serena Williams, who I wrote about earlier this year, who has won everything and yet time and time again the headlines about her boil down to her physique. The worst thing about these headlines is the way in which it undermines our confidence in our own value, talent and abilities.

Earlier this year, I visited Surrey Sports Park for a fitness assessment ahead of my silly bike ride across the US. The whole point of the bike ride was to promote the achievements of women: to seek out kick-ass women to show off the great things they were doing. But as soon as the lovely people at the sports park told me my body fat percentage was pretty good for a mere mortal, depressingly I literally didn’t give a shit about any of the other results – that was all I needed to hear to validate myself. Fuck whether I was fit enough to cycle 2,500 miles across an entire, mountainous continent.

Of course, everyone’s talking about the calendar, even people who ordinarily don’t give two-tenths of a shit about tyres, Formula 1 or tits, so yes it is a huge PR victory for Pirelli, and yes we could all be deeply cynical about this, but it’s Christmas so I’m not going to be.

In the same week that news hit the headlines about people trolling anyone they considered overweight, handing them a card berating them for their waistline, perhaps the most significant thing about this “timely” calendar, apart from the fact that it comes from a male-dominated world, is that it proudly proclaims these women will not be undervalued – that they are worth more than their greased-up abs (or tits).


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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen