Sarah Sands: Naked flesh sells – but don’t choose just any body

Related Topics

When I joined the Daily Telegraph many years ago, some guardians of journalism complained that I would infect the grand old institution with a strain of perky anarchy. Yet it was the old masters of the Telegraph who egged me on. Lord Deedes was recklessly light-hearted. Auberon Waugh made me swear that I would get a naked woman on the front page. I sidled towards it with some fashion models wearing diaphanous blouses and finally stuck a Lucian Freud portrait above the fold of the front page.

I was reminded of this picture, and of the undiminished power of nakedness in general, as I examined the striking portrait of Beth Ditto on the front of Love magazine. The gifted editor, Katie Grand, needed to make a splash with her debut issue. Beth is considered “edgy” on account of being a bit of a chubby chops. The magical part was having her get her kit off.

The depth of our Victorianism is touching. The Reader, which should win Kate Winslet her Oscar this evening, is about fascism and corruption and betrayal, but the subject that has caused most excitement in the press is Kate’s bottom. We may pride ourselves on post-watershed sophistication, but it takes only a dropped garment to make us blush.

Magazines have to fight a Darwinian battle on the newsstands to gain attention. The display under “Women’s Interest” is known in the trade as the “Wall of Sick”. The favoured colours are orange and pink. The favoured numbers are high and odd: 257 ways to decorate your shoes, etc. “Men’s Interest” comes down to cars, bikes, rippling male torsos and panting women in bustiers. Thankfully, my own magazine can nestle alongside National Geographic, away from this gaudy circus.

But if I were fighting for survival on the newsstand, I would consider making Auberon Waugh’s dare a permanent feature. There are a hundred magazine covers featuring Jennifer Aniston, but the one that caught the public’s attention was of her naked on the front of GQ. Amanda Foreman, the historian, has been widely interviewed, but it took Tatler to get the bluestocking to strip.

The trick is to find naked celebrities who fit your brand – Naomi Wolf for the liberal broadsheets, Kirstie Allsopp for the Telegraph. Then you need to sell the notion to the celebrities as a form of empowerment. Naked and defiant! Skilfully, breast cancer charities have cottoned on to this.

Friends of mine once posed for a book of photographs called Naked London. If you had called the book Naked, they would not have done it, but somehow the mention of a capital city dignified the project.

I don’t know at which stage of the Love planning process someone suggested Beth Ditto should appear naked. It is counter-intuitive for a magazine about clothes and style to advertise itself with a celebrity stripped bare, but it worked. It destroys the fashion wisdom that your personality lies in your wardrobe. American Vogue has just featured Michelle Obama on its cover. The editor, Anna Wintour, regards Mrs Obama’s clothes sense as inspired. Surely the magazine could have better captured the First Lady’s confident athleticism if she had been naked. And imagine the sales.

I’m beginning to understand how this world works. Bear Grylls, the explorer and heart-throb, is a forthcoming cover of Reader’s Digest. When we met, I shook his hand politely and asked him to “get ’em off”.

Sarah Sands is editor in chief of British ‘Reader’s Digest’

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
John Rentoul met Ed Miliband aged 23, remarking he was “bright, and put up a good fight for the utilities tax, but I was unconvinced.”  

General Election 2015: Win or lose, Ed Miliband is not ready to govern

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk