playboy’s clothed cover star talks feminism and female empowerment
Sarah McDaniel is the bright eyed model and star of Playboy cover star who everyone’s talking about.
Sarah McDaniel, with her pillowy lips and odd coloured eyes (one aquamarine and the other hazel) has the kind of beauty you don't see often. A small town girl with big city dreams, Sarah found her fame through social media. From her sultry, sunlit selfies to images of her in a bikini, there's something about her which is quite Lolita-esque; it's this frisson between sex and innocence that's at play on the new cover of Playboy magazine, of which Sarah is the first non nude star, since 1972.
Shot by Theo Wenner in the style of a Snapchat selfie, Sarah poses in some pants and an unbuttoned crop top, the kind of cute outfit that young girls wear to bed, eyes gazing at the camera, and lips slightly open, while the iconic text overlay that Snapchat has become known for provocatively reads "heyyy ;)". While her pose isn't overtly sexual, the context in which it is framed renders it so. But it also marks the magazine's attempt to change its representation of women, from something you'd stash under your bed to that which you might proudly display on your wall. It also reflect's Playboy's desire to appeal to a millennial audience, not only by borrowing the tropes of social media, but also by co-opting certain "popular" feminist values such as challenging the male gaze and finding empowerment through expressing female sexuality. Naturally the reaction was divided; while numerous think pieces have been dedicated to the dangers of exploiting the digitised language of youth in order to sell something back to them, or tapping into this new wave of feminism as a means of actually objectifying women, others have praised Playboy for its sensitive rebranding, and desire to appeal to people who might not normally consider reading the magazine.
Either way it seemed the whole world was making comments and passing judgement about the girl on the cover, but what does Sarah McDaniel have to say for herself?
In the media people tend to describe you as an "Instagram model" is this a term your comfortable with?
Instagram is great way for people to get themselves out in the public eye, so I don't think it's an insult, I think as you grow in your career other things outshine that label quickly.
Did you always want to be a model?
I didn't even think of it until my late teens, but when I decided it's what I wanted to do I focused on the goal despite a lot of rejection.
How did the Playboy shoot come about?
I did a music video for Mark Ronson's song, Daffodils, and Theo Wenner shot it. We became friends and a week or so later I got the call that he was interested in shooting me for the cover of Playboy and I was blown away! He is so artistic and comfortable to be around, he always has the story in his mind and it's so cool to work with him and see it unfold. I feel fortunate to work with him.
What do you make of Playboy's rebranding?
I think it was a good call. I think people around my age are pretty real. They're not under any delusion that women are just sex objects. I think it's cool to try to express a bit of what the girls are like, that they have personality and a brain, yet builds the mystery and makes for a better fantasy.
How does it feel to be the first clothed model to grace the cover of Playboy?
In the entire world since 1953 there have been fewer than 800 Playboy cover models. That's a pretty exclusive club! I'm honoured to be a part of it. Marylin Monroe was the first nude cover, I wouldn't compare myself to her, but it's an honour to be the cover for the new era.
Going into the project was there something you wanted to particularly convey, some kind of message or overall feeling?
I wanted to make people interested in all of me, I tried to look natural and act honestly within the story Theo was telling.
Done in the same vein as selfies, the image itself isn't necessarily sexual, but given its context, there's are immediate sexual connotations, do you find this sexualisation empowering?
It is empowering, I mean the feminine is a powerful force! I think any empowerment that helps a woman get ahead without compromising who she is should be appreciated and used!
Did you anticipate the reaction it would have?
It's been a mix. I can't believe all the nice things people have said. It's humbling. It's balanced by all the haters, I can't believe the things they say either.
What would you say to critics who see the cover as just another example of objectifying women?
I see that statement itself as a form of attack on women. There's always some prude who wants to shame a woman for anything outside of their puritanical views. Men like to look at women, and women like to look at men. Sexuality is such a part of our culture. I'm just past all that and I wish they'd catch up.
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
The term sounds so old. I think of Gloria Steinem, and in that sense no, I'm beyond that definition. My generation says we're equal. If someone has a problem with that, it's their problem not mine.
What does beauty mean to you?
A person at peace with themselves and the world, when you can see wisdom and kindness in their eyes. That's beautiful to me.
Aside from modelling what else are you into?
I'm into a wide variety of music, healthy eating, any activity involving the ocean, and my relationships with friends and family.
What does being a girl mean in 2016?
It means that you have more possibilities than at any time in the past. It means freedom!
What advice would you give to young girls following in your footsteps?
Decide what you want to do no matter what it is, focus on your goal no matter how absurd, don't listen to those who doubt you, work hard, and never ever give up.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I want to enjoy every moment of my life as I grow. I want to have an exciting life and see the world. I want to hopefully help a few others along the way and be a person that people are glad to see walk into the room.
Text Tish Weinstock
Image courtesy Playboy