The sexification of schoolgirls is nothing new.

From Humbert Humbert’s masturbatory musings on nymphets to Britney Spears’ pouty parochial school student in “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” apparently there’s something about a short pleated skirt and pigtails that drives men wild.

So why are so many people upset by the pictorial in the current issue of GQ?

Because of “Glee.”  Those half-naked schoolgirls with the come hither eyes aren’t just any models. They’re the girls of “Glee.”

I’m a Gleek, I admit it. In fact, I was an early adopter, faithfully following the scrappy show choir at McKinley High before it became so fashionable. My tween daughter and I curl up together to watch it every week. We even made a pilgrimage down to Radio City Music Hall to catch them in concert (which I wrote about for Women’s Voices for Change).  The show has always pushed the envelope, but has also dealt with a lot of difficult topics — teen homosexuality, teen pregnancy, racism, kids with physical and mental disabilities — and done so with candor, understanding, and affection.

Now, with more Billboard Chart toppers than the Beatles, the “Glee” kids have become an entertainment phenomenon. In fact, they’re everywhere you look.

And, if the place you happen to look is the current GQ, you’ll see even more of them.

What could be better than a slutty high school girl? Two slutty high school girls. In a move so unoriginal it’s almost funny, fashion photographer Terry Richardson has depicted the stereotypical adolescent boy fantasy. Glee’s golden girl cheerleader Dianna Agron and its brassy diva Lea Michele hang on hunky Corey Monteith. In virtually every picture, the girls are undressed while the boy is fully-clothed. Quelle surprise!

As an aside, which makes the whole thing even creepier, Richardson is facing multiple accusations of sexually harassing and exploiting underage models. Nice.

The GQ pictures themselves are uninspired. The school locales are overlit and practically sterile. The costumes are silly, such as the combination of over-the-knee athletic socks and high-heeled pink pumps. Really, who styled these? The boys of Delta House?  Legs spread wide in the locker room with a wet red lollipop, Michele seems to be channeling her inner blow-up doll. Agron looks uncomfortable. Monteith is grinning (hey, he’s got two half-naked chicks hanging on him), but he’s hardly present.

In contrast, the much ballyhooed Annie Leibovitz Vanity Fair portrait of a sleepy-eyed Miley Cyrus was far more interesting — and beautiful. While her tousled hair hinted at a recent romp, the photo didn’t actually expose much. At the time, 15-year old Cyrus said, “I think it’s really artsy. It wasn’t in a skanky way.”

Well the GQ pictures are not artsy. They are, in fact, fairly skanky. Most of all, they are just plain dumb. But they’ve created quite an uproar.

The loudest outcry comes from the Parents Television Council. PTC President Tim Winter formally objected, stating …

“It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses who play high school-aged characters on ‘Glee’ in this way. It borders on pedophilia. By authorizing this kind of near-pornographic display, the creators of the program have established their intentions on the show’s direction. And it isn’t good for families.”

GQ and many fans were quick to point out that the actors in the photo spread are not underage. Michele and Agron are 24 years old. Monteith is closer to 30.  GQ’s editor Jim Nelson rebutted, “As often happens in Hollywood, these ‘kids’ are in their twenties. I think they’re old enough to do what they want.”

It’s unclear whether the show’s producers approved or condoned the pictorial. But, it goes against the spirit of the show. One of the reasons “Glee” has been so fantastically popular is that it’s a show about outcasts making beautiful music together. Notably, “Glee” even had a show about how boys tend to marginalize girls, set against the girl-power anthems of Madonna.

Katie Couric agrees and used the GQ feature as the topic of one of her recent Notebook commentaries. Professing herself to be a “Glee” fan, she said…

“These very adult photos of young women who perform in a family show just seem so un-‘Glee’-like. The program is already edgy in the right ways, these images don’t really — in my humble opinion — fit the ‘Glee’ gestalt. I know there are a lot of bigger problems in the world right now, but still, as Mr. Schuester might say to the club, I’m really disappointed.”

That’s exactly how I feel as well. Not so much outraged as disappointed.

Some actresses do nude pictorials in an effort to revive a career that’s on life support, or to prove that they have grown up. You’ll often find young women who have had early success shed their clothes in order to shed their child star status. These include Laura’s sister from “Little House on the Prairie” and an adult (and presumably exorcised) Linda Blair in Playboy.

But, the “Glee” women are at the top of their game. In the words of an ’80s hit, they ‘don’t have to take their clothes off to have a good time.’

Lea Michele is often described as Glee’s “breakout star.” This is a bit myopic on the part of Hollywood.  Michele has serious Broadway chops. She began her career as an 8-year old Cosette in Les Miserables. Thereafter, she was a regular Broadway baby, belting her way through the children’s parts in Ragtime, Fiddler on the Roof, and starring, as a young woman, in the critically acclaimed Spring Awakening.

This is not a woman who needs to get naked to get noticed. And until recently, she was vocal about being a positive role model.  Michele has defended keeping her more ethnic nose in many interviews, including this quote:

“I was one of the only girls in my high school that didn’t get one. And if anybody needed it, I probably did. But my mom always told me, growing up, ‘Barbra Streisand didn’t get a nose job. You’re not getting a nose job.’ And I didn’t. That’s why I’m proud to be on a positive show and to be a voice for girls and say, ‘You don’t need to look like everybody else. Love who you are.’”

Unfortunately, as her television star has risen, it seems that Michele has succumbed to Hollywood pressure. Posing like a porn star seems so unnecessary for someone who has already proven her legitimacy as an actor and singer. And am I the only one who’s noticed that the petite star has lost too much weight?

Here’s what bothers me most. I’m trying to raise my daughter to admire people for the right reasons: intelligence, honor, talent, skill, determination.  I’m trying to help her understand that when it comes to people, you can’t judge a book by its cover. What’s inside really does matter. Until these pictures came out, “Glee” was helping me with that conversation.

Eventually I’ll also try to help my daughter understand that women are sexual beings just as men are. So why are the two women undressed while the man isn’t? Why are they judged on how good they look in lingerie while he’s just lucky to be there? As my daughter grows up, I want her to understand that depicting someone as a ‘sex object’ is not a compliment. I don’t want my daughter to be objectified, even if she turns out to be one of the fortunate few deemed beautiful enough to be tarted up in magazines.

There have not been formal statements about the GQ story from Michele, Monteith, Fox  Television, or “Glee”’s producers. However, Dianna Agron posted the following on her blog, explaining that this was her reaction and hers alone …

“Nobody is perfect, and these photos do not represent who I am. For GQ, they asked us to play very heightened versions of our school characters … At the time, it wasn’t my favorite idea, but I did not walk away. I must say, I am trying to live my life with a sharpie marker approach. You can’t erase the strokes you’ve made, but each step is much bolder and more deliberate. I’m moving forward from this one, and after today, putting it to rest. These aren’t photos I am going to frame and put on my desk, but hey, nor are any of the photos I take for magazines.”

This is an articulate response from a bright young woman, and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future. Her character found her voice through McKinley High’s glee club. Perhaps this experience will help the actress find hers.

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