Provocation or sexploitation?

The controversial Bulgarian fashion editorial featuring images of beaten and disfigured models caused an outpour of contempt across the Internet. Is it ‘art’ or mere sexploitation?

Titled ‘Victim of Beauty’, the editorial of Bulgarian 12 Magazine features models with facial bruises and scars, their ears, mouth and throats cut open. Although it’s not really clear what was the actual concept behind this set of ‘beauty spreads’, the instant reaction from a number of mainstream websites and blogs was to condemn the magazine somewhat predictably, for “eroticising” and “glamorising violence against women”.

The editors sent their response to Jezebel:


We are 12 Magazine, and we feel like we need to answer to the questions raised in various articles online, concerning our beauty editorial “Victim of Beauty”.

First of all, we would like to say we are happy that our shoot provoked an international discussion, at some scale.

It is also important to say, that we do NOT support violence of ANY kind, and this is NOT a shoot glamorizing, or encouraging, or supporting violence against women.

We believe that images such as ours can be seen from various angles, and we think that exactly that is what is beautiful about fashion and photography in general – that anybody can understand it their own way, and fill it with their own meaning. Where some see a brutal wound, others see a skilful work of an artist, or an exquisite face of a beautiful girl.

That being said, we do understand why some accuse us of promoting, in a way, violence, but we do not agree with that, and we think that it is very HHHnarrow-mindedHHH way of looking at the photographs.

And after all, isn’t it true that we see brutally wounded people all the time, in real life – on television, in the news, in movies, videogames, magazines and websites, and they are all very different, but alike in one thing: some are real, some are not. And fashion photography is an imitation of real life, sometimes realistic, sometimes delicate, other times grotesque, or shocking.

In closure, we are provoking even further discussion by asking you and your readers just two questions:

1. How would you perceive those photographs, if they were accompanying an campaign against domestic violence? Would you still think of them as disgusting or you would praise them as brave and thought-provoking? Worth the think, isn’t it?
2. What would you say if those where bespoken men, carefully groomed, but still, terribly injured? Probably nothing, and quite frankly that’s a bit sexist.

Kind regards,

Huben Hubenov and Slav Anastasov
Editors in Chief

Of course, the two “if” questions at the end of the letter generated the most bitter comments. Obviously, the models were not male, nor were they juxtaposed with explicit anti-violence messages. And yes, Bulgaria, like elsewehere in the Balkans, has a pretty high degree of domestic violence.

On the other hand, it would be plain dumb to confuse the subject and the target of this ‘violent editorial’. If the subject is self-evident, then surely the target must be the very same masters of political correctness who shout anorexia! at fashion shows, sneer at women in hip hop videos while selling them blow job advices in various cosmo-mags. Or perhaps the Bulgarians just like to pile up lots of makeup.

If it’s of any help, one of the artworks featured in our recent interview with the Balkan-Austrian artist Mario Grubisic is Mario’s photograph of a heavily beaten guy.

(Un)surprisingly enough, most of the women (along with their gay friends) described the image as “quite sexy” and “cool”.

There you go. Before things get complicated, tell us what you think of the 12 Magazine editorial: artistic provocation or sexual exploitation? Or just a bunch of silly makeup?