Why Is Maxim’s Cover Model Competition Controversial?

Maxim is its own charity these days

maxim cover model contest
Maxim's cover model contest is one of many things about the brand that feel like a throwback to a bygone era of sexuality.
Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images
By Kayla Kibbe / May 28, 2020 7:30 am

Once hailed as the lad mag “for the modern man,” Maxim has seen a steady decline in recent years, falling by the wayside as a pre-#MeToo flesh mag with neither Playboy‘s historical legacy nor millennial-friendly wokeover.

In the magazine’s most recent display of its dogged commitment to upholding a distinctly ’90s brand of sexuality, Maxim is once again turning to its cover model contest, which the New York Post‘s Keith J. Kelly positions as an attempt to prop up the struggling magazine amid increasing financial strife. The contest is starting earlier than usual this year, which Kelly points to as a sign that the magazine “may start leaning more heavily on the contest” as a financial lifeline.

The competition, in which readers pay to vote for the cover girl of their choice, has attracted controversy in recent years — and not just for giving a largely male readership an open invitation to judge women based purely on their conformity to dated standards of beauty and sexuality.

Rather, the primary source of controversy surrounding the contest involves the claim that the money readers spend to vote for their favorite model goes to Jared Allen’s Home for Wounded Warriors. While contestants are urged to promote the contest on their social channels under the guise of raising money for the charity, only a quarter of the proceeds go to benefit the organization. Maxim reportedly keeps the rest.

According to 2018 tax records, Home for Wounded Warriors said it received $444,716 from that year’s Maxim contest, suggesting the magazine stood to rake in around $1.3 million from its purportedly charitable endeavor.

In 2019, the magazine reportedly pulled in total revenue of $4 million, down from the $6.7 million it posted a year earlier, and 2020 projections are looking even worse amid the coronavirus pandemic. As of March, revenue came in at $508,000, compared to $877,000 this time last year.

The already struggling magazine’s further decline during the pandemic has prompted speculation that Maxim is now depending on revenue from the controversial competition more than ever, suggesting the magazine that’s remained frozen in its ’90s heyday probably won’t be receiving a progressive upgrade anytime soon.

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