How Do Glossies Solve a Problem Like Tina Fey?

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Tina Fey is a very pretty woman. She is corrosively funny and intelligent. Her irreverent, topical impressions are spot-on. In short, she deserves every magazine cover she lands. The best part about Saturday Night Live when she was still on that show, Fey has since invaded mainstream America as the creator and star of TV’s 30 Rock, and through films such as Mean Girls and this month’s Date Night. The latter film’s poster has even taken over an apartment building on Houston Street, replacing a stale holiday campaign for American Eagle Outfitters. But still, it seems magazine editors can’t quite figure out what to do with her.

Fey straddles the liminal space between Hollywood bombshell and geeky antihero. She’s no schlub, but she’s also no Megan Fox, and in a desperate time for print magazines, the idea that sex sells is more pervasive than ever. This might help explain why Tina Fey, a comedian, has gone from quirky, personality-driven magazine covers to, well, the cover of Esquire, in which she and her cleavage and her tousled sex-hair appear handcuffed to an unidentified cop. How did she get to this point? Is this the evolution of Fey or a men’s magazine misstep? A chronology:

Bust, Spring 2004. It’s called Bust, and Fey is wearing a skimpy dress, but the magazine underscores the humor inherent in the tarting up of America’s funniest woman by choosing this image, in which her expression and her typewriter complement the goofy headline: “Geek Chic.” image

Parade, March 2008. She’s happy and she’s tired, and she’s on an old-timey bicycle in rain-boots on a sunny day. This one ain’t about glamour. image

Entertainment Weekly, April 2008. The magazine’s cover lines read: “Is it hot in here—or is it just her career?” Although embryonic, Fey is now blossoming into a full-on star, and this is her coming out party: she is quirky, yes, but she can pull off old Hollywood charm without seeming wooden or phony. It’s charming, this one. image

Marie Claire, May 2008. Enter the “edgy” cover. This one, a month late to the Fey-as-geek-goddess game, puts her in a trench coat and spiky, metallic armband. I’d imagine this was the conversation at that shoot: Tina: “I don’t know about the shiny torture device on my wrist.” MC: “You’re a sexy tiger. Work it, X-Tina, work it!” image

Rolling Stone, September 2008. A comedy issue is the perfect reprieve for readers hungry for the goofy, self-deprecating Fey they know and love from their TV stories. This cover doesn’t disappoint, but it also doesn’t ham her up, instead allowing her to see her cover mates—the glasses are back!—while keeping her in heels and a nice dress. Bonus points for the slapstick threesome. image

Vanity Fair, January 2009. Graydon’s monolithic monthly reigns supreme when it comes to concept covers. And Fey conquers this one, holding the American flag while standing on top of the world. Sure, she’s wearing the discarded costume of a patriotic stripper, but her knowing grin and this pull quote—”Annie’s going to photograph my soul, right?”—signal the emergence of an oddball A-lister. image

Harper’s Bazaar, November 2009. Never mind the wind machine. Thankfully, Glenda Bailey and co. decided not to overdo the fashion with their Fey cover. Her eyes say it all: “How the fuck did I land this thing?” And although they placed Fey very specifically to mask the scar on her face, they didn’t kill her spirit with Photoshop. image

Vogue, March 2010. They killed her spirit with Photoshop! And the wind machine. And the glow of the New York skyline. And the carefully placed shoulders. Also, I don’t care how winning Fey is. If I were Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, I would not want my name nestled into Liz Lemon’s armpit. Tyra would complain she isn’t “smeyesing,” and she’d be right. image

Esquire, April 2010. And this is where we ended up. Tina Fey, the woman who would normally take jabs at these kind of covers, has officially “gone wild.” She has gone sexy. She has gone as far from “Geek Chic” as she can get. I wonder where she’ll go next. image