When my girlfriend, Leslie McAllister, first told me about her idea for a chess-themed pin-up calendar, I have to admit that I was skeptical. I wasn't sure who was supposed to like it. I feared that the usual pin-up audience wouldn't relate to the chess, while the serious chess crowd might just find it silly. Then there was also a problematic political angle to consider. Leslie had recently been studying second-wave feminism, and hoped that her calendar would ask questions about the disparity between the culture’s portrayals of physical vs. intellectual beauty in women, but again I wasn't sure who the audience for that message would be. I was afraid that the intellectual community might view the calendar as just another objectification of women, while those who were already in the business of that objectification might just enjoy all the visible skin in the images without ever asking themselves what all the chess boards were about. But my fears, however understandable, have so far gone largely unrealized. The calendar has been finding its audience, and the audience is growing.
In the few weeks since the calendar's release, Leslie has received both attention and orders from all over the world. She was recently invited to share her thoughts in this interview about the project for the San Diego art publication Reviewer Magazine: http://reviewermag.com/press/?p=5709&fb_source=message . Just this week, she did another interview for the Parisian culture site My French Life ( http://mel.myfrenchlife.org/2012/01/27/interview-leslie-mcallister/ ), and was also featured in a ChessVibes article about the changing depictions of chess in the media. There's no denying that something about Leslie's idea has gotten people's attention. One thing that many people have brought up is the humor in the seemingly incongruous combination of chess study and sex appeal. But I know that for Leslie, the juxtaposition is fully serious. As a tournament chess player herself, she aims to ask just what, exactly, is so incongruous. After all, what's not sexy about chess? Shouldn't we be as attracted to the attributes that make up a chess player as we are to everyday, commonplace, partial nudity? Is there some reason that we don't expect sexy girls to study chess, or don't expect the girls who study chess to be sexy? And what's more sexy about the girls in the calendar: the fact that they're scantily clad? Or the fact that they're studying great moves from the history of the royal game? Feel free to order one of the calendars and judge for yourself: http://www.lulu.com/product/calendar/the-pin-up-chess-calendar/18657155 .
Personally, I've always had a thing for women who play chess. Because I know it takes intelligence, focus, education and competitive fire. And those are the kinds of traits I'm looking for in a mate. Maybe that's why I'm so tired of pin-up girls playing with beach balls and fire hoses. What's supposed to be so sexy about that stuff, anyway? I think the world would be a much more interesting place if we learned to idealize smart women. And I, for one, am starting with Leslie McAllister.
You can check out some of her other photography at www.lesliemcallister.com .