Even if you’ve never seen the movie Basic Instinct (1992), you’re probably familiar with one scene. While the police are interrogating her, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) — clad in a tight, white dress — slowly uncrosses her legs, revealing that she’s not wearing any underwear. It was the vagina (actually, the vulva) seen 'round the world. Catherine Tramell knew the power of her body, and so does Sharon Stone. Now 57, Stone appears nude in the September 2015 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. The accompanying interview would have you believe that Stone is posing naked on her own terms. Yet, there are a few moments in the piece where her ownership of the situation starts to sound suspect. This is something that seems to have happened a lot throughout Stone’s career: She decides to pose naked or appear nude in a film, but ultimately, external forces still cast the final verdict on her (and every woman’s) body — even influencing her own opinion of it. This can lead to some confusing messaging, and this Harper’s Bazaar spread is no exception. In 1990, Stone posed nude for the first time in a spread for Playboy. Bazaar reports that she did it “to galvanize her career” because “people in the industry then regarded her as the bookish, baggy clothes–wearing nerd she really is, and the shoot was a calculated attempt to recast her image.” Stone was cast in Basic Instinct after the Playboy spread, so apparently the plan worked. But, Stone reportedly slapped director Paul Verhoeven when she realized that viewers would actually see her genitals in the infamous leg-crossing scene. The director refuted Stone’s claim that he had tricked her about including the shot, saying that she knew exactly what level of nudity was involved when she signed onto the film. Was this spat a calculated move to get more publicity for the film? It’s hard to tell, but Verhoeven refused to participate in Basic Instinct 2 (2006). Stone went nude again in the sequel, and this time, the actress was making a statement. In March, 2006, she told WENN: By the time the film is released, I will be 48, and I wanted to do the nudity in a way that's quite brazen. I wanted [Catherine] to be very masculine, like a man in a steam room, and I wanted the audience to have a moment where they realize she's naked and then realize that she's a fortysomething woman and naked. Because we're not used to seeing that in movies. We're used to seeing Sean Connery and his granddaughter, you know what I mean? Or Mel Gibson and his daughter.
It’s a powerful statement with strong intentions. Unfortunately, Stone's message wasn’t recognized. The film was universally panned (it currently holds a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and not entirely because of its plot. “Now 48, [Sharon Stone] retains the same lucid gaze and whippet-thin body, but in this film her face looks strangely inert, and she seems deeply ill at ease. Ms. Stone has famously denied having plastic surgery, and maybe that's true, but, man, does she look weird here,” Manohla Dargis wrote in her review of the film for The New York Times in March 2006. “The last few decades have been calamitous for American film actresses (of any age), who have been increasingly marginalized by the very industry they helped build,” Dargis continued. Therein lies the double standard, perfectly summarized by Martin Scorsese, who directed the actress in Casino. He told Bazaar, "It's the old story: She's too beautiful to be a great actress," explaining that audiences have a hard time focusing on Stone's acting abilities because of her looks. With films like Casino, Stone proved that she was more than just a pretty face. Still, her appearance — and that Basic Instinct scene — continued to serve as a punch line in Hollywood and pop culture. In Scream (1996), Billy (Skeet Ulrich) says, “We did your Mom a favor, Sid. That woman was a slut-bag whore who flashed her shit all over town like she was Sharon Stone or something.” Stu (Matthew Lillard) finishes, “Yeah, we put her out of her misery, 'cause let's face it Sidney, your mother was no Sharon Stone.” That exchange both slut-shames Stone and praises her attractiveness. Yet here’s Sharon Stone posing naked in Harper’s Bazaar at the age of 57, refusing to be marginalized by the industry or to remain a punch line. She’s doing it, of course, to promote something. That’s how our society is able to accept the nude (or almost-nude) female form — as a conveyance for consumption. Sharon Stone is in Harper’s Bazaar to talk about her new TNT show, Agent X. Would we be discussing Agent X right now if Sharon Stone hadn't posed naked in a September issue? Probably not. Once again, Stone's calculated efforts to modify her image prove successful. If only she could use substantial movie roles to change the conversation about her image, like Matthew McConaughey did during his McConaissance in 2014. Instead, Stone uses her body. If posing nude at 57 makes Stone feel empowered, then by all means, go for it. But we're not sure the message behind this profile is empowerment. The most confusing — and frankly, disappointing — part of Stone’s nude photoshoot comes midway through the interview: I'm aware that my ass looks like a bag of flapjacks. But I'm not trying to be the best-looking broad in the world. At a certain point you start asking yourself, 'What really is sexy?' It's not just the elevation of your boobs. It's being present and having fun and liking yourself enough to like the person that's with you. If I believed that sexy was trying to be who I was when I did Basic Instinct, then we'd all be having a hard day today. Why does she have to undermine herself like that? Does she really think her ass looks like “a bag of flapjacks”? Because I sure as hell don’t. And if that’s supposed to be a saggy, flat bottom (which is what I assume is implied by “a bag of flapjacks”), how are other women who see the photos and read that quote supposed to feel about their own bodies? If an actress has somehow managed to remain desirable and attractive past her Last Fuckable Day, why is she forced to come up with a way to insult her aging body and compare it to a past version of herself? Stone sort of works it out towards the middle of that quote, where she says that she has a new definition of sexy (it's a state of mind in which you’re present and like yourself). Unfortunately, she again returns to the ageist Hollywood and societal mindset that's been hammered into all of our heads when she wistfully says that she’s been forced to reframe her concept of sexy because she’ll never again recapture what she had in Basic Instinct. Stone probably doesn’t realize that this subtext is there, and she probably meant the flapjacks line as a joke. Still, it’s these casually tossed-off insults about our bodies that teach impressionable young girls that women should always have something to feel bad about and make excuses for. Why can’t someone posing naked in a magazine own it and say “I look fucking phenomenal?” Somehow, that feels even more daring and revealing than flashing your goods in a movie.