By Drew Mackie
The majority of Lea Michele fans know her only as Rachel Berry, the uptight songbird on "Glee." Seemingly in an effort to broaden her appeal -- and perhaps grow her fan base so as to include more straight guys -- Michele took it all off for a photo spread in the latest British Marie Claire. She covered up the most important parts, but still showed a lot more skin than we'd ever see on "Glee." We had to stop and wonder: what is she attempting to accomplish?
Granted, any young actor who achieves such a high level of fame so quickly would come down with a bad case of "Who am I-itis?" But Michele is seemingly trying to be a lot of things at once. Could she be suffering from an identity crisis? Considering her ripe age of 24, maybe we actually mean a quarter-life crisis. (Then again, Hollywood years are more like dog years.)
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Anyway, back to that sexy magazine spread. Michele probably let slip some juicy details about how unlike "Glee" her personal life is, right? Nope. Weirdly, the article has her talking about how she's pretty damn vanilla, her only vice being a habit of getting tiny tattoos that apparently don't show up in nude photo shoots. She doesn't smoke. She doesn't do drugs. She doesn't even drink much: "These days I have one glass of wine and I'm completely gone ... I've never been a 'Lets go out and have a cosmopolitan' kind of girl. I don't even think I've ever tasted a cosmopolitan before." Huh. So the spread basically amounts to, "Hey, look at my bare bod, but still think of me as a good girl." (E! Online columnist Ted Casablanca summed up the irony nicely with his headline "Topless, Tattooed Lea Michele Swears She's a Homebody.")
Conflicting takes on Lea Michele aren't anything new, however. Her role on "Glee," for example, has her playing an unpopular dork despite the fact that Michele would be considered conventionally attractive by most anyone's standards. The blog Feministing even coined a term for this: "Liz Lemoning," in honor of Tina Fey's "30 Rock" character, who, like Rachel Berry, is obviously attractive beneath whatever unflattering clothes she's wearing. "In reality, those 'ugly' women look an awful lot like the beautiful ones," Feministing points out. It may well be that Michele decided to strip for Marie Claire in an effort to combat that perception that she's somehow any less beautiful than she actually is.
For the record, Rachel Berry herself has two distinct halves: On one hand, she's a lovely, earnest girl determined to get the most out of life. On the other, however, she's a tightly wound pain-in-the-ass with a tendency to annoy those around her. According to Casablanca, PR folks are pushing hard to keep people from noting any similarities with Michele in real life.
Even Michele's Emmy dress -- a knockout, per most fashionistas -- isn't helping our perception of the girl inside. TV Guide fashion critic Lawrence Zarian praised the Oscar de La Renta gown, but still noted that it edged on being "too mature." Michele looked beautiful -- but also about ten years older than her actual age. As Kelly Osbourne noted on Joan Rivers' post-Emmys fashion round table, Michele shouldn't try to look older while she can still pull off fun, youthful dresses.
Alas, that brings us back to the original question: Who the heck is Lea Michele? Is she a naughty girl who poses naked or is she still an innocent? Is she earnest and talented like her "Glee" character or is she unpopular and aggravating (also like her "Glee" character)? Is she perfect for her role on the show or is she desperately trying to distance herself from it?
Hard to say. Maybe she's all of these things at once, and it's only the public that needs to make her be one thing or another, just so it's easier to say, "Oh, Lea Michele. She's like this." Or maybe Michele really is still figuring herself out, and she's the one who will one day say, "Oh, Lea Michele. She's like this." Time and future photo spreads will tell.