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Maxim - Part One
posted on April 14th, 2011

From the early days of The Wonder Years, I was called "America's sweetheart," "the girl next door," and even referred to by some as a sex symbol - yes, even at the age of 12. I didn't identify with any of that back then (thank goodness!)... but I eventually decided to have some fun with that side of my image. I did my first lingere photo shoot at age 30, and another one a few years later. They were both awesomely fun! And the timing of both felt "right." I wasn't some doe-eyed teenager. I was a woman, confident and secure in myself. In fact, the second time, I was secretly 11 weeks pregnant! But I'll get to that in the next Maxim post...

So why did I wait until my thirties? I played Winnie Cooper from when I was 12 until I was 18, and believe me, once I was 16, there were plenty of offers for lingere shoots. Of course, my mom wouldn't have let it happen! But even at 18, it just didn't feel right. Maybe it's because I had heard one too many times how I'd been some guy's first wet dream (yes, people actually told me!) but it just felt wrong at that young-ish age. In fact, it felt as exploitative at 18 as it felt empowering later on. And so at the age of 30, I posed in black lingere for Stuff Magazine.

It was so much fun - I remember we shot at an enormous house on the cliffs of Malibu, overlooking the crashing ocean waves below. The entire front of the house was made of curved glass, and the inside was very modern - incredibly reminiscent of Tony Stark's den… but without the flying robot suits. :)

My goals were to stay relaxed, have fun, and keep the photos sexy-classy, not sexy-slutty. I was able to steer that through not only my demeanor, but also the poses and camera angles. I remember saying, "Ok, the camera can't go below here." You probably don't need me to elaborate on that point. :)

We shot for several hours, and when we were done, I felt happy, satisfied, and... hungry! Yeah, not much eating goes on at a photo shoot with that little clothing, and I've always had a healthy appetite. Don't worry, I ate enough for an army that night!

That Stuff Magazine issue hit the stands within weeks of me being on the front page of the Science section of the New York Times, where Kenneth Chang wrote an article about the math theorem I co-authored. That was awesome. The Times piece mentioned the Stuff spread, and the Stuff article talked all about my math exploits. Sometimes it's really fun being me.

As you may know, I’m the author of a series of math/self-empowerment books aimed at girls: "Math Doesn't Suck," “Kiss My Math” and “Hot X: Algebra Exposed.” I teach math in them, and also encourage girls to be smart, confident kick-a@@ chicks.

A few parents balked at my decision to pose for sexy magazines, saying, "But you're a role model to young girls! Aren't you sending our daughters mixed messages?!"

It's a fair question; let's address that right now.

First off, what are their daughters doing reading Maxim? No biggie, just curious. But to the girls who do happen to be flipping through one, or browsing, I honestly hope they're seeing my pictures and not the other stuff in them, because not only are my pictures not sending mixed messages, they're furthering an important point that I make in my books: You can be smart AND sexy when you grow up.

Let me be clear about one point: I don't advocate girls posing half-nude (or nude) in magazines. When teens see girls their own age and the only slightly older, vacant-eyed models being hailed as an ideal of beauty (and they do all the time), it’s downright dangerous. When girls begin to believe they have to be dumb or silly to be considered attractive, they are more likely to end up obsessing over their appearance and allowing their other attributes and talents to atrophy, sinking further into self-doubt and low self-esteem. Girls need to be shown how to build themselves up - focusing on their true value by developing strength and smarts through tackling challenges (like math), while understanding that they don't have to give up any of the fun stuff in order to be smart. Just the opposite: being smart makes all of life better - they'll make better choices in all areas - career, friends, guys, etc.

So, if girls see my lingere layouts, fine with me - especially if they know of my work in math. And I hope they learn that Cindy Crawford won an academic scholarship to study chemical engineering at Northwestern University, and that Natalie Portman is a brilliant Harvard graduate. It’s fantastic for girls to see confident, smart, fully-grown women enjoying their own healthy sexual self-image as part of a larger, balanced, successful life. It shows girls that smart is sexy, and that they don't have to choose between being smart and being fun & fabulous...and yes, one day, sexy, too.

More on the Maxim shoot in a future post!


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posted by Wulf on April 14th, 2011

I have to say Danica, I've seen a lot of young ladies out there that are very good looking but I don't if it is my age or just too much time in SoCal but I am very jaded about them, they are a dime a dozen. Many of them have me wanting to run away tearing my hair out when they start talking. Now, a woman like you who is beautiful, a mom and brilliant (don't deny it) on top of it all -- now THAT'S sexy. Keep it up (just remember it isn't just teenage girls that struggle with math).

posted by andy mccartney ortiz on April 14th, 2011

Excellent Blog! as long as I love reading! I hope this blog to be updated regularly and enjoy everything in it! thanks Danica for being active across the years and I guess you're a great person to learn about! and a big example for the girls to follow your steps not just in math but in lifestyle, greetings :D

posted by RogueScholar on April 14th, 2011

Appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts, musings, and so forth concerning this topic, Ms. D. Though I've spent the better part of my twenty-something years in Southern California, it has never ceased to amaze me how...confused members of the fairer sex are the younger they get. Growing up in the 90s, though not all that much different then now, there was less of an obsession, at least from my youthful perspective, with trying to put \Looking Sexy\" above other

posted by Ayano on April 15th, 2011

Congrats on lanching such a great blog! Thanks for letting us know a kind of back-stage story :) Actually, I didn't have any impression related to a sex symbol on Winnie. Because I think one of the reason I liked that show that much was their love was rather pure and cute (and most of my Japanese friends had the same opinion. It was nothing like 90210). Well, maybe American people had a different impression. I am just very happy to know that you are enjoying being and expressing yourself :) Please keep up the great work ;)

posted by Sherman2219 on April 15th, 2011

In a way, it was a blessing, I could not have children. There are too many temptations out there. The internet is positive in so many ways, and and at the same time, it can destroy children's dreams as well. DAnica, you make the world want to have children. It is all about parenting skills, hopes, dreams, ambitions, and staying connected to your own psyche to help you raise your child properly. We are all tired of the Lindsay Lohans and the Charlie Sheens in the World. Where are their parents? I can tell by the way you are so positive and energetic, that you and your parents are very well connected to you. They are hand on parents, and not just trying to be your best friend. You are inspiration to the World. You are making a difference in the World and not just talk the talk. You are so unique in so many different levels. You go girl....Brigitte

posted by sandiegosocialdiary on April 15th, 2011

Smart, strong, and taking care of your health is an exemplar to the young.... and frankly the young at heart... wonderful insight Danica...

posted by Rafael on April 8th, 2012

I loved Winnie. It felt disappointing to see that icon of innocence in sexy pictures. But your intentions are noble, and therefore *I forgive you*.

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