Levi Johnston's sister takes it off

Another member of the extended Palin clan promises to go nude -- but why?

Published February 15, 2011 8:45PM (EST)

Mercede Johnston
Mercede Johnston

It's not uncommon for siblings to share proclivities, whether it's an aptitude for math or a flair for tennis. And if you've ever skimmed Penthouse or Playboy, you know that even a thing for posing nude can run in the family. But of all the naked-getting clans in the world, who'd have thought the Johnstons of Alaska would turn out to number among them? It's true, though – following on the heels of her brother Levi's famed Playgirl wardrobe shedding, Mercede Johnston is apparently taking it off for Playboy. Soon, there will be nobody left in Wasilla still wearing pants.

On Wednesday, the hotheaded 19-year-old blogger directly addressed rumors regarding her impending nudity -- and the "insider" who claimed: "She always wanted to be a model, but it can be tough to break into the industry. And she's obviously choosing to go the easy route and take her clothes off."

Speaking to E!, Johnston said, "That couldn't be further from the truth. I want to make it clear I have got a ton of offers but turned the majority of them down. When I accept one, it isn't for the money but simply because I think it is a good choice for me at that time." Who knew that simply being Levi Johnston's sister would open up a lady to "tons of offers" to pose nude?

Why then is this one "a good choice" for Miss Johnston at this time? Perhaps because her notion of what constitutes a good choice is a little outside the box. She's got a penchant for going rogue that could outdo a Palin, amply demonstrated by her scathing -- and deeply Bristol Palin-obsessed -- blog. The woman who has a tattoo of her brother's name on her wrist has deep wells of dislike for the lady who was nearly her sister-in-law, and a scrappy eagerness to dish on the former governor of Alaska's family. On her blog, Johnston ruminates about Levi (known to her as "Ishy-Bear") and the Palins, posts flattering photos of herself, and writes, with a tough-to-read candor, of her troubled mother's medical problems.

It is, in many ways, like any other teenager's blog, except that there's a tenuous connection between the girl writing it and the scariest woman in America.  And it's that raw loathing for the Palins that has given Mercede Johnston a strange cachet in certain circles: the fact that she's rubbed elbows with the family, is bonded with them by her young nephew, and is only too glad to share her hostile correspondences with Bristol. When Bristol allegedly wrote her to "Get a job, or a hobby, or something," Johnston shot back, "Believe me it would be so much easier to get a job out here if it wasn't for your family. Unlike you I have other important things to do rather than traveling around preaching abstinence and earning thousands for doing so then coming home to which ever boyfriend it is this week and doing exactly the opposite of what you just lectured others not to do." Aside from being a candidate for the run-on sentence Hall of Fame, there's something in her exasperation that reflects a sentiment shared by many of the Palins' numerous detractors, an indignant sense that this family has for the last several years been going around on some kind of misery-spreading North American tour.

So when that anonymous source told E! last week that "If she wants to take all of her clothes off at 19 for money, there's always going to be someone who's going to pay her to do that," Johnston made no bones about where she believes the quote originated. She's now rebutting the "lies" by saying: "That Palin family will say whatever they can to down talk my family. It's unfortunate they have to act this way."

Vitriol and spite are fantastic motivators, and Mercede Johnston certainly has both in store. But that's not all she has going for her. In her writing, Johnston is more than open about the pain caused by her father's infidelities, her mother's stint in a correctional facility, and being unable to see her nephew. In addition, she's a recent high school graduate who needs to make her way in the world, and televised dancing competitions aren't an option for most people. Most of all, though, she's a young woman who by her own admission has strained relationships with the primary family members in her life, one who even in her fury can say to Bristol on her blog, "I would love to meet up, or call and talk to you about all of this but since you won't be mature enough to do that THIS is my last resort." Sometimes, a last resort can look deceptively like a "good choice." Johnston may be in as much need of money as the next struggling American, but if she disrobes for a magazine, it's likely not just because she needs someone to pay her. It's because she needs someone to pay attention to her.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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