Internet fameball competition was already intense before the recession and subprime celebrity crisis. Now it's gone cutthroat. And Lydia Hearst, never shy about exposing flesh, will not be forgotten so, hey, here are her tits.

Socialite Hearst has, until now, been careful not to go this far; when she did the cover of French Playboy, she was careful to note there was "no nudity for me" and that the publication was "very high fashion." Similarly, the model-heiress emphasized the "high fashion/couture" aspect of her lingerie shoot for an "upscale" panty brand.

Hearst's new topless spread is wrapped, of course, in the same sort of market positioning: She's in an upscale fashion glossy, GQ, and the Italian edition to boot. The model's poses are as stiff as ever, but they're also "low key [and] artistic," according to the blog Drunken Stepfather.

Well, we guess. She's still taking off her shirt, which is way more than her otherwise shameless protocelebrity competitor Julia Allison had to do to get a big Condé Nast cover. How is it the willowy Gotham heiress has been outclassed by a brassy social-climber from the Midwest? By making the same mistake as so many luxury retailers: responding to hard times by cheapening the product in the mind of the consumer. Not necessarily by taking off her shirt — you're only young once, and you might as well take your racy pictures then — but by doing so in such a marginal venue.

UPDATE: And, of course (we should have known), Hearst has gone topless before in an even more obscure venue, which you can see here or here (NSFW links, duh). So she's actually shimmying her way up the stripper pole of minor fame into ever-slightly-classier outlets. Dutch Esquire next? Hearst will make money on both sides of the deal.

(Pics from Italian GQ via Drunken Stepfather)