This week, Seventeen magazine promised to publish un-photoshopped images of real girls, finally responding to 14-year-old SPARK activist Julia Bluhm’s campaign. Such pressure must continue argues author Laura Bates.
Last week, two editions of Now magazine appeared on newsstands in the UK. The weekly issue featured a dramatic photograph of model Abbey Crouch, emphasizing her prominent collarbones and hollow thighs. The headline read “Oh no! Scary Skinnies,” while a caption warned: “Girls starving to be like her.” Inside, a feature revealed that “worryingly, pro-anorexia sites are using her figure as a skinny role model.” The other magazine was the Now Celebrity Diet Special. Its cover was emblazoned with a photograph of the same model in a glamorous bikini, under the headline: “Bikini body secrets…stars’ diet and fitness tricks REVEALED.”
This is perhaps the most blatant example to date of a disturbing and growing trend of women’s magazines affecting a superficial stance of concern about issues that they themselves are often guilty of causing or exacerbating.
This week, the Women’s Media Center celebrated the success of a campaign by 14-year old SPARK activist Julia Bluhm, whose petition calling upon Seventeen magazine to publish one unaltered photo spread per month attracted over 84,000 signatures. But it was only after Bluhm’s campaign whipped up an international media storm that the magazine finally capitulated. When she visited their New York office in May, Julia’s petition already had over 25,000 signatures, yet Seventeen responded with a saccharine statement that neatly sidestepped any commitment, while loudly proclaiming their ethical standpoint on the issue: “Julia left understanding that Seventeen celebrates girls for being their authentic selves, and that’s how we present them.”
There is an undeniable disparity between the caring, concerned tone magazines adopt, and the actual pictures and features they continue to publish week-in, week-out. The recent “health initiative” launched by Vogue was much trumpeted by the magazine as its contribution to promoting positive body image. Yet nowhere in the 6-point agreement is there any commitment to promoting healthy physical ideals through the use of unaltered photographs or a greater range of model sizes. In fact, in terms of its impact on the magazines’ pages, the pact boils down to a commitment not to use underage models or those suffering from eating disorders, as the usual reams of endless thin legs and tiny waists in this month’s Vogue testify.
The same mixed messages are barely concealed across the pages of countless magazines. This month alone, New urges women to “show off their curves,” praising “womanly shapes,” whilst Glamour advises readers to “double up your workout,” “transform your body” and “lose 7 lb – instantly!” Last week’s Star praised Billie Faiers for having “boobs and loving her gorgeous curves,” but just seven days later their next issue proclaimed “Billie hates her big boobs” and “feels self-conscious in a bikini.” Star applauds Pink for being “in no rush to lose her baby weight,” but Now brands Abbey Crouch a “star body” because she “weighs less now than she did before she gave birth last March.” More awards Alexandra Burke “multiple medals for showing off her curves,” but Look badgers readers to “get your dream body in no time” with “calorie burning” hot pants and gym kit that “tones you up fast.” Many feature “curvy celebs” specials, raking thinner celebrities like LeAnn Rimes for “bones jutting out” and a “super-skinny figure,” yet many include celeb diet secrets, painstakingly listing entire daily meal plans.
Holli Rubin, a representative of global initiative Endangered Bodies and a psychotherapist specializing in body image, explains: “Once again, girls and women find themselves in a double bind of on the one hand aspiring to what they believe is the perfect body represented by the celebrities but at the same time, more recently, being told that they really should not want those bodies. Visually we are seeing the images of what girls and women think they should be, yet then the content of the articles berates women for aspiring to that. This makes for a very confusing message not only for girls but for all women and society at large.”
A recent UK government report revealed that “between one third and half of young girls fear becoming fat and engage in dieting or binge eating” and “over 60 percent of girls avoid certain activities because they feel bad about their looks.” It specifically cited media criticism of body weight combined with a lack of body diversity as a contributing factor. Helen Sharpe, a London-based researcher investigating eating disorders in secondary schools agrees: “Exposure to these magazines is robustly linked to body dissatisfaction. We also know that those people most unhappy and vulnerable to begin with are likely to be most affected by the images in a damaging way.”
It’s bad enough that the unrealistic, narrow ideals of female beauty and body prescribed by women’s magazines are so damaging to women’s body confidence and self-esteem. But when “3 out of 4 teenage girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful after spending three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine”; when a coroner last month held the fashion industry and “photographs of wafer thin girls” “directly responsible” for the death of 14-year old schoolgirl Fiona Geraghty; when “80% of 10 year old American girls have been on a diet,” it is time for women’s magazines to stop pretending to advocate for solutions and admit they are part of the problem.
Consider Julia Bluhm and Fiona Geraghty: both 14-year old girls, both already deeply affected by the fashion and magazine industry. Women’s magazines must pay attention to their legacy.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.
To support women journalists who are changing the conversation, donate to the WMC here.
Melissa is another to write to Lovable to complain about its current Jennifer Hawkins ad campaign. What she has written is so important that I’m reprinting it from the Collective Shout website, where she posted her letter yesterday. How much more evidence does Lovable need that its current campaign is harmful and its claims to want to change the cultural on body image just don’t stand up?
Yesterday, Sydney man David Ould wrote to Australian underwear company Lovable. He’d read my post on Lovable’s contradictory behaviour and felt he had to do something. It’s good to know there are men who care about the impact of unrealistic sexualised representations of women on the women they love. This is what David wrote:
I’m a married man (almost 10 years) and father of 3 children (including a 6 year old girl who takes in everything she sees around her). I wanted to write to you today about your current advertising campaign featuring Jennifer Hawkins which, I would strongly suggest to you, runs entirely contrary to your stated claim on your website that you are “dedicated to changing the culture surrounding eating disorders and body image … by using happy, healthy models in our campaigns and promotional activities and by continuing to design intimates that are not created to objectify women’s bodies…”
I’ve got to be honest with you. I perceive a complete disconnect between those stated claims and the images of Hawkins that you are using. Specifically you should be aware that use of such images, which portray an almost impossibly “perfect” paradigm of the female body, do damage to three things that I, and I think many other men, hold very dear.
They communicate to my wife that her body is not good enough. By plastering Jennifer’s (no-doubt airbrushed) figure in front of her you’re not giving her something to aspire to but, rather, are telling her with almost sledgehammer subtlety that her body is not what it should be. Let’s be honest, she’s never going to look like Jennifer (which is ok in my book) but does terrible damage to her self-esteem and to that of countless women like her. The irony, of course, is that my wife is actually a beautiful women – its just that the brand values embedded in your images communicate the exact opposite. They hardly “support … the emotional needs of women” – quite the contrary.
They communicate to my daughter the very same message. But more than that, they are very overt in sexualising the issue of underwear. Now, I appreciate that some lingerie is intended for exactly this purpose but that’s not what you yourselves claim for this product line, is it? Rather, you state that you do not intend to “objectify women’s bodies”. Frankly, I have to ask, how does a picture of Jennifer with ice-cream or watermelon juice dripping down her (airbrushed) torso do anything but objectify her? And yet this is the message that you are sending to my daughter and countless other girls growing up in our culture: underwear = sex.
You are communicating to me, and so many other men like me, a completely unrealistic view of women. The images that you use set up a completely false expectation for us and, as a result, do great damage not only to ourselves but also to the women that we love. Sexual intimacy in such relationships is, all the psychologists will tell you, a key component of health and stability and is grounded, not least, in acceptance of one another as we are. But your images drive a wedge right in the middle of such relationships. They make women doubt themselves and, even worse, make men expect something that looks more like Barbie than any real woman. How can this possibly be a positive step towards good body image and related mental wellbeing for either party?
I trust you will take these comments on board as you review your current campaign. I look forward to your response to my specific points.
With kind regards
“We strive to represent happy, healthy and realistic body images”: Lovable responds
Dear David and Jacquie [the letter was copied to David’s wife]
Thank you for contacting us at Lovable.
In regards to your specific points, 1 and 2:
We take a serious view of the way women are portrayed in the media and in particular in our campaigns. We are very aware of the impact the type of images and messages can have on people. We strive to represent happy, healthy and realistic body images that capture the essence of Lovable’s brand values of being confident and comfortable. We do not deny that the image has been slightly retouched for colour correction purposes, as is done by most advertisers.
We believe that a healthy body on the inside is the most important priority for all women. That includes your wife and daughter’s happiness, their comfort and the pride they take in who they are. We have put this into practice by ensuring that our Lovable range is available in a size range from 8 – 18 and it remains affordable for all Australian women. We have also purposefully chosen a range of women of different sizes to reflect this on our website, including our maternity models (size 14) and DD cup model (size 12). We will take on board your comments to reflect more body shapes in forthcoming online store activities.
The creative was not developed to offend or to “objectify women’s bodies”, but use Lovable’s cheeky tone of voice to demonstrate the new Colour names for our advertised product via fun Props that remind the viewer of Summer, Lemon sorbet, Blueberry milkshake etc.
This was the intention of the creative agency, the Lovable team and our brand ambassador. Lovable sells products to Women only and hence the advertisement has been placed in shows and Magazines targeting women.
The Campaign has been received well in general by our consumers, but we understand that lingerie advertising does indeed cause issues, whether viewed on Billboards or Television. The Rating that Lovable was given by Commercials Advice Pty Ltd (CAD) commonly used for rating Television commercials was a G Rating.
Lovable are proud of The Butterfly Foundation‘s fantastic work in eating disorder research, awareness and prevention programs.
During September, 25% of profits from our online store will be donated directly to The Butterfly Foundation.
MARKETING & PR MANAGER – WHOLESALE BRANDS
David cuts through the PR Spin
Many thanks for taking the time to respond. I wonder if I might point out to you, however, the worrying nature of what you wrote.
You write that you “strive to represent happy, healthy and realistic body images”. Can I ask you, do you honestly think that Jennifer’s body is a realistic image for most women?
You write that “[t]he creative was not developed to offend or to “objectify women’s bodies”, but use Lovable’s cheeky tone of voice to demonstrate the new Colour names for our advertised product via fun Props…” Can I ask you a serious question – do you actually think I’m stupid? I don’t mean this in a confrontational way but I had to ask. I ask because the images, (here they are again), are so blatantly sexualised (particularly the first 2, although Jennifer’s “come hither” eyes in the 3rd panel leave little to the imagination either) that only a few possible conclusions are open to me:
1. You honestly don’t think they are. Now, I seriously doubt this. You work in the field of marketing and public relations. You know very well what these images communicate. Do you need me, for example, to explain the blatant fellatial imagery of the first panel? Surely neither of us is going to continue that pretense? I don’t think you can be that bad at your job that you don’t get it. On the contrary, we both know that the images were chosen exactly for this reason.
2. You think I’m stupid, or at least terribly naïve. I look at the images. I see that they’re highly sexualised. I communicate that to you. But, nevertheless you write your stock answer which only serves to tell me that either you didn’t take what I wrote seriously or you ignored it anyway. Either way, your response is communicating to me that you think I’m stupid. Surely you would not treat someone this way?
3. (and I truly hope this is the case) You actually agree with what I’m writing but you’re in a terribly difficult position because you realise the obvious fact: there is a gross discongruity between the images and the stated aim of Lovable to “[change] the culture surrounding eating disorders and body image” and the donations made to the Butterfly Foundation. Again, in coming to this preferred conclusion I’m assuming that you’re intelligent and, furthermore, you have integrity – both intellectual and moral. If that is the case then can I make a suggestion to you? Resign. A principled resignation by someone responsible for communication at Lovable would be a noble thing to do. After all, they’re asking you to massively compromise your integrity by writing these sorts of emails to people like me. You don’t want to pretend that you can’t see these images for what they are. You surely don’t want to treat me as though I’m stupid. So, Justine, I’m left urging you to resign.
Since Lovable clearly doesn’t want to listen to those from the outside, perhaps they’ll listen to those on the inside? Seriously, Justine and Dianne – do you look at those images and think “realistic” and “not objectifying”? These people aren’t just insulting their customers. They’re insulting and demeaning you by making you write this nonsense to me.
Please, for the sake of my wife, my daughter, me, your customers and, not least, yourselves, will you please stop the nonsense and actually do something about this? And please, please, please, don’t send me another stock answer. Actually engage with the issues that I and so many others are raising with you.
Revolution: a: a sudden, radical, or complete change b: a fundamental change in political organization; especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed c: activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation d: a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm…e: a changeover in use or preference…
It’s a big word, revolution. Sudden, radical, or complete change. Overthrow. Fundamental change. A paradigm shift.
It’s a word Girlfriend should never have invoked on the front cover of this month’s issue.
What appears in GF’s pages does not constitues a sudden and radical change to their previous approach to beauty, weight loss, dieting, body size and airbrushing. There’s some tinkering around the edges. But no revolution.
Girlfriend reminds us of its promises, which are part of its “strict body image policy”, flowing from the National Body Image Advisory Code (its editor sat on the board). We can “know when you look at an image in this mag it’s exactly how that person looks…”
But GF has failed to deliver.
Let’s have a good look – just like me and my Collective Shout mates (left) did during a retreat recently on the Gold Coast.
Cover girl is Leighton Meester. “’I’m this way and that’s it.’ Why we heart Leighton” reads the text. On the front we get the one and ‘Reality Check’ disclosures about altered imagery: “Girlfriend received this image of Leighton Meester already retouched.” So, she’s not quite ‘this way and that’s it’ because her image has been doctored.
While it is good to be up front on these things, the disclosure reads as though GF had no choice in the matter. Can’t you request an air-brush free image, consistent with your own announced policy of staying ‘virtually retouch-free’? Did GF commission the image or did it just drop on the editor’s desk? This is important, because Sarah Cornish’s editorial stresses GF’s amazing new approach:
…there’s no doubt that more and more of you are telling us that you don’t feel great about your bodies and taking advertisers and media to task when they alter images to make them look unrealistic. So, we have decided to take a stand and say enough with the hating (of our bodies and each other) and take a positive approach. Girlfriend is committed to being 100 per cent honest when it comes to images in our pages and to staying virtually retouch-free, so you never have to feel that you need to look like a model to look good.
Sarah reiterates GF’s “new commitment to less models and less retouching.”
‘100 per cent honest when it comes to images in our pages…’
OK. Then why is there only one disclosure on retouching when there appear to be many airbrushed images of young women in GF’s August edition? And is advertising excempt from any disclosure at all? Don’t readers look at the ads as well?
GF says that for four years “we’ve been pointing out when an image in Girlfriend has been digitally altered (retouched) or professionally styled”.
I think this image below, illustrating the Love2Shop ‘bonus mag’ is one of the most questionable. No airbrushing/retouching/professional styling at all GF?
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps these women are naturally flawless. Perhaps they have just carried that pure newborn skin through to their adult years?
These are flaws?
In a section about loving your ‘quirks’, we are presented with four girls in a section headed ‘Perfection is boring’, which suggests they are imperfect. One has a gap between her front teeth. One has “curves”. One has red hair (though more strawberry than carroty in appearance) and the last girl has freckles. It seems to me that these are acceptable ‘flaws’. Actually young women tell me they think a gap between the front teeth is quite cute. I wonder where girls with acne or scars or facial deformities would fit in this lineup? Or maybe they wouldn’t?
177 thin girls. 4 not.
Positive body image ambassador Stephanie Rice is interviewed by GF. She says it’s “really important for teenage girls to know there isn’t just one stereotyped image for them to live up to.”
But apart from four non-normative, slightly larger girls, GF has pages of stereotyped girls, illustrating and supporting the thin ideal. A quick count came up with 177 images which would fit the normative, standard thin dominant ideal, a common feature of all women’s mags.
She may not be a model. But she can be made model-like.
It’s one thing to use readers, not models. GF discloses use of readers in photo shoots seven times. But are these girls your average readers? How are they selected? (and who isn’t selected?). How many hours has the girl spent in hair and makeup, were special lighting and soft focus lenses used? Because those things alter appearance as well. She may not be a professional model. But she can be made model-like.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t wear makeup and have their hair done for a GF photo shoot. What I am saying is how does selecting traditionally understood attractive girls and beautifying them radical?
To be positive for a moment, there’s an article, ‘7 ways to make friends with you body’, which is good. There are a couple of inspiring stories about troubled young women made good, and another wanting to end poverty through her work with World Vision. It would be worth expanding the ‘real story’ section, because it’s the only real counterpoint to the pages and pages of beauty, fashion and advertising. There’s a piece on ending bad friendships, an anti-bullying focus and assessing online relationships. There are no dieting articles. And adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg’s provides helpful advice to readers.
But I can’t get away from what is the bulk of the content.
The featured clothes are pretty much all for skinny girls. Take these jeans for example, clearly shot with someone’s legs in them. Has this image been doctored?
And I’d also like to know if this is the same girl because if so, her body shape appears to have changed between p 74 and 75. If they are not same girl, has anything been done to alter girl 2?
All GF girls ‘love to shop’, which helps cement them into consumerist culture. They also like to check out ‘hot celeb boys’ and ‘eye candy’, including Justin Bieber, whose boyish self features in a poster for their walls.
How is all this “busting bad body image”?
While GF promotes a ‘Think. Do. Be Positive’ philosophy, there is significant emphasis on beautification, beauty preparation and being pretty. At this stage I’m not sure the positive messages will outway the standard messages about beauty, looks and grooming, as reflected in editoral and advertising which is designed to sell mass dissatisfaction. I suppose you could say GF is making an effort. But revolutionary it’s not.
I see that last year Girlfriend joined forces with Supre to promote a new initiative, national compliments day, to help cultivate positive self-image. I wonder if GF thinks Supre’s t.shirts for tweens, including ‘Santa’s Bitch’, ‘Pussy Power’ and ‘High Beams’ help girls feel good about themselves? (see earlier blog).
The editor asks for reader input: “Let me know what you think about your body and whether our campaign will make a difference to you: Email me at: GF_editor@pacificmags.com.au”.
Why not do that? And let me know too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Last night the on-line version of the ABC’s Gruen Transfer, known as The Gruen Sessions was broadcast on the program’s site. The topic was the depiction of women in advertising. I was a guest on the panel with media analyst Jane Caro, advertising executives Russell Howcroft and Todd Sampson and host Wil Anderson.
• That women continue to be portrayed in objectified, sexualised ways in advertising – and that it’s getting worse
• That women are primarily depicted in normative ways as thin, white, anglo-saxon and idle
• That images which would be considered sexual harassment if posted in a workplace are considered perfectly acceptable if posted on giant billboards in the public domain
• That the regular dismissal of complaints suggests that sexist advertising is acceptable
• That children and young people continue to receive the message that being thin, hot and sexy is the way to happiness and success
• That the Advertising Standards Board is limited in effectiveness, and therefore acts in the interests of the industry, because of a weak code of ethics, voluntary advertiser participation, no pre-vetting of material, no power to withdraw ads and no penalties for offending advertisers
• That there needed to be greater industry accountability and responsibility
• That women’s equality should be placed higher than commercial interests
It is a reality not widely enough acknowledged that the more complaints about sexist advertising are dismissed, the more normalised and entrenched such advertising becomes.
As Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a contributor to Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls and author of Sex in Public: Women and Outdoor Advertising writes in her book:
Whether inadvertently or not, the ASB’s routine dismissal of complaints does mould community standards. The increasing number of sexist advertisements shown, compounded with the small number ever withdrawn, works to give the impression that sexist advertising is tolerable.
Another problem is that a lot of people just do not know where to complain to. As Dr Rosewarne told the Senate committee inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment. (See Melbourne hearing transcripts )
If the complaints process is not made more obvious, the consequence is that community silence is read as tolerance and as being in line with ‘community standards’, thus facilitating sexist advertisements, and that remains the status quo.
Of course, the industry likes things exactly the way they are. As the Australia Institute says:
… advertisers also have an interest in avoiding government scrutiny that may lead to stronger regulation of advertising in the interests of the general public…Self-regulation is a strategy that enables the industry to avoid such scrutiny.
There is also an attitude of contempt towards those making complaints, as John Brown a former member of the Advertising Standards Board, demonstrates. As told to the Senate inquiry, Brown was quoted, in one of the Advertising Standard’s Boards own publications, as saying:
I’m still amused after all these years at the sometimes petty approach of some citizens to the very mild attacks on their sensibility in certain ads. But keep your letters coming. This is democracy in action and also very amusing.
Lynx “Spray more, get more”: the Unilever view of women
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the Lynx ads, which feature demeaning representations of women. Lynx is owned by Unilever, which also owns Dove. You would know about Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign which purports to promote respect and recognition of women’s real value. Dove also funds programs in schools to help educate regarding body image issues. How you do that while also presenting women as out-of-control sex maniacs who attack any man who has sprayed himself with Lynx, I don’t know. Dove also has skin whitening creams for dark skinned women suggesting real beauty only comes in white skin. As well, Unilever markets slimfast products for rapid weight loss, suggesting real beauty only comes in size skinny. Had enough of real women already have we?
The ASB likes to claim it is attuned with community standards and seems to base this on the fact that it upheld complaints about the two most offensive ads. The data in table 4 shows that in a large proportion of the ads about which complaints were dismissed (6 of 11) they were found objectionable by one in three, or more, respondents.
Examining the stats by gender, in the next table, the picture gets even worse. For those ads, on average nearly half of females find them unacceptable (46% – for some ads it is over 50%).
So, according to the ASB, it is in line with community perceptions to offend almost half of women.
As Elizabeth Handsley, Professor of Law at Flinders University and Vice President of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, wrote in an email to me yesterday:
There is a pretty strong argument that being out of step with the standards of nearly half of women is not good enough.
The question always has to be: what is the community benefit that justifies offending this many people?
The self-regulatory system has been inadequate to the task of dealing with increasingly pornified imagery in the public spaces. The continual dismissal of most complaints and the growing display of sexualised imagery serves to normalise and mainstream the objectification of women. Perhaps the whole thing should be handed over to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner rather than handled in-house by an industry which shows us everyday what it really thinks of women.
We need more than this to make advertising, beauty and fashion industries accountable
On the 7pm ABC News last night, a report on the Government’s new body image code was illustrated by the story of size 14 model Laura Wells, who was proud of her body and very confident, even though she didn’t conform to the typical model body type.
That is a good thing of course. It’s positive to have women in the industry who challenge the thin ideal.
But the argument fell apart for me, because, as the ABC report informed us, Laura was so confident that she even took her clothes off for modeling shoots. And then we saw some footage of her squeezing her breasts together for the camera. She was naked.
This news item summarized some of my hesitations about the latest moves to address body image concerns.
Yes, of course it is good to encourage body diversity. And it’s right to disclose when models have been airbrushed or digitally enhanced. Of course the fashion industry should be discouraged from parading stick-thin half-dead waifs down the catwalk.
But even when these changes come about – and face it, they are the most basic of essentials, and not even mandatory – the fact is the culture of sexualisation and objectification is not challenged or transformed.
Yesterday, as the 24-year-old recreated the pose of full-figured American pin-up Lizzie Miller – complete with her own “wobbly bits to rock” your socks off, boys – there was nothing to hide… Wiggling and giggling as she attempted to wrestle one [of] her E-cup breasts out of sight, Laura has clearly struck up a fabulously healthy relationship with her body…
It makes you wonder if Laura didn’t have the classic model facial features and an E cup, whether her ‘larger’ body would be so desired by the industry.
It is no advance when curvy women are presented in the same sexualized ways as their smaller sisters. I wrote about this in regard to Rikki Lee Coulter’s dominatrix photo shoot for Ralph, which I described as ‘objectification in a size 14’. Simply using so-called larger bodies (discuss: is size 14 large?] doesn’t change the main goal of the advertising and fashion industries – presenting women as sexually alluring. The baring of female flesh – even when the flesh comes packaged as a size that isn’t a 6, 8, or 10 – is still the main game.
A lot of research tells us that sexualising imagery contributes to body dissatisfaction among girls and women, depression, anxiety, disordered eating and low self-esteem. Yet the National Body Image Advisory Group – whose report has contributed to the Government’s latest announcement – doesn’t mention sexualisation or objectification at all. The industry is smacked with a feather. It’s all voluntary, it’s all about ‘encouraging’ and being nice. (Take the ABC News heading ‘Fashion industry asked to adopt body-image code’. We hope they asked politely!). The report has no teeth. There are no penalties for non-compliance for the recalcitrant’s who will continue to profit from their sexist and harmful practices.
As for disclosing digital enhancement, the message still sent is that women are not good enough on their own – they all need ‘work’ done, they all need to be altered in some way.
Body image isn’t just about not retouching photographs of models who already enjoy the beauty privilege that most of us beat ourselves up about.
It doesn’t help much when the Advisory Group Chair has a section on her website encouraging body surveillance and judgement (is she beautiful or not? Does she look hot in that dress or doesn’t she?) as pointed out in Natalie’s piece above. It doesn’t help much that our Minister for Youth who announced the new code (and who I’m sure has good intentions) does a sexy photo shoot for Grazia, saying she wants girls to feel good about their bodies, then avoids answering questions about whether the shoot was photoshopped. Would Grazia receive the Government’s body image tick of approval?
Another member of the Advisory Group, Sarah Murdoch, hosts Australia’s Next Top Model, which turns judging other women into an art form, using terms like “wild pig”, “Frankenstein” and “Yeti” to describe them. That’s gotta make you feel good about yourself.
French-Marie Claire goes sans air brushing, but not sans camera tricks, makeup, lighting and models already near ‘perfect’.
French actress Louise Bourgoin graces the cover of this month’s edition of French Marie Claire – hailed as the “totally non-airbrushed April issue”. Leaving aside the fact that it’s not totally non-airbrused because the women in the ads still are – should we rush to congratulate Marie Claire for its bravery? Should we declare this a step in the right direction for body image?
Digital enhancement is only one part of a modelling shoot. No one is saying how long the hair and makeup took, what camera tricks were used, or how the models to be depicted au naturale were selected in the first place.
Even if the models in these issues haven’t been kissed by the photoshop fairy godmother, we are still being presented with an unrealistic expectation of how women should look. Existing beauty standards will not be compromised, even if Mr Airbrush takes a day off.
And I’m sure the editors picked the model who could put the best body forward, sans airbrushing.
We’re told these non-airbrushed images are supposed to make us feel good about ourselves. That’s what readers of Australian Marie Claire were informed when Jennifer Hawkins was featured on the cover “naked and non-airbrushed.” I wrote about this in January, arguing that making Miss Universe a poster girl for poor body image – with her dimple on the thigh and ‘uneven skin tone’ – treated women like idiots.
Using pretty much flawless young women in the first place hardly proves that models and celebrities are just like us. Give us a break.
…Burning out the skin using overexposure, soft light, adding a half blue filter to whiten the skin, pulled back images, large smile’s for celebrities so their nasal labial folds are hidden, pulled back hair with hands stretching the skin and smoothing the wrinkles. Using grainy film and converting the images to black and white to neutralize the skin tones.
If young women deserve to know when images have been digitally enhanced, don’t they also have a right to know about these techniques as well? Also, is this move just a one-off jump onto the anti-airbrushing bandwagon or is Marie Claire going to keep the blow torch of its models in future issues? It seems unlikely.
The value of removing the digital Barbie-fication of models remains in question when magazines continue to promote one beauty ideal that is generally tall, fair and ectomorphic [characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage]. In the absence of airbrushing, magazines will endure by utilizing the world’s most beautiful models (who generally do not require “digital enhancement”). The French edition of Marie Claire featured Louise Bourgoin. Comparable “non-airbrushing” initiatives in France by Elle and Harpers Bazaar have used supermodels such as Cindy Crawford and actresses like Monica Bellucci. In Australia late last year we saw Sarah Murdoch’s “un-airbrushed” shoot on the front of The Australian Woman’s Weekly. These magazines continue to uphold the homogonised beauty ideal that contributes to body image disturbances through selecting models who incite unrealistic and largely unobtainable beauty ideals.
Ultimately this begs the question: what are the public health consequences of promoting such beauty ideals? This is an easy question to answer as the consequences are very well documented. Study after study reveals that promotion of a thin and homogenized beauty ideal contributes to body dissatisfaction and dieting- risk factors for the development of disordered eating.
This positions body image disturbances and ultimately eating disorders as a very serious public health issue- indeed a public health crisis. Tokenistic marketing activities by magazines giving lip service to this issue is simply not good enough.
Spain is one country taking the issue seriously. In 2007 Spain banned ultra thin models from the catwalks following a number of models literally starving themselves to death. In April 2008 an “anti-anorexia” bill was passed, banning uber-thin models and making it a crime for anyone to incite “excessive thinness”, food deprivation or extreme dieting. A new law bans the broadcasting before 10pm of TV ads that promote beauty products and treatments that suggest surgical or chemical ways to achieve a perfect body. The moce was prompted by concern that the ads were fueling a rise in eating disorders in young people.
But all we’ve got is the unsatisfactory recommendations of the National Advisory Group on Body Image and a Voluntary Industry Code of Conductwhich appears to have achieved not much at all.
It’s difficult to know who is really behind the release of the Britney Spears before-and-after airbrushing images for Candie’s (shoes). Some accounts say Britney released them herself, others question it,given that Spears didn’t actually release any statement and the pics appeared in The Daily Mail.
As helpfully pointed out by the gigantic arrows, in the final images Britney’s calves and thighs have been made slimmer, some barely-visible cellulite has been removed from the back of her thighs, and tattoos and bruises have been airbrushed.
If it is Britney herself wanting to highlight what airbrushing does, I think that is a good thing. But again, I can’t help wondering about the use of lighting, camera angles, and the other tricks already mentioned. The more cynical part of me (rescue me Satchel Girl!) looks at the ‘before’ pics and wonders if there’s been some airbrushing done there as well?
The fact is, Britney is still presented in a sexualised and objectified way, inviting comments that focus on her body: cutting her up, analysing her piece by piece. For years Britney has attracted cruel comments for how she has looked, condemned for “baby flab”, mocked for wearing outfits that show her tummy, the usual ‘is she pregnant or just fat’ jibes. The Daily Mail reminds us of “A display of her flabby tummy on tour last month….”
Because Girl with a Satchelknows so much about these things, I asked her opinion late last night:
It seems odd that Britney would release these photographs, though this is the girl who produced a highly orchestrated MTV comeback documentary as a prelude to her post-breakdown comeback. If a celebrity wants to increase her female-friendly factor, whether that be to boost sales or attempt to genuinely connect, inspire and motivate women, then showing her real/authentic self is usually a good start. And can’t be any worse than having your butt splashed across the tabloid papers and magazines thanks to a courteous paparazzo.
Britney’s probably one of the most airbrushed celebrities of our time, as her career came to fruition in the 90s when we weren’t all so aware of the practises being used in the magazine industry. To see a relatively unpolished image of her online could be a good thing for her young fans.
But the fact that these images have been fed to The Daily Mail, a tabloid dubbed ‘The Daily Hate Mail’ by the feminists at jezebel.com for its often masochistic treatment of women, as opposed to a more women-friendly title (does such a thing exist?) smells like ‘stunt!’
Is this a case of pop star one-upmanship? After all, Jessica Simpson is on the cover of Marie Claire sans makeup and airbrushing this month, in aid of her new show, The Price of Beauty.
Now of course, showing women not digitally enhanced is better than what ACP’s former Art Director Louise Bell and colleagues once did, as told here:
What limits did you attempt to stick to? I was an art director at a time where retouching or “airbrushing”…was a very new technology. And Mia [Freedman] and I just went for it! We literally did as much as we could get away with – different heads on bodies; you name it.
A mini brow lift; Botox in her brow and frownline area; a nose job; fat injections in her cheeks, nasolabial folds and lips; chin reduction; neck liposuction; had her ears pinned back; a breast augmentation revision; liposuction on her waist, hips and inner and outer thighs; and a buttock augmentation.
Youth Minister Kate Ellis wrote a terrific endorsement for my book Getting Real: challenging the sexualisation of girls. I was – and am – very grateful to her for doing so. Ms Ellis wrote:
Young women and girls today face extraordinary pressures to meet body image expectations that are unhealthy, unhelpful and unrealistic. The contributors to this bookmake a valuable contribution to an important national debate on how we can help young women to grow up with a healthy self-image and with the freedom and strength to be their real selves.
I believe the Minister is sincere in her commitment to addressing this issue. But her photo shoot for Grazia – which goes on sale today – raises questions about whether her message needs to be more consistent and whether there are a few dots still to be joined up.
Lydia Turner, a Sydney psychologist specialising in eating disorder prevention and who I’ve published here before argues that the Grazia shoot is problematic on a number of levels: sending conflicting messages about body image, encouraging judgement and surveillance of other women’s bodies and reducing a member of parliament to her sexual desirability.
Yet again we’ve seen another body image blunder pushed into the spotlight with Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, donning tight-fitting leather clothes and dominatrix-style 8-inch heels in a bid to improve body image in Australian women.
According to the Courier Mail in the shoot done on an athletics track in her electorate of Adelaide, the 32-year-old minister sports a pair of killer $1790 Gucci heels and a curve-hugging $695 leather Karen Millen dress and looks more like a runway model than a Member of Parliament.
“I really enjoyed it!” she said of the experience. “I didn’t think it would be so much fun – I didn’t want it to stop.”
Celebrity magazine, Grazia, had approached Ellis to model for its annual ’Body Image Special’. They thought she would say no. She gave an “enthusiastic yes.”
Grazia tells us Ellis was voted the sexiest MP by her male colleagues and recently “chuckled” when invited to pose for lads mag Zoo.
Ellis said her reason for modelling was to “spark a debate on body image” (she said similar when posing in a bikini for The Daily Telegraph not too long ago). She wanted to draw attention to the results of the body image survey in Grazia. But something just doesn’t sit right.
When Ellis was asked whether or not her images were airbrushed, she dodged the question, replying that she had made her views about airbrushing “clear” to the magazine editors. Ellis avoided disclosing whether or not the images were airbrushed, yet disclosure of airbrushed images was one of the key recommendations put forward by the National Advisory Board on Body Image – a board Ellis initiated.
Flipping through the magazine, it’s hard to understand how Grazia’s editors could possibly think they were doing women any body image favours – and harder to understand why Ellis would want to support a magazine like this.
The cover itself shouts “Jen: You voted her BEST BODY. Posh: You voted her TOO THIN. Beyonce: You voted her KEEPING CURVY COOL.” On page 16, four female celebrities are lined up side-by-side, each with numbers scrawled across their image indicating the percentage of readers who approve of their bodies. Beyonce scores a lousy 13%.
Yet when discussing the results of the body image survey, the headline of the article screams “Why are we our own worst enemies? 71% of [women] judge other women based on their bodies” as though it was oblivious to fact that it actively promotes women monitoring and surveillencing other women’s bodies.
In her opening editorial, Editor-in-Chief Alison Veness-McGourty announces that “curves are back” and that women should rush out to buy pencil skirts so they won’t have to be “endlessly watching [their] weight.” Yet the top four out of five most popular articles listed on Grazia’s website focus on dieting. Fad dieting. Dieting to make you “thin by Friday.”
Throughout the ‘Body Image Special’, article after article features celebrities talking about why they loathe their bodies. Sienna Miller confesses that she is “all in favour of airbrushing” and that in ten years time she will “probably be stuffed full of botox and fillers … with fake lips!” How is this supposed to be empowering?
While Ellis says she intends to “work with industry” to improve women’s body image, it’s difficult to imagine how effective this approach might be given that the fashion industry’s profits are significantly inflated by instilling a sense of inadequacy in its consumers. It is also unlikely that a voluntary code of conduct will ever be adhered to.
How will corporations agree to something that runs contrary to their profit margins? Just look at the Weight Council of Australia. It is a voluntary body that requires businesses in the weight loss industry to adhere to a set of guidelines, designed to protect the health of Australians and the quality of weight loss product. Of the tens of thousands of weight loss businesses in Australia, only five are members.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone when Grazia quotes Jennifer Aniston, “looking good is the best revenge!”. But what is Ellis doing supporting this tokenistic stunt? Having recommended, through her National Advisory Board, that a diverse range of body sizes and shapes should be portrayed in magazines, it is rather odd to then engage in a photoshoot that upholds current beauty standards and allowing images of oneself that are most likely airbrushed. Perhaps she just wants to look glamorous in a fashion shoot but needs to cover it in tokenistic body image/self-esteem jargon?
Perhaps most frustrating is that young, smart, high-profile women are routinely subjected to sexualised scrutiny, regardless of their profession. Natasha Stott-Despoja, Stephanie Rice, Julia Gillard, Penny Wong, Gabriella Cilmi – who recently stripped to “prove” she’s “all grown up” – the list is endless.
One of the functions of sexualising powerful women is that they become less threatening. Their abilities fade into the background while whether they are ‘hot-or-not’ becomes the only focus.
It seems the message girls and women are continually sent is that until you’re hot, you don’t count. Girl With a Satchel Erica Bartle summed it up well when she wrote, “…even smart MPs have to fit the fashion mould to become successful”.
Instead of giving in to the pressure to sexualise herself, Ellis could have taken the offer to pose for Zoo and later Grazia, as opportunities to speak out against the pressures on women to consent to objectification. She could have highlighted this as a problematic message sent to girls.
How awkward would it be if you found out that all the men in your workplace had voted you the sexiest worker? If every time you spoke you had to worry about whether they were actually paying attention or just checking out your breasts? Your boss would be strapped for sexual harassment for handing out the survey to begin with.
Yet Ellis accepted the ‘honour’ of being voted sexiest and has allowed herself to be presented in a sexualised manner. And she still wants to be taken seriously as a MP with a portfolio caring for young people.
‘Mick of Brisbane’ provides an example of how some men see the Grazia shots. He commented online in the Courier Mail April 4:
“She is the sexiest politician I have ever seen!!! I wonder if she would do a photo shoot for Penthouse? With all funds raised going to the community of course!!! I think she could pull off a centrefold with ease!!!”
Yes, Mick, as long as it’s for a good cause. So many of the comments posted in response to Ellis’ photoshoot have been about whether she is ‘hot or not.” Because that’s what counts.
There are no easy solutions to our current plague of body image problems. At the same time, none of us should have to put up with faux attempts to put things right. Grazia is merely giving the appearance of wanting to empower women. Ellis’ participation only upholds existing beauty standards while catering to the sexual fantasies of men.
Given that girls and women are already taught that their worth is measured by how sexually desirable they are, having our youth minister reiterate that message just trivialises an issue she seems to care deeply about.
A special guest blog posting by Lydia Jade Turner on the Jennifer Hawkins Marie Claire photoshoot controversy. Lydia is Director and Public Health Advocate with BodyMatters Australasia and an Allied Health Professional specialising in eating disorders prevention.
As an Allied Health professional specialising in the field of eating disorders, it has been interesting to observe the comments published in response to blogs regarding the issue of Jennifer Hawkins purporting a “healthy body image” in Marie Claire. While some of these comments are helpful, others appear to be based on myths. I believe that not only is positioning Hawkins as naked advocate for the cause, ineffective, it’s actively undoing the gains that have been made in the field of eating disorders prevention. Having said this, my response to this empowerment stunt is not an attack on Hawkins herself, but rather a critique of why using her image as a path towards healthy body image is actually harmful.
HAWKINS AS NAKED ADVOCATE
Just this morning, Hawkins was quoted as stating that she had no idea that her image was going to be used to expose her “flaws.” However in the Marie Claire article printed earlier, Hawkins stated that even she is unhappy with her body, dislikes her thighs, and is “not a stick figure.” It makes it a bit hard to believe she could not have possibly known this article was about promoting a healthy body image. The Butterfly Foundation has said that the reason why Hawkins was used was because an average-looking woman would not sell magazines. This is in line with an Online Opinion forum poster who commented that “women demand these magazines” and “like looking at these images.” Wow. So if dark-skinned people didn’t sell well in magazines, should we just leave them out altogether? Yet another reader mentioned that it was too difficult to find an A-list female celebrity who wasn’t “thin.”The difficulty in finding an A-list female celebrity who deviates from the prescribed beauty ideal highlights the systematic discrimination against women in the media and the intense monitoring of their bodies. Positioning a supermodel as naked body image advocate reinforces the idea that there is never going to be a good enough reason to use any image other than that which meets the prescribed beauty ideal.
At last we can see “plus sized” women posed seductively, mouths parted slightly, dull eyes staring off into the distance, draped over some inanimate object looking passive and desperate for male attention.
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