“Mummy why has that lady got her bare bum stuck in the air?”
This was the reaction of a certain 4 year old when faced with one of the more unsavoury tabloid front covers. To be fair to the woman in question, her bent over backside which pointed at the camera actually wasn’t bare. If you studied her bum crack closely enough, you could see the hint of a G-string. But I wasn’t letting meladdo get that close to the pic…
At the time, I must have been feeling particularly hormonal/ insecure/ threatened/ humourless/frigid (delete whichever anti-feminist accusation you care to lob at me) as I actually decided to rattle off a letter of complaint. After all, this big airbrushed arse was flashing itself at the 3 foot nothing height of my small, stinky elf-child. And this was in my local Co-op for God’s sake! And I love The Co-op. The Co-op is fab. Okay – they’re a big giant of a monolithic retail outlet these days, but in comparison to most supermarket corporations The Co-op really do put ethical purchasing at the heart of things. They are born n’ bred of a philosophy that I whole-heartedly agree with.
So I was pretty chuffed to get a response back from the regional office, apologising for the fact that my pre-schooler was faced with acres of naked flesh when all he wanted to do was read about Dennis The Menace and Farting. Apparently – so The Co-op told me – anything with such lavicious images should have been put on the Top Shelf. Away from small and impressionable eyes. They agreed that this should not happen again. That the store in question had been contacted about this.
But then I started thinking…they can’t REALLY shove tabloid newspapers on a top shelf, now can they? Because tabloids give us the (cough…splutter…) ‘news’ don’t they? So they at least have to be at the eye level of most grown ups who want to read afore-mentioned ‘news’.
I had a bit of a moan about this to the Significant Other in my life, whose opinion was “never mind shoving it up on theTop Shelf. They should ban any paper or magazine that shows women like that. This is The Co-op! They’re supposed to have ethics, principles and all of that….!”
Since this little occurrence, my 8 yr old daughter has become fascinated with the prevalence of bare breasts in newspapers. So, whether it’s the local corner shop, noticing a newspaper at a friend’s house or popping into a motorway service station, I am now faced with the question “Mummy – are those ones REAL boobs? Or are they ones cut open and stuffed with big plastic balloons?” Whilst the younger kid (boy) descends in Beavis/Butthead mode a-sniggering ‘heh heh – boobies, juicy boobies!’
My kids are very familiar with the naked body. But these are the bodies of their own family members (in a controlled and non-sexualised environment I hasten to add, before you go calling social services.) So, we’re hardly Prudey Pants Family. And we’re living in this weirdy,warped society where a teacher isn’t allowed to smear suncream onto my little boy’s face (mind you – I wouldn’t want to either…it is a bit of a snot-fest. ) And yet it’s ok for him to be exposed to any random woman’s Boobs n Beaver-esque pose down at the newsagents.
So I carried out a little bit of quick n’ dirty research. I spent 10 minutes in a larger London train station newsagents the other day. I was seeking a positive image of a woman. Roughly 3/5’s of the magazines were directly aimed at women. About 1/5 was your ‘special interest’ stuff (current affairs, Murderer-Weekly, ‘Trains What I Drool Over’ sort of thing) and then the last 1/5 was split between ‘music’ and ‘aimed at men.’ Aimed at men was your usual ‘Nuts’ and ‘Loaded’. So you can imagine the pics of the women on the front pages. Utterly impossible standards of beauty, of airbrushed plastic dolly-sorts. Arses and Boobs provacatively crammed into whatever wet/tight/rubbery stuff the men are told that they like to see women in. Interview one of the models and she will no doubt tell you that she feels ’empowered’ and ‘I love turning men on and it makes me feel so confident!’
(I could have a field day with the last sentence, but I will leave that upto the marvellous team at No More Page Three…they say it far better than I can…)
But even though I hate everything that the likes of ‘Nuts’ and ‘Loaded’ stand for, at least they were placed upwards and out of any small-people’s eye level. And at least – in their own sinister, anti-real female kind of way – they are being honest about what they are offering up for men who think that being a Real Hetero means wanting to see women trussed up and greased-down like plucked chickens.
Not so the women’s magazines. Less honesty here. And they took up the 3/5’s of the rest of the shop. Every sodding magazine was either celeb-obsessed, diet-besotted or – again – chocca full of impossible images of stunning women (tanned, airbrushed and plastically enhanced to the extreme.) And this is the kind of stuff that we are supposed to be buying as women. This is the kind of tosh that our daughters (and sons) WILL pick up anytime, anyplace , anywhere. And feel that ‘this is what women should look like, this is the kind of lifestyle we should aspire to.’
And I honestly wasn’t being an awkward sod. I really, truly could only find ONE image of a woman that I felt was positive and natural. And guess where it was? It was in ‘Kerrang’. Now, back in the 80s, the heavyy metal scene wasn’t particularly well known for its lack of misogynistic attitudes towards women. But it’s all change these days. The women in the metal mags tend to be tough, they have a style of their own and they definitely (oh so definitely) care more about their art, their music than whether they are sitting pretty and shoving their bare arses in the air.
I came away thinking that the ONLY pic of a woman in that entire shop that I would be happy with my kids spending time looking over were the women in the heavy metal magazines. (And…there were probably a few sassy ladies in Railways Monthly but I confess that I didn’t flick through that kind of lust-driven filth.)
It feels like whilst women have taken huge steps forwards in western society – the vote, our rights to home/income/bodies etc – the real independence of how we look, of how we SHOULD look is sneakily being eroded. And ironically, this is taking place on the very magazine shelves where most of us head for a bit of light reading…
So what can we do as consumers? As individuals it is kind of tough to deal with. I would say that making a complaint (as I did) can make a difference – and yes – the more the merrier when faced with Tits at Toddler-level. But one thing that we can all do together in order to turn the tide of this sickening and pathetic attack on the image of women, is to sign up to No More Page Three. The crew there have some amazing people and some great ideas.
Go join ’em! http://nomorepage3.org/