A personal view by MARY SMITHWICK
SOMETIMES, the auld internet catches hold of a simple idea and gives it wings.
I’ve been known to complain about social media — or rather the platform it gives to people who speak first and think later.
But I have to admit that I applauded the exposure given to 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, who last week handed a petition with 25,000 signatures to the editor-in-chief of Seventeen Magazine, protesting against its use of altered images of models, and of airbrushing.
Her petition was initially uploaded to campaigning website Change.org and it spread through social media before being picked up by news outlets. By the time I wrote this, she had more than 43,000 people signed up — and by the time you read this, I have no doubt it’ll have easily surpassed 50,000.
The teenager and other protesters held a demonstration outside the New York offices of the magazine, and their demand didn’t seem that onerous — they want the magazine to print one unaltered — real — photo spread per month.
Julia has realised what many people older and in theory wiser than her have not — that feeding young women impossibly perfect images of other young women is harmful to them. Not only does it give them a physical role model that they can never measure up to, it also teaches them that their appearance is more important than any other achievement, and should be their main priority.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Oxford student Madeleine Grant was recently running for the prestigious role of Oxford Union Librarian (a role held by two former prime ministers). Her election literature contained, as one of her selling points “I have a great rack”.
She has since claimed that the comment was a satirical joke — but she still pulled the leaflet once a furore blew up on her.
Ms Grant is clearly clever and talented, she wouldn’t be studying at Oxford and involved in a prestigious debating society if she wasn’t. And yet she feels the need to sell herself not on the basis of those talents, but with her body.
Little wonder, when women still invite more media coverage for their looks than anything else.
Newspapers recently ran pictures of Carla Bruni which they declared had her looking a little “scruffy” and asked if it was the stress of her husband’s election campaign. Perhaps the photos caught her at a moment when her jumper didn’t quite meet her jeans — but she still looked a hell of lot better than most of us.
I call this sexism and others might just call it mean — but I think everyone can agree that nasty pot shots at women over their appearance are increasing. Men, even those subject to high degrees of public scrutiny, aren’t the butt of as many comments about their appearance.
The underlying message is that women should be concerned about their appearance, while men can look after all the other important stuff.
And this focus on women’s appearance, to the exclusion of their many other talents and abilities, ultimately leads us to the offensive phenomenon of glamour models in newspapers.
Last week, there was an outcry against the Sun newspaper when it ran a headline poking gentle fun at the speaking style of Roy Hodgson, the new England soccer manager.
(The headline was ‘Bwing on the Euwos’ in case you’re wondering).
There were complaints to the Press Complaints Commission as a result of the coverage.
Now, it may have been a little unkind — but the first thing which leapt to mind was the fact that this newspaper displays glamour pictures of close to naked girls on its page three. Every day.
Yet a gentle joke is believed to be more offensive than what is nothing more or less than soft pornography.
The Sun editor recently argued that the Page 3 girls were healthy role models for women, which I first laughed at and then was insulted by.
These are not the role models I would choose for myself, or for any young woman I know.
Many men scoff at women like myself when we say we find such things offensive.
It’s too easy to dismiss us as not having a sense of humour, or being uptight. I have a sense of humour — it’s just a little more developed.
When will the men who use such images to sell newspapers (and sometimes other products) realise that for most women, they are a massive turn-off — and will stop us buying their products?
Maybe when we as women start speaking out about it, and demanding media coverage of women that focuses as much on their actual achievements as on their physical assets.
Email [email protected] with your opinions.