Despite new body image code, it's business as usual in depictions of women

You have to wonder whether some magazines and advertisers have heard of the Federal Government’s National Advisory Group on Body Image and its recommendations as part of the National Strategy on Body Image.

Or maybe, given that it’s all about self-regulation and there are no penalties for ignoring the code, they know it doesn’t really matter what they do?

The fashion industry, media and advertisers have been encouraged to present a range of body shapes and sizes in the new voluntary industry guidelines, part of a report on body image launched recently in Canberra.

The report, which aims to counter the “unhealthy epidemic” of negative body image, asks magazines and advertisers to use realistic images of models and reveal when images have been digitally manipulated.  It also urges the use of models over 16.

Soon after, this appeared in Frankie:

Frankie (3)

This in Portman’s:


And this in a surf magazine:

ella rose corby 16 nude cover

[note, deliberately cropped]

The Frankie image was especially disappointing, as the funky indie magazine has been seen as an alternative to mainstream girls’ magazines.

Sydney psychologist Sarah McMahon wrote to Frankie expressing concern about the impact of the image in a magazine read by clients suffering, or at risk of developing, eating disorders. In her November 29 letter, she drew attention to the possibility that the girl in the image might have anorexia, as depicted by her slim frame, disproportionately large hands, blotchy skin and dysthymic presentation.

Editor Jo Walker replied November 30 citing time constraints, budget and how it was ‘almost impossible’ to find regular bodied models. Here is Sarah’s response:

Hi Jo

Thanks for replying so promptly - I agree that you need to do better. However I am otherwise shocked by your response.

In relation to not having enough time to do a reshoot, I would hazard a guess that the model in question would look unhealthy in any photos.

Moreover, the issue we are talking about is larger than one photo shoot. There were many other models in this edition that were unusually thin. So long as there is a homogenised and unrealistic beauty ideal, models will never be "regular sized". As an indie magazine- ie independent to mainstream culture and, specifically, mainstream magazines- why do you need to use models? What is stopping you from using real women?

Further, I understand a core feature of the indie movement is social responsibility. Rather than blame society and the availability of "regular sized" models, why not take some interest and responsibility that Frankie can play in shaping culture?

Frankie promotes itself as an "Australian magazine that's as smart, funny, sarcastic, friendly, cute, rude, arty, curious and caring as you are" . I believe that you need to be looking for models that actually possess these qualities and a bit of a personality - rather than ones that look mentally and physically sick. You cannot possibly maintain and empower an audience (ie "as you are") with these qualities if you are not exhibiting them consistently yourself.

Just after seeing this ode to thinness, I came across the latest Portman’s advertising images. Here, in the (limited amount of) flesh, are airbrushed, freakishly skinny images, which again send a message: real women need not apply.

The gaunt faced model is 16-year-old Cassie Van Den Dungen, a contestant on this year's Australia's Next Top model. She became famous for being in a sexual relationship with a 25- year-old man and for being a chain smoker. Cassie was first runner up behind token 'curvy' size 10 model Tahnee Atkinson.

Cassie is reported to be 175 cm and 53 kilos, giving  her a BMI of 17.3 - this puts her in the 'underweight' category (minimum healthy BMI is 18.5).

It would be good if Sarah Murdoch, who was host and judge of Australia's Next Top Model, season 5, 2009 - spoke out against the underweight models in the show she is part of, given her commitment to tackling body image problems and given she helped launched the Government’s body image report.

And then, to top it all off, here’s another 16-year-old - this one posed naked on the cover of surf magazine, Stab. Ella Rose Corby’s is not even surfing, of course, because she is merely decorative adornment for male readers.

Ella Rose’s body is plastered with sexually suggestive graffiti. The cover headings include “She’s only 16” and “How to get a woman to yes”. She is seen as advertising herself for male masturbatory fantasies.

Stab writer Mike Jennings said that a girl this age means danger to the adult male.

“They’re moving into womanhood and they know it.

They dress older, sneak into clubs and are easily mistaken as adults.

And as girls in their early twenties try and hang onto their teenage beauty, lines are blurred and we’re left confused.

“You can leer at the 16-year-old as you would an adult woman, so long as you’re ignorant.

Once you become aware of their age you must look away.”

Er, so that’s why her image is on the front cover - so male readers can look away?

Ella Rose is reduced to an object to be ogled.

Jennings is supported by University of Sydney media and communications lecturer Marc Brennan, who said the controversy was “an example of how women's bodies were over-protected in popular culture (italics mine).

Over-protected? If that is over-protection I wonder how Marc Brennan sees under -protection?

Brennan continues: “I mean, the only person who should be leering at a 16-year-old, as far as I'm concerned, is another 16-year-old and maybe that's something else we need to consider here.”

That’s right, encourage boys to start leering early. That’s just what girls need.

We’re going to need a hell of a lot more than a voluntary code of softly-softly recommendations if homogenised, objectified and sexualised images of women are not going to continue to be exploited to sell products, services and magazines.

Speaking of objectification,   an update to my first blog post about Dr John Ashfield who makes a case for the objectification of women in an article posted on the Men’s Health Australia emagazine.

Previously the Men’s Health Project Officer with the Lower Eyre Peninsula Health Service in SA, Dr Ashfield is now employed as a psychotherapist by the Commonwealth Government funded Mid North Division of General Practice in South Australia.

Let Health Minister Nicola Roxon know that you think funding should go only to services employing medical professionals who respect women and girls.

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  • Melinda Tankard Reist
    published this page in News 2021-01-04 15:49:37 +1100

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