New Body Image Code: it’s a start but sexualisation and objectification still rule

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.

laura wellsBut 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.

Elsewhere it was reported of Wells:

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.

jen hawkinsEven where models haven’t been photoshopped, there is still hours of makeup, lighting, special lenses and creative camera angles to present the ‘best’ image. Remember the Jen Hawkins ‘warts and all’ non airbrush photo shoots for Marie Claire? (see my piece ‘Shock horror: nude supermodel has dimple on her thigh’). There were no warts and all, just a dimple and some ‘uneven skin tone’ on the Miss Universe title holder. She still conforms to conventionally attractive notions of beauty.

In a blog post titled ‘No more frock watch Mia, please’,  Natalie makes a great point:

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?

topmodelAnother 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.

A May 16 Daily Telegraph story pretty much summed it up:

“THE claws have been sharpened and more back stabbing is ahead, with the search for the next modelling superstar well underway."

Should Sarah's own show get a tick?

The Government needs to stop advertisers objectifying women as well as narrowly defining ideas of female ''beauty''. More on this in another post on Wednesday.

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  • Melinda Reist
    published this page in News 2021-01-08 18:27:47 +1100

You can defend their right to childhood

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