An Object of Beauty is still an Object

Debating on behalf of the No More Page3 campaign can sometimes feel like a thankless task, but it certainly helps to hone your opinions and arguments when you are constantly challenged on your beliefs. I have been thinking lately about the argument that comes up time and time again about women who oppose Page3 as being ugly, bitter harridans, jealous of the models’ looks because they are not beautiful enough to be models themselves. This is in fact one of the most popular points of view expressed by opponents of the campaign, and it always makes me ponder, because a) it is one of the most popular points of view expressed by opponents of the campaign, and b) I am *actually* not beautiful enough to be a model myself. So – maybe they have a point…?

Well, except no…

I have thought carefully about whether or not I appreciate beauty enough, and whether my own lack of the required standard might influence my views. When I am told repeatedly by Page3 fans that it is a question of  ‘seeing, valuing and celebrating women’s beauty and sexuality’, it can make me feel a bit churlish for not joining the party, for miserably finding the whole premise problematic. Because the real question is not whether some women are ugly and therefore jealous of other women who are beautiful, it’s the fact that we are framing women in these terms at all. Hordes of people, as far as I know, aren’t spending all night on Twitter defending and arguing about MALE beauty. Beauty is a concept, and it is a concept which has traditionally been identified with the female, but it is still only a concept, divorced from a real human being. There have always been women famous for their beauty, from Helen of Troy onwards, and the idea of beauty being a female attribute which is desirable above all others has permeated art, literature and history throughout the ages. Conversely, and famously, Anne of Cleves was too ugly for Henry VIII to bear consummating his marriage to her. Female beauty is very very important. You don’t want to be one of the ugly ones.

When modern men talk about their right to look at beautiful sexy women, there is often the claim (the excuse) that this is a natural urge which historically men have always had, and that to go against it is somehow to go against nature itself. The argument is that men are hardwired to want to look at sexy women, to the point that it is cruel and unnatural to attempt to restrict their access by, say, removing a daily picture in a newspaper. Fair enough if you believe that, but to these men I say that in order for you to assert your ‘natural’ sexual characteristics, a woman often has to repress hers. It is not ‘natural’ for a woman to be an object: she may take the role in order to please a man, or to earn some money, but she is not ‘hardwired’ to do it. It is not ‘natural’ female sexuality to pose passively and obediently and to subsume her own desires in favour of the male’s. In the past the male of the species has been capable, I believe, of mating with a female without the benefit of readily-accessible images to feed his desire, despite all this talk of hardwiring and male ‘needs’.

What is undoubtedly natural is for people to fancy eachother and to want to have sex with eachother. Everything else is culturally determined, and therefore organised according to the prevalent beliefs of the day: homosexual and mixed-race relationships, adultery, monogamy, polygamy, covering up, letting it all hang out, being a ‘slut’ or a ‘prude’… all these ideas are invented and policed by the societies we live in, and are therefore changeable. The same goes for beauty and desirability: there is not one gold standard that men simply can’t resist, and there never has been. There are well-known examples of the lengths some cultures have gone to in order to constrain women’s lives with extreme and dangerous ideals of desirability: the Chinese practice of foot-binding, some African and Asian societies’ elongating neck rings, and the practice of female genital mutilation are all examples of the ways in which women have been forced to conform to a damaging ideal in order to be attractive to a potential husband. I’m guessing that the men who claim that their love of Page3 is only natural male behaviour are not ALSO lusting after the above examples of beauty. That will be because it’s not natural, it’s culturally conditioned.

In our own culture the beautiful, sexy, desirable attributes of women have been commodified to the point where often the real woman is left behind. Whereas Cleopatra for example was a woman *renowned for* her beauty (that is, a woman first), today Page 3 gives us the beauty without the woman: beauty (or ‘hotness’) has become an end in itself and the individual has been erased. Tina, 19, from Weymouth, doesn’t really exist, she’s become the sum of her parts, interchangeable with other young women who fit the template. This ‘ideal’ is as manufactured as the other examples of female beauty mentioned above. Today’s beautiful women are constrained by the need to be waxed and groomed to acceptable modern standards, to the point where there is a widely held disgust for natural female body hair even for those women (the majority) who are not in the beauty business. The ‘correct’ body type has been selected and repeatedly refined so that it now rules out 95% of women. Cosmetic surgery and invasive procedures are acceptable and promoted, so that the idea of cutting a body up for the sake of beauty is becoming normalised. The boob job has replaced foot-binding as the acceptable face of female bodily mutilation in the quest for desirability.

When certain sexist men take up the subject of FGM as their feminist cause celebre, I can’t help feeling that they do so partly because they don’t stand to lose anything by it. It is not their culture so it is not their sexual ideal that is being challenged. When they use the FGM issue to throw ridicule on the NoMorePage3 campaign, as Neil Wallis, former deputy editor of the Sun, is fond of doing, I am even more suspicious. At the risk of generating a few ”NMP3ers say Page3 causes FGM!!!” headlines, I would say there is a link between cultures which are prescriptive about the representation of female sexuality to the point where surgical procedures are a normal part of the picture. The more that men like Neil Wallis insist upon their right to view photos of slim, large-breasted, airbrushed, photoshopped, clear-skinned and glossy-haired young white women every day over their morning coffee, the more they are encouraging the view that to attain acceptable standards of beauty today a little bit of surgery might be needed. But to acknowledge that possibility would be to risk losing the privilege of access to your particular sexual preferences.

What starts off looking like a celebration of female beauty and sexuality quite clearly becomes an issue of power and control when challenged, and in a culture plastered with a wallpaper of sexualised images of women it is hard to stand up and be the ‘ugly’ one. When I argue against Page 3 I am quite sure I am not arguing against beauty. To ‘celebrate’ women by erasing what makes them unique and insisting they conform to an increasingly narrow ideal is to promote their object-ness, and as a woman myself I’ve always had the radical idea that I am human.  I love beauty as much as the next person, but an object of beauty is still an object.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “An Object of Beauty is still an Object

  1. Steve Grout May 19, 2014 / 7:37 pm

    You objectify women !

    Was it you who caused criminal damage in the Brick Lane Coffee Shop toilet, when they refused your request to stock The Sun ?

    • Not The News in Briefs May 20, 2014 / 8:21 am

      What??

  2. Lou May 20, 2014 / 8:58 am

    Bit of a random comment, think I missed that? Anyway you make a good point. That does seem to be a favourite response – you’re jealous, you’re ugly but the idea that the pictures promote female sexuality have never really made sense to me because, well how? We know women have breasts but there’s more to their sexuality than that fact. They are just images we don’t know anything about these women or what they like. Are they gay, straight or otherwise. We have no idea what they like sexually (as if you would put that in a newspaper!) they’re just images for people to imagine what they will.

  3. brighterthanbefore May 20, 2014 / 2:05 pm

    It’s funny, when women criticise sexist and objectifying portrayals of women in the media, we are labelled ugly, fat, insecure and jealous. Or, the opposite- we are deemed attractive and therefore not qualified to comment. The result is always the same- women’s voices are silenced.

  4. Catherine matthews May 21, 2014 / 5:16 pm

    Always had a problem with the anti page three brigade being jealous because they were too ugly. Firstly because I didn’t particularly find any of the page three models particularly beautiful. What they are is young and half naked. Stunningly beautiful women and men are a rarity and often frightening. The whole idea of page three is to look accessible and like they might be up for it with anyone, not beautiful and therefore unattainable.

    Secondly I could never see what there is to be jealous of. If being aged between 18 and 25 (23 realistically) is their trade and only required skill then I’m afraid they are in a precarious position. Every month that passes thousands of fresher replacements are creeping up behind to usurp them. Whilst most people’s worth increases with experience a page three models actually decreases. Soft porn is an industry based on a readily available supply of fresh meat and age is not forgiven.

    I also don’t understand the men’s right and natural need to look argument either. Looking at desirable people and fancying them is something both genders engage in. Choice of mate depends on many things with both males and females choosing personality and a range of other things in a partner. Looks only being the predominant issue for BOTH sexes when choosing short term flings. The difference is that men are not constantly presented in that light and made to feel inadequate it being the main thing they are valued for.

    Plus the need for such images would still be catered for. The soft porn images aren’t being banned. Nobody is saying looking and masturbating is wrong. Magazines would still remain, just where they belong for a very specific purpose. On the top shelf.

    Arguing for its retention in a newspaper has very sinister overtones. Why would anyone want to see something they can access appropriately and privately in a newspaper? The only logical explanation is to keep women in their places. It is fear and misogyny that keeps page three not a normal desire to look at naked women in private. And only a very small number of very inadequate men actually argue vociferously to keep it.

    In short none of the standard arguments used against no more page three stand up to real scrutiny. It is the preserve of sad and inadequate men. Who would be jealous of anyone adored by such an audience?

  5. Rachel11 January 21, 2015 / 2:39 pm

    Ah -as someone who did model for extra money (fully clothed) and turned down “Glamour” work am I an ugly harridan for objecting to page 3? And surprisingly I have been propositioned by a footballer – but an Italian international who was happy enough to respect no as an answer.

    Turning women into mere objects to be valued purely on their appearance is not the sign of a very mature or intelligent society. You are rejecting my brains as being worthless because I’m a woman who should solely be valued on her looks. And if she hasn’t got them it’s ok for her to plastic surgery to get them. Some even have their nipples moved by mms for better chances of getting “work”. Ridiculous. Meanwhile men are to be valued on their brains and not their bodies because only they can do the serious work. A serious article – let’s put in pictures of clothed men. Women can do all the silly items on beauty products and get their tits out as if they are public property rather than something to be enjoyed in private with someone special.

    We are a very long way from achieving equality – with today’s young women being silly enough to buy into the idea that revealing their bodies for a living is “liberating” rather than the reality that it’s sleazy. They are one step away from being a stripper – another step away from being a lapdancer – another step away from being a prostitute. Is that something to be very proud of? If you’re pretty and talented you can model with clothes on quite successfully. If you’re not very special you might have to take your clothes off for work, just as less attractive “porn stars” have to “do more” to get work too. Have some personal dignity and prove you can do something with an ability rather than a body.

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