27 April 2006

Is this your idea of glamour?

“The Sun’s Page 3 [with photos of topless women] has been going 35 years. And no one even bats an eyelid these days,” says Kira Cochrane.

While reading up and blogging about women, sex and glamour (it all started with my post on photographer Robert Carlos Clarke a few weeks back), I came across a story by Kira Cochrane in Guardian Unlimited, 'Is this your idea of glamour?', going back to November 2005. The title of my post is borrowed from her story and I’ve reproduced some portions of her story in this post [as the Guardian link requires registration]. Of course, her story was on the British tabloid The Sun and the debate over Page 3.

Does the concept of a 'Page 3' work? Ms Cochrane says that it does: “Page 3 had proved its worth by boosting sales of the Sun a full 40%, establishing the newspaper as the most popular in Britain.” How do women in Britain feel about this? Here are some excerpts from her story to provide a point of view:

“Was our acceptance of Page 3 a way of compromising with male culture, saying we’d accept women’s bodies being used daily to sell and to titillate, as long as we could get ahead in the workplace?

But by accepting Page 3, we seemed to open the floodgates for ever more explicit images to be stocked on the newsstands, often accompanied by incredibly misogynist language… the culture was changing. The cover of the Daily Sport now features so-called ‘up-skirt’ shots, their photographers literally lying in wait for celebrities… And then there are Nuts, Zoo, FHM and Arena, all of which now feature naked women on their covers (why confine it to the inside of the magazine?).

Now young women tend to label the topless photos ‘empowering’ and ‘liberating’. A recent survey of 1,000 15-19-year-old girls found that 63% considered ‘glamour model’ their ideal profession. Faced daily with the evidence that women have to be sexually attractive to be considered successful why wouldn't young women choose to make a profession of it? When I was a teenager, and Page 3 was really one of the only examples of ‘glamour’ shots, it already seemed daunting to oppose it. With the proliferation of these images, is it any surprise that young women have further embraced it?

Interestingly, a growing number of women are now starting to speak out about objectification, beginning a debate on how the mainstreaming of porn imagery affects women and indeed men, socially and personally. Groups that campaign specifically against sexism and objectification are growing at a huge rate. Page 3 has been around for 35 years, and it’s likely to be here to stay, but that’s no reason to accept it. Speak to teachers and they will often tell you their students never even seem to have considered whether there might be an issue with the images of women to be found in mags such as Nuts and Zoo. And that lack of debate - and its effects - is very far from ironic.”

Ironically, soon after the appearance (15 Nov 2005) of this story in Guardian Unlimited, Mumbai’s Bachi Karkaria posted (18 Nov 2005) her account of Mumbai’s own Page 3 on

“A country that managed to ‘Indianise’ McDonalds, forcing it to create the all-vegetarian potato pattie, McAloo Tikki, can be relied upon to give its own spin to the hoary tradition of Page 3. The term here describes an entirely different, but as seminal, a social revolution. Page Three People or P3P has become shorthand for the hedonistic party crowd, the fliterati, if you like. It’s a breed you love to hate, or unabashedly aspire to. The concept springs from the Page Three introduced by the Bombay Times, with its header ‘Boomtown Rap’, when it launched in 1994. It featured the city’s swishiest social events. It created the ‘celebrity’ guests. Bombay Times attracted young and women first-time newspaper readers, largely on the strength of this flashy segment, driving the circulation of the parent Times of India for much of that decade. Page Three reflected, and later propelled, the economic reforms which released urban India at least from its socialistic straitjacket. Suddenly making money and spending it were no longer clandestine; ‘lifestyle’ became legit. Soon every paper, and then TV channel, had a P3 equivalent. Indeed, a couple of years ago a feature film was made on this phenomenon, capturing its froth, its bitchiness and its hard realities. It was called simply Page Three, indicating how firmly this concept is now rooted in the urban consciousness.”

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