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Anne Diamond's Cleavage Manifesto and the Policing of Women's Boobs

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HOLLY WILLOUGHBY
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Anne Diamond's cleavage manifesto, unleashed this morning by the Daily Mail, hardly deserves deconstructing. Based on the Holly Willoughby debacle, in which the BBC ended up apologising for the fact that The Voice presenter has breasts, Diamond's clarification of what constitutes an acceptable amount of cleavage is ridiculous and deserves the gleeful derision with which it was met.

However, given the raging debate that currently surrounds breasts, this latest cleavage-critique is important.

Willoughby's low-cut dress received a record number of complaints from distraught viewers, their brains seared by the sight. Now Diamond has obligingly lined up other female presenters whose boobs are likely to cause outrage.

Missing from the latest censorious throng, however, are supporters of the high-profile Lose The Lads' Mags and No More Page 3 campaigns.

No one has stepped forward to suggest that Willoughby and other cleavage-y female presenters are being 'degraded' or 'exploited' or that having to look at their images on TV could constitute sexual harassment to female viewers. Instead, complaints against Willoughby were couched in terms of her breast-baring dress being 'inappropriate'. Are different arguments used simply because these women are seen as middle class and as working in a 'respectable' industry?

Apparently there are nuances to disgust. Diamond pronounces Kate Silverton lacking in dignity while Nicole Scherzinger's breasts are given impressive powers, capable of inflicting viewers with "a worrying feeling of uncertainty". One can only imagine the years of psychoanalysis ahead.

On the other hand (and rather unflatteringly), Lorraine Kelly's cleavage is "friendly and unthreatening", thanks to her image as a "girl next door".

Diamond's exposition is quite surreal in its mental buttoning up and down of tops but it is revealing. Breasts are endowed with a range of connotations, from safe and maternal to distracting and downright dangerous.

This fantasy division between 'types' of woman - mothers and whores - has been well hashed. What is interesting is how, in the concurrent panics over tits - lads' mags, TV presenters - such different discourse is used.

Stripped of arguments about women being 'degraded', outrage over Willoughby et al comes down to nothing more than good old fashioned disgust at women's bodies and an age-old fear of female sexuality that makes one wonder whether, were this still the 16th Century, we would accuse these women of consorting with the devil and be done with the whole disturbing matter by burning them at the stake.

However, while the 'outrage' arguments can be laughed off, things aren't all peachy on the Willoughby front. The most revealing part of Diamond's piece is this:

"I would suggest the new need to bare all and show off those curves is borne of the innate insecurity of the profession: in TV, women have to keep proving to the world that they are, indeed, young and beautiful, impossibly curvaceous, there's not a wrinkle on their face and they can still balance on razor-sharp stilettos while living at the cutting edge of newsworthiness."

And this is the crux of it. We shouldn't be railing against the fact that boobs and bodies are splashed around in magazines or on TV. Women are entitled to cash in on their hotness (more power to Page 3 girls and glamour models) but this is a choice. Let's ask, why - even in jobs that should not hang on sexiness, and do not for male counterparts - women unanimously feel the need to be sexy, and to be sexy within such narrow confines.

The Willoughby-triggered cleavage debate has illuminated the policing of women's bodies that lies, at heart, behind the Lose The Lads' Mags campaign and for this it was useful. In Diamond's line-up of disgraced women, it is the obliging uniformity of their big-boobed prettiness, not the fact that we have been exposed to the sight of female flesh, which should cause anger.