Along with a couple of choice and wilful inaccuracies offered up about the No More Page 3 campaign at a media a event couple of weeks ago, David Dinsmore, editor of The Sun, stated that Page 3 is good for 'positive body image.'
Possibly he feels able to assert this because of the Sun's own association with a feminist UK Body Image campaigner, who has stated this viewpoint. On a radio programme it was suggested that we should thank The Sun for providing us with Page 3's great examples of body diversity; the justification being that it's better than the ultra-thin manipulated images in fashion magazines, and because they occasionally have a size 14 model. Granted, in a way this is more inclusive than endless pictures of size zero models, but a 14 is still below the UK average size of 16.
My initial response to the first point, that Page 3 is great because it's better than X, Y or Z, is that this is like saying a kick in the backside is great because it's better than a knee in the groin, I for one would be loath to promote either. As for the second, that Page 3 is great for body image because they occasionally feature a size 14 model, this is like saying that everything in Macdonald's is healthy because they sell salads now. In short, both positions are highly dubious.
As well as working with No More Page 3, I am a Body Image campaigner with the organisation AnyBody, the UK branch of Endangered Bodies. Both organisations are dissatisfied that women are frequently reduced to just their bodies, and even in that narrow space, we are plagued and harassed by others' ideas of perfection and what women are for. We are living in a hall of mirrors with our reflections continually warped by images and messages in which women's bodies are used to sell everything and anything, including newspapers. In such an environment this kind of consciousness-raising and activism is important.
With regard to body-image, one can be forgiven for thinking that including 'larger' models is a good thing, even a feminist thing, but I do not agree; for me that argument is akin to saying that racist political parties are actually not racist because they have some members from ethnic minorities. Page 3 could cater to all body fetishes, not just perky breasts, and it would still be sexist and therefore unfeminist, because it is offering up women not as people, but just as bodies, as images to titillate.
Cartoon by Jo Harrison
We also cannot overlook the amount of insecurity many women have regarding their breasts, this is a huge body image issue, and though the models themselves may not have had surgery, it can be no coincidence considering the fetishisation of women's chests in our culture, that breast augmentation is the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure. Page 3 and it's 43 years or nationally obsessing over young breasts, regardless of the weight of the bearer, undoubtedly plays a part in this.
Arguing that Page 3 is great for body confidence shows, at best, a lack of feminist ambition and at worst a damagingly limiting idea of what we really hope for women and girls. We want women to feel they have worth rather than endlessly feel compared to and thus compare themselves to a mute, inactive ideal, the purpose of which is to be used by another. This issue does not exist in a vacuum, so to state that Page 3 is liberating and feminist because it allows the occasional 'heavier' woman, is saying that we are happy for (some) women who measure up, to say 'I've got a body I'm happy with, sod equality'.
Both organizations I am involved with work extensively with young people, and we have seen confidence - not just body confidence, but confidence in a holistic sense - grow through the feeling that they have a voice and that there are people who support them and share their hopes, fears and frustrations. They are getting this from being actively engaged in the world, occupying their bodies and using their minds.
One message that I, and thousands of others, take from Page 3 is that to be desirable and validated as a woman one must look a certain way and also be devoid of troublesome things like a personality, or opinions, or desires of our own. It is reductive and if there's one thing all feminists agree on it's that women do not want to be reduced to something less than fully human, which is the message that Page 3 sends loud and clear every weekday. So, I'm afraid that while body diversity is a great feminist goal, in this instance the Page 3 models' ratio of fat is not the feminist issue.