On the Body Positive Argument for Page 3

23/12/2013 14:11 GMT | Updated 19/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Most arguments against the No More Page 3 campaign tend to whine about how it's a free country and three million women choose to read The Sun everyday and um, free choice so why can't we all just be quiet. All in all, not very convincing stuff. So of all the people who I assumed would oppose the campaign, body positive activists were definitely not one.

To me, body positivity equals critiquing the unhealthy image of women promoted by media especially in context of the male gaze. At a recent debate at my university on whether or not Page 3 should be banned, I was surprised to see that one of the two speakers against the motion was Natasha Devon, a body confidence campaigner. This was the first time I'd encountered a self-identified feminist in favour of Page 3, leading me to presume that Natasha would argue along the lines that Page 3 allows women to feel proud of their bodies outside of patriarchal pressures. This is an argument I would be on board with. Suffice to say - since I'm writing this article - that didn't happen and I still find the body positive argument in favour of Page 3 pretty problematic. Body positive feminism itself is a movement of which there are aspects I support: challenging the heteronormative, white, thin and Eurocentric body ideal advocated by most forms of media in order to liberate women is undoubtedly positive. Nonetheless, the way in which the movement justifies Page 3 is, in my eyes, more damaging than it is positive.

A popular argument - both within and without the the body positive argument - to maintain Page 3 in its current state is that it is representative of women's bodies. This strikes me as bizarre. Despite it being constantly stressed that Page 3 models range from a size 8 to size 14, their average dress size is in fact 8 (whereas the average dress size of women in the UK is 14). Their average bra cup size is between D/DD and F/FF, 88% of Page 3 models are white and all models are able-bodied and fit the "feminine" ideal. In light of all this I would say the images of Page 3 do a pretty good job in promoting this harmful ideal rather than refuting it. There's nothing wrong with women of this physique being proud of their bodies, but there is something wrong when this is the only physique represented, contributing to the abundance of misinformation telling men and women that this is the only way a woman can and should be desirable. A study by Huffington Post found that between September 2012 and September 2013, only 18% of covers of mainstream magazines such as Glamour and Marie Claire featured women of colour. For one whole year, Maxim magazine featured no women of colour on its covers. The false image of beauty that Page 3 promotes is no different to that of these publications and is, like them, a product of whitewashed ideals.

It's important here to focus on the fact that Page 3 contributes to body confidence issues through the male perspective as well. By having the largest photo of a woman in The Sun as passively posing for the gratification of its intended male audience, it falsely teaches that a woman's appearances should solely serve men. So when Natasha Devon claims that

"Not once has any of those 30,000 students [in her body confidence lessons] ever cited page three as even a possible reason for society's body image"
she ignores how the male gaze helps to shape a harmful template of a desirable woman. The images also contribute to an aspect of body positive feminism itself that I and many feminists have an issue with - the idea that all women should be seen as beautiful. This isn't to say that all women can't be seen as beautiful, but the need for women to be beautiful is already a patriarchal pressure and women are as a result constantly valued for their looks above all else. The complete objectification of women in Page 3 doesn't help to eliminate this pressure. Seeing as there's no male equivalent to the feature, it puts forward the idea that women exist for their beauty which in turn serves others, whilst men are shown on neighbouring pages as actively doing rather than passively posing.

The fact that there's no male equivalent to Page 3 also clashes with the popular use of the "free choice" argument. No one who supports the No More Page 3 campaign, myself included, doubts the models' awareness of sexism. Nor do we doubt that their choice to model for Page 3 took their awareness of sexism into account. Yet, there's a problem with instinctively throwing around the term "choice" without actually examining what it means. Why isn't this choice also made available to men, or to more women of colour, or to women who aren't able bodied, or young? Natasha Devon argues that "nudity in itself is not offensive". However, Page 3 does not exist in a vacuum: it is not "nudity in itself". It is sexualised nudity which depicts a woman whose role is to gratify others', and in context of patriarchal society, men's desires, perpetuating a wider system of sexism.

Page 3 may be liberating for the models themselves, but the messages it sends out are oppressive: attractive women are thin, white, feminine and young, and women themselves are simply sexual objects. For that reason I fail to see why this feature should remain in the UK's biggest-selling newspaper where soft pornography should not even be present, unless the feature is altered to become representative of all - and I mean all - women and a male version is created. Seeing as this would require a major societal change in attitudes towards gender probably not due for another century, the point stands: the persistence of Page 3 in a national newspaper is harmful whichever angle you point at it, and should be removed.