Growing up with a grandad who bought The Sun undoubtedly had a profound effect on my perceptions of what my adult female body should look like, years before I had even begun to hit puberty. Women's breasts were obviously supposed to be big and round and exist solely for the sexual gratification of men. I remember sitting and watching him ogle the bare-breasted models thinking that obviously these slim, blonde, women were what men desired. And more dangerously, having grown up in a society where young girls are taught that their intrinsic worth is encapsulated by their aesthetic beauty, I thought that if I grew up to be anything other than slim and blonde, I would be less than perfect. When you see such stunning glamour models and over-analyse your own imperfect body in comparison, no one tells you that the images have been digitally enhanced, that the models have probably spent half a day in hair and make-up, and that they may have had elective surgery to boost their cup size. There's no disclaimer at the bottom of the page telling you that this isn't reflective of reality and that, as a woman, your worth isn't determined by your Double Ds.
When I asked my little brother if he thought Page 3 should be removed from The Sun, I was shocked and saddened by his uncompromising response of, "Well no, there are two sides to it; you have to respect that it's what men want". I was shocked that he knew full well the content of Page 3, and I was saddened that this misogynistic attitude was already deeply embedded. He's twelve. I have absolutely no doubt that the overt soft pornography on Page 3 is at least partially responsible for my pre-pubescent brother's opinions of "what men want". The soft porn on Page 3 doesn't just have an adverse effect on the minds of young girls; it subconsciously warps young boys' minds too. Just as I was exposed to Page 3 as a child, so too was my brother. He used to sit on my Grandad's lap and they would check out both types of 'footballs' in The Sun. I'm positive that my parents would never have allowed my granddad to sit and flick through a lads' mag with my brother, but no one raises an eyebrow at Page 3 because somehow it is socially acceptable to have soft porn in a family newspaper. When pornographic images become so normalised that young children are frequently exposed to them, we are effectively telling our children that we, as a society, approve of objectification and the perverse distorted reality that these pictures create. How do you criticise your parents for turning a blind eye to this when such obscenities are encased within the apparent innocence of a newspaper? We ought to be angry when children have as much chance of flicking to an erotic picture of a digitally enhanced naked model as to a horoscope.
As if being exposed to soft porn in the home environment isn't damaging enough, it's almost impossible to escape it in public too. The Sun was recently pictured in the newspaper rack at one of our nation's favourite coffee shops - ironically next to a sign encouraging breast feeding. It's also commonly found in station waiting rooms, medical receptions, cafés, airports - the list is endless. This abhorrent rag has invaded our society to the extent that I can't even use public transport without having pictures of tits flashed in my face. It's because of this that the if you don't like it, don't buy it argument falls so short of reality.
The Collins English Dictionary definition of soft core pornography is: "writings, pictures, films etc., designed to stimulate sexual excitement; suggestive and titillating through not being totally explicit or detailed". To me that definition screams Page 3, and so I'm perplexed when people tell me that Page 3 isn't soft porn. I've never heard anyone arguing that lads' mags such as Zoo and Nuts don't contain soft porn, but there are plenty of people ready and willing to argue until the cows come home that Page 3 doesn't - it's just a harmless bit of nudity. Well, what better way to demonstrate that Page 3 does contain images of a pornographic nature than to compare it to the images in Nuts. Here's a link to the Official Page 3 Twitter. In the images on the Nuts website I see young, slim, white women posing provocatively for the sexual gratification of men - often with their breasts more than partially exposed. In the images on the Official Page 3 Twitter, I see young slim, white women posing provocatively for the sexual gratification of men - often with their breasts more than partially exposed. Funny that. You'll also notice that the photo captions encourage you to visit the Official Page 3 website where you have to be a paid member to access the collection of images in its entirety. If this isn't reminiscent of a porn site then I don't know what is - this business model is shared by sites which are openly pornographic. To me this just seems like another way for Mr Murdoch and his friends to make a mint from exploiting young women at the expense of society.
You might be thinking well what's the problem with children being exposed to Page 3 anyway? The answer is a very, very big problem. An increasing number of studies have concluded that exposure to pornography - both hard core and soft core - can and do have extremely detrimental effects on children's perceptions of sex, gender, identity, what is 'normal', and can even lead to dysfunctional behaviour in adulthood including an increased tendency towards violent behaviour. It seems to me that our children have little chance of growing up with the clear message that sexual violence is wrong if we continue to feed them with images of women as 'things' in the dehumanised way displayed every day on Page 3. If women in the media are constantly displayed as sexual objects rather than as people then there is a real danger that the next generation of adults will think that it is okay to mistreat women, because after all, objects are less valuable than people.
The national No More Page 3 campaign team have compiled an online document of quotes and comments from young people and parents on their feelings towards Page 3. A rather particularly poignant and chilling quote (left anonymously) sums up why we need to say enough is enough and get rid of Page 3 from our shops, our streets and our universities for good:
"Pornography ruined my life and I'm only 22. It ruined my relationship, it distorted my view of women, it ruined my whole mentality leading me to harm the lives of many young girls already in my life and it all began when I was a little boy much younger than 10 and saw page 3. Destroy this page before it ruins anymore young lives."