This is a guest blog by Phillippa Hibbs, a member of the No More Page 3 campaign team.
Dear The Sun,
So, today you addressed one of the issues that many No More Page 3 campaigners have with your paper; you invited women of varying ages, varying ethnicities, and varying body shapes and sizes onto your pages, and went some way in demonstrating that beauty is more than white, slim and big breasted. It was a noble move, and one that I think you genuinely made with good intentions. You invited women onto your pages, and allowed them to talk openly and honestly about their bodies, the relationships they have with their own self-image, and what they like about themselves. So far, so positive.
But, apparently the women's opinions on their own physiques were not really adequate, and their bodies were presented to a 'panel' of four other people (three of whom were men), so that strangers could make some helpful comments. The panel was made up of:
- Dr Hilary Jones, a medical doctor (who brought the benefit of his professional opinion to the table with comments such as '[her] bigger bust makes her waist look slimmer' and 'I would imagine she has no health problems'. It is true that you can ascertain a woman's state of health simply by looking at her naked body - it's what makes A&E waiting times so short),
- Kate Nightingale, a psychologist (who brought the benefit of her professional opinion to the table with comments such as 'a push-up bra would be good' and 'She has lovely, slim legs so could show them off by wearing skirts and dresses' - I guess maybe she moonlights for Femail's fashion section?'),
- Martin Daubney (an ex-editor of Loaded who talks about the women as if they were cars he's considering buying),
- And a builder called Luke. Because builders are the true people.
At this point, I have to ask whether you are aware of a television show in Denmark, called 'Blachman', on which women are invited to disrobe, and then have their bodies discussed openly by a panel of men, and which has also been described by many as one of the most sexist shows on television. Oh, sorry, of course you have, you published this article about it...
In the article, you identify that the show is very controversial, and you talk about how 'The pair...openly run their eye over the nude guests - and controversially judge the women on their bodies.' So you can understand when I say that I'm genuinely intrigued as to why you decided to adopt this approach in your 'hey ladies, let's all love our bodies!' article? Is it because 'The female body thirsts for words...the words of a man.' - oh no, sorry, that was Blachman, oh gosh, I'm getting so confused! Or maybe it's because, actually, a woman's opinion of her own body is nowhere near as important as the judgement of strangers (particularly men). Maybe that's why you chose to call the online version of the article 'Do men like you naked?' rather than something like 'I couldn't give a shit about whether a man I've never met wants a bit or not, I'm actually pretty happy with whadda-got, and that kinda still stands whether strange men agree or not.'
I do think your intentions were good, but maybe you can see two glaringly dangerous things about your approach to the female body. Firstly, you give women the idea that, even though they may come in all shapes and sizes, the ultimate validation should come from men. Sometimes men they don't even know. And that women's opinion of themselves will never be as important as men's (including men they don't even know). Secondly, and potentially most dangerously, you give men the idea that their opinions on our bodies are super important to our self-esteem, thus encouraging otherwise well-meaning men to think they're doing us a favour by commenting on us physically and sexually, or by expressing their desire for us, regardless of whether that desire is wanted or not. Because women just want to know whether men approve, right? But, wait...what's that other word that people use for unwanted physical and sexual attention? Oh, yeah, sexual harassment, that it's. And, as the Everyday Sexism Project demonstrates, it's a major problem for women globally, yet you're continuing to feed into this idea that women's bodies are there to be commented on, that women, whether they know it or not, 'thirst for words...the words of a man.'
If you're genuinely concerned about your female readership, and whether or not they feel comfortable in their own skin, then there's one very important significant change you could make: stop treating women as though their opinions and views on their own bodies are secondary to the opinions of strangers, stop suggesting that women crave the unsolicited approval and attention of strangers, and stop treating women's bodies as objects for the approval and entertainment of men.
And d'you know how you could most easily take one great big step towards respect for your female readership?
No. More. Page. 3.