The death knells of one of Britain’s longest standing soft porn publication, Page 3, were sounded quietly, with no formal announcement of the papers’ new found modesty. Whether or not you see the demise of the breast baring beauties at part of the rise and fall of a long standing British tradition of cheeky smut that goes back to Victorian seaside amusement arcades, or see its inception, during the cultural revolution of the 60s as the point where the nation’s stiff upper lip morality started to take a nosedive, until the late noughties when internet porn began to replace top shelf magazines and lads mags started to be soled in wipe clean plastic covers, there is no doubting that the hard fought feminist battle to remove nudity from the pages of mainstream tabloid press has scored a victory. Although bikini shots are still considered fair game, it seems.
But is it really a victory for feminism? Or is it or sign of the times prurience, in the face of moral confusion that objects in pricipal to full face burkas while bulking at bare breasts, that is, unless they are wholesomely feeding infants, in which case, it’s breasts akimbo wherever you happen to be, unless it’s Claridges; a confused national moral compass that that saw a facesitting demonstration at Westminster over porn censorship of wink wink nudge nudge proclivities as spanking which many saw as government interference in the bedroom, yet applauds the removal of post watershed material from the front pages of a, if you can call it such, a family paper. The national mood around boobs have taken something of a U-turn it seems, of late, where function is okay, but form, in all its youthful glory, plainly isn’t.
Whatever your objection to Page 3, and I admit my own distaste and hasty embarrassment if I turn over the lurid headlines to a grinning temptress, complete with nipples and a pithy remark on the latest world events, is it actually feminist to ban it? Though it may be reductive to say the least, this poke of humour at an attractive young women – the joke as always, on her in that whatever she’s saying is always bound to be as irrelevant – is a naked woman really, really always just a bit sexist?
Much though it might not be to my taste (and I an ex-stripper!) I wholly support any young woman’s right to express her sexuality, however garishly, whether it’s from the front pages of tomorrow’s chip paper, or letting it all hang out in Torremolinos, however much the sight of too much flesh much not always be that appealing.
But in many cases it seems in the feminist circles, the more appealing flesh on display the more it rankles. Young women have few powers, attractive breasts often being one of them; so I say, use them well, but use them wisely. Because, and here’s the rub – they don’t last forever; and if you don’t develop other talents in the meantime, your fall from grace as you inevitably wither and age, is spectacular and brutal. And this, I suspect it the maternal sentiment behind most female censure of a young woman exploiting her figure. Jealousy is less to do with it, although it no doubt plays a part.
Although I may envy a younger woman her form, I recognise its powers has its limitations, and she too will feel the bitter sting that comes when a perkier model inevitably takes her place. Being conventionally sexy feels, at times like a young woman’s game – at least that’s how I feel, these days – and it rarely comes with an insurance policy, or long term dividends if making a career out of it doesn’t work out, although many a young woman taking advantage of her looks can secure a home/ footballer/ gossip column, for all the happiness it may bring her.
The aptly named Abi Titmuss is a case in point, garnering a successful career off the back of her perky bosom and, randomly, her relationship with shamed TV presenter John Lesley during the lads mag heyday of the late 90s and early noughties. She recently came out as saying she lost her sense of aelf esteem doing glamour work, and it’ not hard to see why. Nuts and Zoo rained supreme, as the male answer to the cultural phenomenon that was Heat, with Loaded and FHM bringing up the rear so to speak, peppering their pictures of scantily clad women with articles that taught gauche young men the basics of getting dressed and holding a conversation. In fact, it so normalised the sexualisation of young women that its annual High Street Honeys feature encouraged readers girlfriends to show off their frillies in a saucy pic that no doubt largely ended up in the grubby hands of its youthful editorial team, all for the sake of the chance of getting your pic in the magazine. Sadly I was one of them who did. I’m not sure I wanted to prove from the experience. But there was a thrill and a freedom in being found sexually attractive, however publicly, that, for many a young women is never going to go away, whatever feminism has to say about it.
Obviously now, in my mid thirties with a daughter, I’m mildly embarrassed by my youthful shenanigans, but I can still look wistfully at the pictures to a lovely pair of mammaries that are sadly, no longer what they were, even if their publication never bought me anything but a vague sense of shame. But why should I be ashamed? To be fair, I look pretty hot. But society, feminism, in fact, tells me it’s wrong to expose my flesh in a national publication.
And yet, still, I cringe when adverts for Victoria’s Secret, today’s premium answer to the Playboy bunny, comes on telly during the X-Factor, and watch my kids’ expressions at this pre- watershed, out-of-step with the times statuesque parade of be-sequinned beauties. Having a child of of each gender, I can see in their innocent gazes, basic gender stereotypes being formed. The boy, the observer, the girl, the observed. My son can no less help his reaction to nudity, than my daughter, with her tendency to people please, can help understanding that female nudity causes a reaction, for all I help injure them to this fact by not making an issue out of nudity – my own, theirs, Tom’s – at home. But soon, young and pretty, as she is, it is entirely within her scope to want to provoke a reaction when one is given, without necessarily understanding the consequences of society’s general frowning on uninhibited female sexual liberation. Even now, I tut at her flashing her knickers unnecessarily and make her cover her flat little chest on the beach. But why? Because society says that what nice girls should do.
I shan’t mourn the demise of Page 3, but it was at the thin end of the wedge of female objectification in today’s world of instant online gratification, and seems rather innocent, even quaint by comparison. Men’s magazines began to flounder when their darkest fantasy could be accessed at the click of a mouse. But it is a dangerous world indeed that has no middle ground of female sexual imagery for my son as a stepping stone to the cornucopia of delights and depravity that await him on line (although sadly, no spanking or water sports anymore). A world where women are discouraged from embracing their sexuality, but abuse, in dark corners, is rife is a also a very sad place indeed.
In any case, and updating this the day after posting, it sadly looks to be a false alarm.