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Topless Tabloid Totty: Soft Porn for the Masses or Harmless Appreciation of the Female Form?

So here I am again, back on the subject of mammary glands, only this time it’s more than just the cleavage that has got my topical juices flowing; it’s breasts of the fully exposed variety!

Now of course I am a fan of the breast, being the proud owner of a rather splendid pair myself (well, somebody has to praise them!), but like them as I do, I’m not sure how much of a fan I am of seeing other women’s breasts in all their naked glory, splashed across the page of a daily newspaper. I wonder, is there really a need for a news publication, tabloid or otherwise, to be printing photographs of topless glamour models in an effort to please its readers?

Photo courtesy of http://turnyourbackonpage3.wordpress.com/

In the late 1960’s, media mogul Rupert Murdochs’ UK newspaper ‘The Sun’, was beginning to flag. In a measure to try and increase its popularity he relaunched it in tabloid format on the 17th of November 1969, and every day a different photograph of a glamour model was published on page number three. Over the course of the following year the photographs continued to appear, and although they were often provocative, they didn’t at this point feature nudity. It wasn’t until the newspaper’s first anniversary on the 17th of November 1970 that editor Larry Lamb tested the media waters by publishing a photo of a young german model posing naked in a field, and with one breast clearly showing. Gradually, more pictures of models appeared in which not only their breasts, but their nipples were clearly visible, and although this was considered controversial at the time, it was also partly credited with the increased circulation of the newspaper and by the mid 70’s, it had become one of the most popular newspapers in the UK.

Other UK tabloid newspapers like ‘The Daily Mirror’ and ‘The Star’ followed suit with their own daily selection of well-endowed beauties, but The Mirror stopped their feature in the 1980’s, after deeming the photographs demeaning to women. However, this didn’t deter The Sun from continuing with their page three feature, (although they did later institute a policy of only using topless models with natural breasts) and despite having faced pressure from Conservative politicians, women’s groups and legislators to have it banned, the page three tradition has continued with only a few minor changes in style and presentation, for more than the past four decades.

It wasn’t until 16 years after the The Sun published it’s first controversial photo that parliament member Clare Short led an unsuccessful House Of Commons campaign to have topless models banned from all British newspapers, deeming them sexist, exploitative, demeaning and, above all, highly inappropriate for publication in a family newspaper. In her anger and frustration at the proposed bid’s failure, she accused the House’s predominantly male conservative MPs of not taking the issue seriously, remarking: ‘if you mention breasts, 50 Tory MP’s all giggle and fall over’. Determined to make her campaign a successful one though, she renewed it with vigour in 2004, only to find The Sun newspaper retaliating by superimposing her face onto the body of a page three model, and publicly accusing her of being ‘fat and jealous’.

When Rebekah Brooks was the deputy editor of The Sun, she argued that the photographs were guilty of damaging the newspaper’s circulation by offending its female readers and when she became the first female editor on 13th of January 2003, it was widely expected that she would either terminate the feature or, at the very least, modify it. However, she retained it and even wrote an editorial defending the feature and the models, referring to them as intelligent and vibrant young women who only ever appeared in the newspaper out of choice and because they enjoyed it.

Now I can’t say that I’m passionately opposed to the page three tradition as I don’t find the photographs offensive (although I am mildly offended by the fact that the models’ endowments are far perter than mine!), neither am I sure that they would be in any way damaging to a child should they happen to stumble across them. And although many have argued that the daily feature is in fact nothing short of ‘soft porn’, raising the question of whether it should be printed in a family newspaper, aren’t they just photographs of beautiful women who have chosen to pose with their natural endowments showing? Aren’t most of our popular gossip style magazines equally as guilty when they feature copious images of skantily clad women and celebrities, and they’re available for anybody to buy over the counter?

Pornographic publications have been available for decades, and although there are those who argue morally against them, I think it’s widely accepted that the magazines are a guilty pleasure for many in society; yet there are tighter restrictions placed on just who can buy the material, and the publications are in no way as influential as a newspaper that is available for all ages to read.

I do think it’s somewhat sad that it takes gratuitous images of attractive, semi-naked women to sell a newspaper, and although we know that The Sun and other tabloid publications like it are reknowned for printing sensational material,  I think the message it sends out to its’ readers is just too confusing. We, as women, face constant battles for sexual equality and demand to be respected as valued members of society, as we rightly should, yet these images seem to be saying that, in fact, it’s okay to view us merely as sexual beings.

This isn’t just a debate for UK society though. Other countries whose tabloid publications like to show their appreciation of the female form are Brazil, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru, who all have newspapers featuring topless or nude glamour models, so it would seem that we have a truly worldwide debate on our breasts, I mean hands!

Kate Blanchard
Kate is an English woman currently living in rural Morocco with her husband, Ben, and their mischievous mongrel, Douglas. They moved out there three years ago after Ben was offered employment as the manager of a large fruit farm, and although life can often be challenging for them both with cultural differences and language barriers, they see this as more of a reason to stay, than a reason to admit defeat and leave. Kate tries to find humour wherever possible in life, and finds herself blessed (or as her husband would say, ‘cursed’) with an irrepressible desire to see the beauty and the positivity in what others may see to be ugly and negative. Most of all though, she has a zest for travel and exploration and finds it incredibly satisfying to share her stories of adventure with others, even if it does nothing more than transport the reader to a distant land for a few minutes.

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