Let’s Talk About Boobs
So, that was the best non-April Fool’s April Fool, wasn’t it? The Sun pretended Page 3 had gone, so everyone talked about it, everyone bought it and then back it came, with the model sporting a knowing wink. I mused upon this, whilst chewing a truffle and watching Marnie being rimmed on Girls (sorry, but she was) before finishing up this post last night in snowy Stockholm, all the while debating whether or not to put ‘tits’ into the title, or ‘boobs’. Which perhaps says a lot about the minor, pedantic nuances of this entire debate.
As you may have now gathered, I write this in the wake of the termination of Page 3’s 44-year tenure. Or the ALMOST termination of Page 3’s 44-year-tenure, because of course, it was all a ruse. The drive for No More Page 3 – helmed by the very persuasive, intelligent and interesting Lucy Ann Holmes – has not yet succeeded and still, The Sun is not without young nubile areola.
What’s most interesting to me, about the whole thing, is not whether Page 3 is or isn’t there, but our attitude to tits full stop. Because it’s so contradictory, that it seems built on foundations flimsier than a broken Wonderbra hook. What it comes down to, is this: some tits are acceptable and some are not. What tits are OK? Fashion tits. Black and white, artfully lit, skinny fashion tits, in expensive glossy magazines, or through sheer fabric on the catwalk. Also, Mumsnet tits. Feeding infants, nourishing soul, wholesome goodness and milk-fed humanity at its intended best. Tits that are not OK? Pendulous tits, Jeremy Kyle tits, tits in newspapers, naff tits, badly lit, glamour tits, lad tits. Hardly an equal playing field.
It’s glaring tit snobbery: a cultural gulf, between high and low. The equivalent of chicken liver pate and chicken nuggets. This snobbery – like all snobbery – enrages me; it’s ok for Kim Kardashian to get her boobs out for Paper – because Jean Paul Goude took the picture. She’ll still get a front row seat at Givenchy and so on and so forth, because she is now so rich and pop-culturally omnipresent that her tits now rate as fashion tits, rather than sex-tape tits or reality tits, as they might once have been, when Ray J was bouncing his bollocks on her.
Essentially a woman’s boobs (the same pair of boobs, even) are unacceptable in one guise, and acceptable in another. The very same pouches of fat are applauded when bared to impart milk but lampooned when bared for lads, through choice. And no, I wouldn’t choose to get them out in either scenario, particularly for the lads, but they key word here is choice. Read that again, please: CHOICE. If the basic tenet of feminism is choice, then what of the women who choose to get thier boobs out and choose to be empowered by this? Without wishing to sound crass and compare the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo to tit-gate, there is a certain irony in the this drive for freedom of press. Free your words, but lock up your bods.
A surprisingly enlightening voice on the whole debate, on Twitter, was glamour model Jodie Marsh. Sure, there were some slightly mental tweets in there, like “Dear pretend feminists, I have reached a compromise re Page 3: If I stop shaving my armpits and don’t wear any make up can I still do it?” But this one was pretty interesting: “When I shoot for @zoo mag, the make up, hair, stylist, runner, & features ed are ALL women. And we all love our jobs. Stop trying to stop us” as was this: “More real oppression in women is when at 8 years old they are held down by family members & forced to have their vagina sewn up #FGM”
Problematic, right? Like most people I’m not a particular fan of Page 3. It unnerves me how young the girls often are, reduced to the sum of their parts. But I can’t say it outright offends me as much as the circumstances around it.
Last year, supermodel Anja Rubik (above) fought a highly publicised and applauded battle, called #Freethenipple. People paraded down the streets of New York topless (where it is oddly, still legal), to promote the cause. “We’re going backward—way backward. Instead of celebrating our bodies and moving forward and exploring our sensuality, we’re blocking all these things and making them shameful. And to the people who don’t like these images and report them on Instagram, just don’t follow us. It’s very simple. I don’t understand why they’re following us in the first place if they find our images so offensive. I’m not putting a gun to their heads” said Anja, when I wrote about her chagrin at being chucked off Instagram for The Debrief last year. Anyone else notice that what Anja has said, here, could be applied to Page 3 tits? One could argue the same about any lads mag, newspaper or porn publication – that if you didn’t like the content, no-one is putting a gun to your head to buy it.
The irony, of course, is that once upon a time Page 3 was about just that: in Anja’s words (though I’m sure she wouldn’t wish to apply them to these circs), “celebrating our bodies”. It was considered pretty feminist for women to be brave enough to bare their boobs in newspapers. Oh, the irony. Too many young women, where once cautious, are now proud of their bodies – or at least that is what the media seems to be telling us; that this warped pride is not the right kind of pride. Putting it away is what putting it out was to the women of 1970. That said, there is a simple reason why the tits of Vogue Paris are also more acceptable than those in The Sun, and it isn’t cultural snobbery, but the projected audience. Whilst The Sun is for the lads and only the lads, black and white nudes by, say, Inez & Vinoodh (even those with full bush, or lack thereof) are not for the male gaze; they are for many things. They are through the lens of art, photography, fashion, the female body. Page 3? For the lads.
However, the silent driving force behind No More Page 3, albeit often subconscious, is our aversion to naffness. If there is one thing that the British public hates more than lad boobs (except the lads that like the lad boobs, of course), it is naffness. British people are painfully and emphatically allergic to the naff. Naffness is the lowest of the low. Be hateful, but do not be gauche. Page 3 is now woefully out of date and therefore, chronically naff.
The era of the lad and the ladette is long gone (RIP Zoe Ball in the 90s) and Page 3 is no longer about sexual empowerment. Nor, necessarily, is the drive to ban it, either. It’s about cultural progression, cultural snobbery and at its heart, cultural confusion. Do we love boobs or do we hate them? Do we want them out or in? Is it OK to show them to women, but not men; or maybe they’re ok when they’re de-sexualised? There’s a wide-spread and inconsistent boob panic going on and even the politicians don’t know what to do about it. When Harriet Harman starts referring to if aliens came down to the planet and whether they would like Page 3, you know that it’s far from a clear-cut issue. Alien chat always means something’s far from black and white.
So how do we go forward? A good start would be for us to endeavour to operate from a place of no judgement. Don’t condemn the glamour models, for starters. Nor the people that buy Page 3. Just because it’s not as subtle as the Pirelli calendar on the back of someone’s bedroom door (and no-one wants to see a grown man leer over boobs on the tube, no-one) does not make it contemptible. Let’s start by making tits a level playing field. We all have them and not one person’s are better than anyone else. As Susie Boniface aka one of my favourite social commentators Fleet Street Fox said yesterday in The Observer: “I have titties, whammers, bazookas, fun bags, lady lumps, breasts, boobs or anything else you want to call them…. Boobs mean different things to different people.”
That’s not to diminish the work that Lucy Ann Holmes does. As I said – it’s complicated. But I do think a good place to start is democratisation of the boob. As Jodie Marsh saliently hints at on her timeline, I do wonder if too much time has been taken up by tits, instead of wider issues like rape and FGM. But then I also think yes, we should be talking about it, because we are still so confused and essentially, what does this confusion teach little girls? That some boobs and some bodies are OK and others aren’t. And that is what we need to overcome.
Ph.credit main image rubylust.blogspot.com