As more than 40,000 people sign a petition calling for the editor of The Sun newspaper to stop printing pictures of topless women, features writer Vivian Yeung asks whether we should say goodbye to Page Three.
Page Three girls just got slightly more controversial. Since the advent of the topless glamour model in the tabloids, there have been many unsuccessful attempts to ban the much-debated but popular institution. Despite this, Lucy Holmes’ recent e-petition has managed to gather more than 40,000 supporters, and people are starting to listen.
The spectacle of semi-naked models was born in The Sun, which published photographs of clothed but provocative glamour models in 1969. A huge increase in sales meant that topless models became a new feature in 1970. For some, it was a kind of liberalist stand, a movement against established, but somewhat out-dated, sexual conventions. More than this it was part of a tabloid circulation war and helped to cement The Sun’s monopoly over the media world.
Stefanie Marrian was the original topless Page Three girl in 1970. She told the ‘family-oriented’ paper that she “would never have got other modelling jobs if it wasn’t for The Sun. Being on Page 3 until 1978 opened doors…” Her photograph generated a 40 percent increase in sales. Since then, Page Three has featured women such as Jordan (Katie Price), Samantha Fox, and Kelly Brooks. Since her feature in The Daily Star, Brooks has continued to be a television presenter, have her own lingerie line, and small acting roles. As the Sun became increasingly popular Thus, other tabloids began to follow suit, such as The Daily Mirror and The Daily Star.
Now into its fourth decade, the topless women are no longer seen as the same anti-establishment stand it was. After all, The Daily Mirror stopped featuring topless photos in the 1980s due to it being seen as degrading for women. Some have argued that this must be damaging towards The Sun’s circulation due to the female audience being offended by these sexualised images that objectify women. On the other hand, Janet Street-Porter, from The Independent, claims that Page Three girls ‘seem so old-fashioned today… it’s hard to see how a pair of nipples can sell a paper in 2012’; therefore, has it possibly become outdated? In 1986, Clare Short, an MP from Birmingham Ladywood, led an unsuccessful campaign against Page Three as it was seen to be exploitative and sexist. She, too, felt that Page Three girls had become outdated: ‘Since 1986 the standards of society have moved on, now the question is: can the press catch up?’. This does indeed seem true as with the circulation of hardcore pornography, the Page Three girls may not seem as shocking as they once were.
However, Lucy Holmes, a blogger and activist, recently started an e-petition to ‘take the bare boobs out of The Sun’, which has garnered attention from high-profile celebrities including Eliza Doolittle, Jennifer Saunders, Tony Hawks, and is supported by Glamour Magazine. Her plea to Dominic Mohan, editor of The Sun, is to ‘stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects’. Holmes says on a blog: ‘I realised [my breasts] weren’t mine, they were there to be looked at by men’. She further claims that it contributes to teenage insecurities as it portrays one idea of female beauty – large breasts. In recent years, augmented chests have become banned from Page Three. But the debate still exists as Caitlin Moran, from The Times, says ‘Teenage tits aren’t news OR a feature’.
However, if the Page Three feature was to be banned, would this stop men from viewing women as sexual objects? It seems obvious that the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. Therefore, the bigger issue seems to be the principle of having topless women in a family newspaper. It isn’t news and the sexual nature of these photos is not for the family to see. It normalises the way in which women are portrayed as sex objects by making soft porn seem acceptable in a family newspaper. Some see it as embarrassing. After all, those who enjoy looking at soft pornography can easily purchase some from a nearby magazine stand. Even Richard Murdoch, the editor of The Sun in the 1970s, was initially upset over the publication of the first nude photo by his deputy editor, Larry Lamb, while Murdoch was out of the country. However, he accepted it due to the sales.
Though many argue for the ban of bare breasts, the amount of signatures on Holmes’ petition (44,589 as I’m writing this) is unrivalled by The Sun’s claimed 7.3m readers. Furthermore, though most see the feature as degrading towards women, Rebekah Brooks, the first female editor of The Sun, claims that these Page Three models are ‘intelligent, vibrant young women who appear in The Sun out of choice and because they enjoy the job’. These women certainly do not find the job degrading. It was speculated that Brooks would ban the Page Three feature since she considered it damaging to The Sun’s circulation in regards to offending its female audience when she first took up her post in 2003, but it has been retained. In fact, she later defended it.
So what do you think? There seems to be three main arguments against the Page Three features: it objectifies and exploits women, breasts are not a news feature, and the practice belongs in the 1970s. On the other hand, some see it as a harmless feature and it creates opportunities for girls. Should bare breasts be in the media? Do you see it as the glorification and celebration of female beauty? Or the degradation of women?
Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that would not back the campaign to take topless models out of the media because it would be ‘ deeply illiberal’ for the government to dictate newspaper content
Long questioned the presence of semi-naked women in the ‘family-oriented’ newspaper
However, with the media being under intense scrutiny during the last twelve months, and people becoming increasingly criticial of the industry, campaigners believe there may be a real chance for change.
As well as thousands of members of the public, a number of high profile people have also given the campaign their support. Newspaper columnist, author and feminist Caitlin Moran encouraged her Twitter followers to sign the petition, along with MPs including: Teresa Pearce