The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Jackie Frank: doing her bit for ethical editorial standards

Posted by Nic Heath on January 5, 2010

Next month Marie Claire will hit newsstands with an untouched photograph of a nude Jennifer Hawkins gracing the cover.

According to the Daily Telegraph, editor of Marie Claire, Jackie Frank, said the publication of the images…

“…will raise funds for eating disorders support group the Butterfly Foundation, [and] were inspired by a Marie Claire survey of 5500 readers which found only 12 per cent of women were happy with their bodies.”

Putting on a magazine cover an untouched photograph of a naturally beautiful woman, and one whose body is a commodity and thus the product of much investment (time and work), and saying it is because 88 per cent of the surveyed readership are unhappy with their body, is an exercise in untruth. Crucially, it is also admitting that the publication of airbrushed photos of women is detrimental to the self esteem of the female audience who reads the magazine, no matter what the editors say.

Untouched photographs of Jennifer Hawkins and Bianca Dye published in Australian magazines (news.com.au)

Publishing this untouched photograph, amid the unsurprising media hoopla, is more about ethical editorial standards than boosting female body image. It’s about honesty and transparency, and about admitting that positing images of digitally altered women as pinnacles of beauty has a negative effect on female readers who are led to believe that in order to be as beautiful as possible they need to look like what are effectively cartoons.

Jen Hawkins as role model is not what should be happening here. Photographs of women who don’t represent the zenith of current ideas about beauty would be more suitable to be marketed as providing women with role models – and since the story broke Mumbrella has quoted Jackie Frank denying the role model spin (“we’re not saying Jennifer is what all women should aspire to”). Jen Hawkins here is just being beautiful, as she is. Jackie Frank’s decision to use this photo on the cover should not be considered “daring” or “revolutionary” – it should be accepted practice.

It is more educational than anything – that something as insignificant (and I would say fetching!) as a model’s waist crease would normally be removed from a photograph destined for magazine publication astounds me. I would love to see magazine pages filled with women who have not been digitally enhanced and homogenised – like these photos of Jen, and too Bianca Dye in Madison.

Clem Bastow makes a necessary point when she writes, “It’s imperative that women stop defining ourselves by our body shape. There are simply more important things to worry about – pay issues, maternity leave and sexual violence spring to mind – and better things to celebrate, such as our minds, hearts and work.”

However right now, in this imperfect world, women are influenced by the images they see on billboards, in magazines and on the Internet. If the practice of digitally altering photographs to remove perceived flaws and blemishes is not to be outlawed immediately, then in the short term magazines such as Marie Claire should be impelled to clearly state when photographs have been airbrushed.

15 Responses to “Jackie Frank: doing her bit for ethical editorial standards”

  1. caffeineadddict said

    ‘Clem Bastow makes a necessary point when she writes, “It’s imperative that women stop defining ourselves by our body shape. There are simply more important things to worry about – pay issues, maternity leave and sexual violence spring to mind – and better things to celebrate, such as our minds, hearts and work.”‘

    Yeah, to an extent this is true. But what I don’t like here is the implication that, ‘there are simply more important things to worry about’ than body size. What does that mean? That issues concerning women should be hierarcized, so that we know what the ‘most important’ issues are, and can put aside the most amount of time to deal with them, by getting the ‘smaller’ issues out of the way first? That things ‘to do with’ the body are smaller p political issues than pay inequality and sexual violence, and therefore less important, or easier to fix?

    • Nic Heath said

      And I think many women would be better able to consider those more serious issues if they don’t have to contend with unreal expectations of physical beauty at every turn.

  2. redmegaera said

    I think Clem Bastow’s article is spot-on with regards to the phrase “real women” but I’m also troubled by the implication that “there are simply more important things to worry about” when several of those “more important” issues- for example, equal pay and workplace discrimination- clearly intersect with issues around body size and physical appearance. Statements like these trivialize the harm done to women’s minds and bodies in the pursuit of beauty and obscures the ways in which beauty itself is constructed through classist, fatphobic, racist, ableist and lesbophobic imperatives.
    Otherwise, great post. ;)

  3. Anna said

    Susie O’Brien (Melbourne Herald Sun 5 Jan) is obviously trying to do the right thing with her intelligent criticism of the Jen Hawkins nude cover. However by having herself photographed nude, in a similar pose, and claiming that ‘this is what a normal woman looks like’ she has merely compounded the problem.

    Most women don’t look as good as Susie either!

    • caitlinate said

      Actually, most women look amazing. Passing judgment on other people’s appearances based on a patriarchal norm, valuing how others look rather than on how they feel or are treated, hell – even dividing how we look into terms of good & bad rather than human & beautiful – that is what looks bad to me.

  4. Linda Radfem said

    “Most women don’t look as “good” as Susie either!”

    Anna, I hope you don’t mind me putting the inverted commas around the “good” there. Good by bullshit male standards maybe.

    I think this “un-airbrushed” stuff is just going to create a segue into new misogynist tropes about women needing to stop being deceptive liars and own up about their bodies.

    I agree with Clem, except that I would have placed violence first on the list of priorities. Women don’t need body role models, we need to see more women sticking their fingers up at this “body image” shit. They’re the role models we really need.

  5. womanvsfeminist said

    I agree with Clem and Linda Radfem on this one. Judging women on their physical appearance is rubbish. It needs to stop and we need to stop doing it. There are much more important things in life. There IS harm done to women’s minds and bodies through the pursuit of beauty, and that is precisely why we as a society and as individuals need to stop putting pressure on women to pursue it. And the way to do that is to stop judging other women’s appearances.

    • Anna said

      While I appreciate all of the previous comments, we have to be realistic. Women are never going to stop judging themselves and other women according to current standards of beauty. Even some of the most powerful women in history (think, eg, of Cleopatra, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mary Queen of Scots)- all emphasised their beauty and used it.

      Human beings, male and female, the same as all other animals, are programmed to select mates who represent the most attractive aspects of the gene pool and these fortunate individuals have an advantage from the time they are born. So why should anyone deny those who are less blessed genetically the right to try to improve on nature?

      • Nic Heath said

        But I don’t think it is just good looks that point to a “good genetic makeup”, in evolutionary terms, and there are other talents and attributes that are arguably more useful than perceived attractiveness.

      • Erin said

        Anna, fair point about genetic selection.
        However fashion isn’t about the ability to breed effectively. And conflating what is socially perceived as attractive with that is genetically successful is misconstruing the “mate selection programme” we are all apparently endowed with.

        The fashion for women’s bodies to be dangerously thin in killing girls and women. It is compromising their health. This is not at all about biological necessities. This is about policing women’s bodies.

        womanvsfeminist is right, there is real harm being done to women in the pursuit of ‘beauty’.

  6. Dolores said

    Just a small correction of fact: the editor of Marie Claire is Jackie Frank, not Jackie French (Jackie French is the author of some wonderful books for children).

    Fashion and beauty can give real aesthetic pleasure, and I don’t think they’re inherently or inevitably destructive or oppressive – I know plenty of smart, strong feminists who enjoy playing with their appearance. But many women currently spend an incredible amount of time, angst and money on beauty, fashion and weight-loss, and are encouraged to do so by magazines like Marie-Claire and their advertisers. Advertising works by keeping consumers in a constant state of dissatisfaction – if women were at ease with their own bodies, a lot of companies would be out of business. It’s this economic side of things that gets me really riled: the thought of grown-up, professional women spending so much of their hard-earned cash, as well as their energy and brain power, on wrinkle creams, hair removal, hair extensions, fake tans, etc etc (it’s an ever growing list, it seems), when they could be using their disposable income like their male counter-parts are: pursuing other interests, or saving/investing it to secure their own financial futures.

    Yikes, I sound like a wowser. Fashion is ace. I like looking nice and I worry about the size of my arse as much as the next woman. But it seems a shame, having fought for the right to earn our own incomes and choose our own pursuits, that we spend so much of our money and creativity trying to look hawt, whether we say it’s to please men, other women or ourselves.

    [takes breath]

  7. Rebekka said

    “Jackie French is the author of some wonderful books for children”

    And some wonderful books about vegetable gardening – and FYI, you’ve still got her name in the tags :-)

    Tagged: Jackie French

  8. Catherine said

    *cringe*
    Jackie Frank regarding herself as a “feminist” reminds me of the saying “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”. I saw her in Make me a Supermodel (or whatever it was called) and she RELISHED the every opportunity to snipe and judge and be a jerk to those women and girls. sure, its a superficial show and they have to make it “good television” but this went deeper than that – Jackie was in heaven.

    body image a difficult issue, I don’t think Marie Claire magazine is helping matters. hardly surprising with Jackie at the wheel :(

  9. Zoe said

    I’ve got to say, I’m very cynical about this cover. An attempt at transparency and body realism? More like an effort to sell more shit from their pages. What effect does a picture of a gorgeous and un-retouched woman have on the majority of the magazine’s readership? Admiration? Improved self-image? Unlikely. I would guess most readers would see that picture of Jen, and think something like ‘Well damn. She’s still stunning even without retouching. I must truly look awful’. Not that retouching womens bodies is the answer, of course. I just don’t believe the supposed altruistic motivations behind this cover.

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