Burns victim Turia Pitt features on the cover of The Australian Women's Weekly: is this finally a sign of acceptance?

Pitt was running a marathon when she was caught in a bushfire three years ago leaving 65 per cent of her body covered with scars. Is the latest shot in the war to redefine beauty or grim fascination?

The faces that you see staring out from the newsagents' shelves are usually blemish-free and perfectly pretty. They are supercharged versions of female beauty, more often than not digitally enhanced and manipulated to look that way, too. So it's a jolt to see the cover of this month's Australian edition of Women's Weekly. Runner Turia Pitt smiles back from it, a glossy-haired, neatly styled personality and role model like any other. The only difference between her and, say, Victoria Beckham (who is on this month's Vogue), is that 65 per cent of Pitt's body is covered with scars. "I feel humbled," Pitt has said. "For me it sends the message that confidence equals beauty."

Pitt, 26, was running a marathon when she was caught in a bushfire three years ago. She has undergone more than 100 operations, and spent more than two years in hospital. She lost all the fingers on one hand.

So how do we react to her image? Magazine covers appeal to our baser sides – envy, aspiration and downright nosiness – but does this one bring out empathy or grim fascination? Does it even matter, as long as we're discussing and normalising the issue?

"There would have been a time not so long ago when using an image other than a perfect model or aspirational celebrity was taboo," says Lisa Smosarski, editor of Stylist magazine. "But we have seen a proliferation of 'real women' gracing covers and readers' priorities change. And with that comes acceptance that everyone doesn't look the same."

That acceptance has come partly through activists and personalities such as burns victim Katie Piper, but it's also thanks to increased exposure on social media. Twitter and Instagram fill our lives with imagery that we might otherwise never come across; we become worldly even as we stare at our phones.

Burns victim Katie Piper (right) on the front of 'Hello!' magazine Burns victim Katie Piper (right) on the front of 'Hello!' magazine
"Women with disabilities and physical signs of deterioration are the least represented of all women," says Sali Hughes, author of Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion. "They're less represented than any woman of any size. That's why this cover is shocking – but the only way to stop it being shocking is to make it familiar."

Read more: Katie Piper introduces new baby in Hello!

This week, 23-year-old Bethany Townsend from Worcester found acceptance, too, thanks to her disability rather than despite it. The aspiring model posted a picture on Facebook of herself sunbathing in a bikini, the colostomy bags she had fitted for her Crohn's disease clearly visible. The picture has since garnered 190,000 likes on the charity Colitis UK's page.

"I'm just so glad it's brought about more awareness of Crohn's disease," she said. "It's made me feel so much more confident."

Bethany Townsend posing with her colostomy bag (Crohn's and Colitis UK) Bethany Townsend posing with her colostomy bag (Crohn's and Colitis UK)
It isn't the first time women with disabilities have been held up as beauty role models: the groundbreaking Real Beauty campaign launched 10 years ago by Dove featured female amputees; Sainsbury's last week revealed the child star of its latest campaign will be a seven-year-old girl with Down's syndrome. And, earlier this year, cancer survivor Beth Whaanga posed naked to show off her scars and highlight her struggle. Clearly then, disability and perceived imperfection no longer provokes the embarrassed silence it once did.

But there's a difference between using disability in glossy advertising, or to promote awareness or raise funds, and our quotidian experience of it. Information from the Oscar Pistorius trial yesterday revealed that hate crime had actually gone up in the wake of the 2012 Paralympics, the "superhuman" tagline the athletes were given deemed "unhelpful".

So does giving disability celebrity status actually help? "They haven't played this for shock value," says Hughes of Pitt's cover. "They've shot her in exactly the same way that they would a celebrity. It's lovely that they've done it in such a boring, mainstream way."

"The risk perhaps is with Turia," adds Smosarksi, "who is putting herself out in the public domain in a climate where social media allows instant, unregulated and uncontrolled feedback. That's a terrifying prospect for any woman not used to life in the public eye."

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

    Early Years Educator

    £68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

    Nursery Nurse

    £69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

    Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam