The Co-op have reportedly issued an ultimatum to the much-maligned ‘lads' mags’ beseeching them to introduce opaque ‘modesty bags’ to cover up their ‘offensive’ front covers (or else never darken their shelves again).
The body confidence campaigner in me did a small victory dance when I heard the news (it’s like a cross between the Carlton dance from Fresh Prince and a performance artist impersonating a giant frog). Anyone who’s read anything I’ve ever written in my career knows that I’m not prudish when it comes to nudity. In fact, I’m inclined to applaud anyone confident enough to get their kit off in a public forum. However, when that nudity is exclusively pneumatic, entirely hairless, uber-bronzed, super-slim and photo-shopped to the extent of becoming cartoon-like, one has to take a stand.
By picturing only one, very narrow and largely unattainable female body type, lads' mags are reinforcing some already dangerous notions taking root in the minds of our young people. Namely that in order to be ‘sexy’ and ‘desirable’ one must resemble Barbie stripped of her ball-gown and shoehorned into a lame thong.
The incredibly tame ‘sexual’ content of these magazines doesn’t bother me in the slightest, it’s the way that sexuality is portrayed that’s the problem. And therein lies the crux of my reaction - if lads' mags featured a more diverse range of shapes and sizes I’d be opposed to the modesty sleeve.
Men have always enjoyed looking at pictures of naked ladies. To deny this as a society is to push healthy expressions of sexuality into a place of apology and shame and if Catholicism has taught us anything it’s that this isn’t a shrewd thing to do.
So, that’s my stance and yesterday, as is my wont, I put it out into the world via the medium of my Twitter account. Turns out this opinion renders me ‘not a feminist’ in the eyes of some of my fellow Twitter users. Because, apparently, in order to be a feminist one must hold the view that a woman who has freely chosen to take her clothes off and have her form admired by men and been paid in order to do so is inherently sexist and wrong.
Peruse the other publications available on supermarket shelves and you’ll no doubt see hoards of female journalists and self-appointed ‘experts’ (read: celebrity mums) applauding the eclipsing of the lads' mags as a huge step forward for the feminist movement. These are the same right-wing tabloid publications and weekly ‘gossip’ magazines which will happily host despicable shows of girl-on-girl misogyny, as female writers who should really know better malign other women in the public eye for having put on half a stone, being single or, worse than either of these heinous crimes, daring to the house without makeup on.
If you want to talk ‘modesty bags’ let’s shield our children’s eyes from headlines that implore us to objectify women in the worst possible way, hidden beneath a thin veneer of faux-respectability known as celebrity ‘news’. A woman who chooses to present herself as a sexual object is a different thing entirely from a publication that wilfully ignores every intelligent thing a woman ever utters, everything she ever accomplishes within her career or every piece of philanthropic goodness she ever does in favour of discussing her new fringe, relationship status or imagined half inch of cellulite.
But that’s just my opinion. Which brings me to the apex of the matter. Within every industry there are heroes and villains. Not all magazines or newspapers are to be universally condemned. As consumers, we can make smart choices about who we choose to reward with our time, money and energy.
If you don’t think lads' mags should be displayed in supermarkets, don’t buy them from supermarkets. Encourage your brothers, sons, nephews and their friends to do the same. Explain your reasoning in a way they’ll understand (thus avoiding the hideous ‘us and them’ male/female rhetoric which underpins a lot of feminist prose).
Every time we click on an online article or buy a publication, we are voting for the ethos it expresses. If it offends us, we shouldn’t do it. That’s why, however tempted I might be to be outraged by the lady-bashing language and lurid bikini-clad pictures in less socially responsible publications, I always choose to buy the Independent. Because all the campaigning in the world can’t counterbalance the power of the consumer.