ALL it takes to settle an ethical argument is to put it into practice. I discovered this on the weekend in a horrible photo session.
Between Deborah Hutton appearing naked on cover of The Australian Women’s Weekly and Bianca Wordley baring her post-baby body to the world and the Nine Network, it seems every woman is being asked to draw a line in the sands of body image. In particular the way “body image” is portrayed and manipulated in the media.
The debate is not a new one – it crops up every time someone poses nude somewhere. Is it art, is it soft porn? Does it encourage healthy body image or make you feel miserable about the skin (and fat) you’re in?
I have been a relative fence-sitter for the most part. I thought Demi Moore’s pregnancy shoot on cover of Vanity Fair was beautiful, although I’d never been pregnant and the whole “bearing children” bit was awe-inspiring to me. I found myself frowning at Deborah Hutton’s coy pose recently and was completely at a loss as to why.
It wasn’t trashy and “apparently” wasn’t Photoshopped to death. But I felt a sense of unease, like it went against the grain of what womanhood is striving for.
I wondered why she (or whoever made the editorial decision) felt nudity added to her story – yes, it’s natural but does she go to the shops like that? Does anyone beside her partner usually see this side of her (not anymore obviously!). What is so natural about posing naked in a society where public nudity is a crime?
Was it just a scandalous method of generating publicity and circulation with a coy smile and tastefully crossed legs to disguise it as an anti-ageist editorial?
Was it pure jealousy that a 50-year old has a better body than I have at age 32? Catherine Deveny posed in her swimmers on Mamamia.com and I didn’t have the same reaction. Was it because she had SOMETHING on? Or was it rather that she was fuller figured, more like me? The message of a healthy body image is undoubtedly hard to swallow from a woman who looks like a twee sparrow. Was it that I didn’t have it slap me in the face at the Woolies checkout (where I tend to schlep around in fat pants and ballet flats – I’ve moved up from thongs!)
I didn’t buy the magazine but that’s beside the point, I never buy magazines. To date, I still don’t know what Deborah was talking about in WW (aside from presuming by the “amazing at 50” headline that it some profile piece on her career, diet and lifestyle). I did read Catherine’s story, partly because it got more hits than my article published the same day (and strangely not jealous about it) and because I wanted to know what she had to say.
Seeing Deborah naked did not make me want to know what she had to say and yet, it did for tog-clad Catherine. Does it say more about my own prejudices than about media bias?
I’m not a Photoshop-hater. I had my images altered before they were put on my book and this blog. Nothing drastic – less blood-shot in my eyes, less yellow in my hair (yes, that’s LESS yellow. Crikey, hey?). But if Mia Freedman is anything to go by (and she definitely has more experience than I), it’s apparent women generally are fed up with Photoshop-altered images.
I understand Caitlin Moran’s defence of Photoshop – after all, if you’re arguing it’s unnatural, then so is make-up, so is soft lighting if you live in Queensland. So is jewellery and SO is clothing.
Taking that argument to its logical conclusion would mean every woman standing naked under spotlights – a bit like a naturalist Department of Transport photo shoot.
Perhaps I am hypocritical – not embracing an honest image of a skinny woman as I did a curvier one – eschewing the unattainable body standards that I was just as guilty of perpetuating.
So when I was asked to supply an image of me without my book for a profile piece in NQLife, I thought “here’s an opportunity to put all this angst into play”.
The photos of me with my book (in the banner) are approximately 12 months old. I’ve gained a little weight since then. I am not with child, I am with food. I am with coffee milks, mostly.
When the reporter asked for an image, I immediately conjured up “me leaning against a white desk, soft gold wallpaper behind, perhaps a chandelier in shot, laughing gaily and looking fabulous – read: lithe”.
It came out a little more like this….
Not only do I not own a penthouse suite, it seems my 32-year old, post-baby body is not reflective of the fun-loving wordsmith I house inside my skin. I look more like a harassed SAHM who threw on her “former work” clothes 20 minutes before taking the kids to the water park. Because that’s exactly who I am in these photos.
And after a few failed attempts: “my arms look enormous”, “are my boobs really touching my stomach”, “maybe I’d look skinnier with my hair down”… I was. Over. It.
In tears and tearing off my work shirt, I realised even Photoshop couldn’t save me. But maybe a funky piece of jewellery could, maybe that nifty little chair in the studio. A cute scarf? If I couldn’t look funky, at least I could accessorise funky.
Still, after a few more photos and more “oh God, how can I look that fat sitting down?!” type hysteria… I succumbed, picked one of the slightly more flattering photos, Photoshopped out a stain on my shirt and darkened the edges. I left in my big arms, my half-hearted smile, my dark roots… it’s not easy trying to live up to your word.
Best be careful what you say!
**At least I didn’t go with some other suggestions for photos of me:
Jurassic Park Pete!