If there’s one thing The Sun is known for, it certainly isn’t hard-hitting, nuanced journalism. It’s tacky and proud of it, boldly and bravely upholding fine British journalistic traditions which stem all the way back to the 1970s, such as Page 3; the regular helping of boobs with your news. You know, just in case the men reading the news find it too depressing and need a little cheering up.
That aside, astonishingly, The Sun has extended a rather misguided hand towards feminists with its No More Skinny campaign. However, it’s probably not a hand most of us are going to take. The new campaign aims to ‘rid the catwalks of skeletal, ill looking models’. To view in this statement by the campaign’s creator, Dan Wootton, a genuine concern for the mental and physical wellbeing of these models seems to be a mistake. Nor does anything in Wootton’s campaign suggest that he is concerned with the pressure images of such models place on impressionable girls and women who may (and do) come to see them as ideal; an image to aspire to. Although the campaign doesn’t suggest as much, he does claim that these issues were at the forefront of his intentions in creating ‘No More Skinny’. In an article for The Independent, Wootton claimed that the campaign is about ‘simply asking fashion labels to be responsible when they hire models’, pressuring big name fashion houses to stop hiring ‘unhealthy’ looking women.
Wootton’s intentions may have been good. But, as I’ve discovered in my Feminist theory lectures, a piece of writing becomes a thing in itself, with a meaning beyond what the author intended, dependent on its reception. Wootton’s campaign has not been well received. To put it bluntly, he’s gone about it all wrong. Any concern he may genuinely feel for the damage done to models by fashion industry expectations of thinness is papered over in the way that the campaign has been presented; the focus is, predictably and tiredly, on what men find desirable.
Of course, the pressure on models – and all women – to be unhealthily thin is a very real problem and the basis of the campaign is positive. We are all bombarded with images of an unrealistic and unattainable body image on a day-to-day basis and encouraged to think that this image is the norm from which any deviation results in a loss of attractiveness; of course, the unhealthy figure of an anorexic model can be made to look healthy with some simple photo-shopping. This needs to change, and if ‘No More Skinny’ at least makes fashion industry bosses consider the damaging effects of this ideal on both their models and the consumers that are constantly confronted with it, then surely that can only be a good thing.
But it isn’t a question of, as Wootton suggests, simply not hiring the models. It is a question of attacking the idea that true beauty comes only in this form; the skinnier the better. It is a question of criticizing a culture that tells women that the most important aspect of their individuality is their looks and how desirable they are to men. Blaming the models themselves, who are a product of and not the cause of this culture, is not a good avenue to take for real change and improvement.
The campaign has been backed by Olly Murs and Professor Green, who expressed his support with the (rather problematic) claim that ‘men prefer curves’. It’s one ideal to the other, and that certainly isn’t making women feel any less pressured. Either way, women must conform to, and stay within the limits of, conventional attractiveness, defined for them by men. Men prefer curves, so that’s what women should aspire to have. Olly Murs allows that ‘sometimes skinny women can look attractive’ but ‘size six, even size four girls on stage’ look ‘ridiculous’; men think it’s okay for us to be skinny, but not too skinny, so that is what women should aspire to be. Surely sexuality is too fluid for this? Sexual attraction is diverse and both Professor Green and Olly Murs make sweeping generalisations where there is too much scope for them.
While Dan sycophantically tries to put all our minds at ease as he babbles ‘despite being a Sun man through and through, I’m also about as far from the tabloid stereotype as you can get’, willing us to trust his good intentions, the campaign shows no real effort to change the way that women are represented in the fashion industry and in the media. Reminding women that men prefer them not to be too skinny makes no steps towards body image acceptance. It merely posits another few things women should aspire to gain; big boobs, curves – again, we are being sold the idea that there is a ‘correct’ body type to be adhered to. More worryingly still, that correct body type is defined by and upheld because of its appeal to men. No single female body is ‘wrong’ in the same way that, no matter how hard advertising companies try, chocolate or fried stuff will never be ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’; morality cannot be ascribed to women’s bodies. A ‘skinny’ figure is not wrong or bad, and the phrasing of the campaign insults women who may naturally be of this build. As with many attempts that have gone before, the creators of the campaign try to raise the self-confidence of women they feel are under-represented by shaming the women that are represented, which just isn’t helpful.
Basically, I don’t think women should give a shit about what a man thinks is the ‘right’ kind of female body. I couldn’t care less if he wants curves, skinny but not too skinny, a Nicki Minaj arse but no love-handles. If Wootton is serious about wanting real change in notions of body acceptance and the way that women are pressured to look, perhaps he could have created a campaign that doesn’t encourage girls to base their self-confidence and value on a male assessment of beauty. Whatever the intention, ‘No More Skinny’ ends up being offensive, narrow-minded and unhelpful. Professor Green prefers curves, does he? Good for him. I prefer a nice head of ginger hair, but then, I’ve got the good sense to speak for myself when I say that.