An anonymous supporter sent us her story and we are honoured to have read it and to share it – please be aware that some of the issues it touches upon may trigger an emotional response.
It was the early Eighties, I was 21, just out of college, living alone in London where I knew very few people. I was out of the large provincial college community where there was something to do, people to meet every night, and found myself without real connections or anchors in the centre of a large city. Trying to make it as a self-employed artist.
No money, no support network, just myself.
One day as I was walking home, an older man approached me. ‘You are beautiful’ he said ‘You could be a model. I am a photographer, you could make lots of money doing topless shoots’. Such a cliché! How on earth did I fall for that? I was broke, I was insecure about my looks and I had learned to disconnect from my body, that’s how.
A bit of background: I was from a good working-class but upwardly mobile family and I was part of the first generation of this family to go on to further education. I went to a girls’ grammar school, my parents pushed me to get my ‘O’ levels and my ‘A’ levels and insisted on the value of education and the importance of making my chances in life. They didn’t want me to end up working at the Co-op, they wanted better for me.
I was an intelligent, sensitive and rebellious child but I daren’t go against my parents and I got those ‘O’ levels and ‘A’ levels even though I hated school.
At age 12 something happened that blew all of that certainty about my parents’ values out of the water, and the memory is seared on my brain. Lying on the living-room floor, I opened the family newspaper to be confronted with a young woman posing provocatively and exposing her breasts publicly for all to see. In an instant I understood my real value to the world. I understood what my developing body was for. I realised that everything my parents had told me about my value as a person and the value of education was a lie. I could see that my parents colluded in society’s judgement of women’s value – they had bought the newspaper! My dad had seen that image! Did he see me in the same way? Why didn’t my Mum say anything?
Page 3 was hugely visible in the early Seventies – certainly round our way. It was taken as read that the ‘Page 3 girl’ was the sexual ideal. Even the ‘nice blokes’ looked at and talked about Page 3, and every time it happened I shrunk a bit inside, and on the outside tried to become more like her. I had small breasts. I could never be like her.
I remember my first real boyfriend – he was lovely – telling me that I could go to a fancy dress party as a Page 3 girl, and my mortification – one, because obviously I couldn’t (I couldn’t ‘measure up’, surely he could see that?) and two, because he had thought it was a compliment. I have that entry in my diary at age 17, and it’s followed by two weeks of blank pages which, knowing myself, I realise now signified depression.
The constant visibility of Page 3 taught me not only how I had to look sexually, but how I had to behave. All men liked the girls that shared it round sexually – in a newspaper! – so I
had to be like that, otherwise I would be seen as a prude. I would see myself as a prude, and that would make me feel even less sexy. I also learned that my job was to please men sexually, that’s what ‘sex’ meant to me.
I became promiscuous. I used my body to have power over men – just as the Page 3 girl did – I had no idea of its own needs, my own needs. I didn’t have an orgasm until finally I did it for myself after four years of a wild sex life at college.
I wasn’t a ‘protected’ child, I had seen porn mags passed round at primary school and I was as appalled and fascinated as all the other kids. But I had no emotional reaction to them and they carried no further meaning for me – it was secret, hidden, shameful – it had nothing to do with me and my life. There was a lot of porn ‘coming in from the Continent’ in those days so Page 3 was not the only illustration of the sexually-serving role of women in the Seventies. But it had the official stamp of society’s approval on it that made it irrefutable.
Back to that day on the street in the centre of London. All I could think was ‘he thinks I’m good enough? He thinks my breasts are big enough?’ After all my years of insecurity about them, here was validation that I did in fact ‘measure up’. I arranged to meet the man, topless photos were taken and published in a seedy little porn mag. After doing topless, the step to open leg shots and ‘harder’ porn was a small one. I had already given him the impression that I was ‘liberated’ and ‘confident’, so how could I spoil that illusion? I would have felt stupid and immature.
For two years I worked in the office of that porn mag, cutting and pasting photos of tits and cocks. My memory is hazy on exact details, but I didn’t do the photography for long (maybe my breasts really were too small..?) but I remember orgies, threesomes, the whole lifestyle of those in the porn industry. During that time, my favourite and trusted uncle popped round unexpectedly and tried to rape me – in fact, if any form of penetration is rape, he did rape me - and I was frozen and let it happen until the final moment when I managed to say my boyfriend was about to come round, and he stopped. I know that I was paralysed with shock, but I had also been brought up to be a nice girl (Shouting ‘Fuck off you perv!’ would have been as likely as suddenly speaking Chinese) and anyway, my body was public property wasn’t it?
It took me two years of increasing self-hatred and depression before I had my breakdown. What I had thought would be confidence-boosting (my body is good enough!) had been exposed as the opposite. The dependence all my life on outside validation, just to feel like a ‘real woman’ turned out to be an empty goal, and in pursuit of it I had neglected to build up any inner self-worth.
There were many like me in that industry, I could see it, the tough cool exteriors hiding insecurities just like me. I knew others who went further into porn – once you start on that path, why not? I knew some who were narcissistic exhibitionists who didn’t give a shit about
anyone else as long as their egos were being stroked. But I also knew one girl who seemed to be made to do that kind of work, she lived and breathed sex, and it was all for her own sexual and sensual arousal – she was kind, interesting, funny and completely committed to free sexual expression for all.
That’s why I make no judgement about ‘glamour models’ – they are not all the same, there are different reasons for doing it and they are not all equal. What I do object to is putting it in a newspaper and selling it to young women as ‘empowerment’. It’s not. It’s slavery to other people’s opinions and judgements of your body. It’s not surprising that the Page 3 models who have ‘made it’ all seem to be hard-nosed businesswomen who treat their own bodies as a product in the marketplace. That’s not a healthy thing to do, most of us will suffer if we think we can do that, and it’s irresponsible to pretend otherwise.
Page 3 is a game of pretend. The models are selling themselves as something they’re not – sexually available and always ‘up for it’. That’s a really damaging thing to ‘celebrate’ young women for. I’m not pretending it was only Page 3 that led to all my problems, there were other factors I’m sure, but Page 3 certainly had the biggest impact on me as a girl entering puberty. I hate Page 3 with a vengeance. I hope this campaign succeeds because we need to stop lying to our young girls.
I am so glad that I made my mistakes in the days before the internet, but I am still terrified that these images of me will surface somewhere. I have kids now, I have a job, I don’t know if I’d be able to tough it out. So this has to be anonymous, but I hope it helps people to understand. I’ve wanted to send you this since I first heard of the campaign but it’s taken me this long to pluck up the courage. Please use it as you want to.