There have been a number of teasers over the last few months suggesting big changes may be on the horizon at The Sun.
Ireland dropped the traditional Page 3 in August of 2013 and around the same time tweets from News UK executives hinted at a redesign of the page.
Of late the traditional page 3 image seems to be increasingly missing, often replaced with celebrity photographs. Perhaps a leaning towards the “glamorous fashionista’s” Rupert Murdoch himself suggested almost 12 months ago? Official Page 3 photographer Alison Webster certainly seems somewhat rattled, with tweets suggesting changes about which she is yet to be informed. Interestingly one of these changes appears to see an end to the “Page 3 Idol” competition.
The Sun newspaper has run “Page 3 Idol” since 2002. The last in 2012 was won by 21 year old Melissa Clarke and since the announcement of her win in January 2013 there has been no further mention of the event which, for the last few years, seems to have had it’s preliminary rounds in the autumn/winter.
With palpable movement of public opinion an end to Page 3 may well be likely. With or without that however the dropping of Page 3 Icon should, I feel, be welcomed.
Let’s be clear about how this worked - the competition was run within the paper version of the Sun and online. It was advertised at the bottom of page 3 and invited amateur models or any young woman to complete an application form and send in a topless picture for the chance to compete for a prize that included a Page 3 modelling contract.
In 2012 the pattern consisted of 23 consecutive days during which ”today’s batch” of hopefuls had their photographs and a short bio displayed. The pictures, a mix of apparently professional quality shots with some home amateur pictures and “selfies” show young women in various semi-clothed poses.
After all “batches” have been displayed and voted upon 12 finalists are announced and are invited to have their picture taken by the official page 3 photographer, the products of which are again displayed online along with a video of the “sexy” photo shoot. Finalists are then briefly whittled down to three before the overall winner is announced.
If this competition was run within top shelf adult publications, if it were advertised in women’s magazines or in those aimed at aspiring models I would think this perfectly acceptable.
However, the advertising of this life-changing opportunity to pose topless for men is advertised in a national newspaper, in the very vehicle which has potentially exposed it’s fresh “batch” of would-be models to soft porn Page 3 images throughout their most impressionable years.
The much defended ”free choice” to aspire to be a topless model is not a choice made in a vacuum. The problem with Page 3 Idol and one of the issues with Page 3 itself, is that The Sun markets itself as a family newspaper. It run’s adverts on prime time and children’s television channels, and runs offers for family holidays and toys. It features stories about boy bands that directly target teenage girls and positions these stories directly next to the page 3 topless image.
Amongst my stashed copies of The Sun (all picked up, in the hospital where I work or in other public places I hasten to add, not bought and paid for) I was able to find three copies in which the Page 3 Icon competition advert appeared. Two of these copies featured front page offers for Disneyland Paris holidays and one a free Twilight poster. One copy featured Harry Styles and Taylor Swift’s relationship on page 3 next to the topless picture and competition advert.
Front page holiday and toy adds are in in bold primary colours, deliberately drawing the eye of children who may then be encouraged to pick up and look through a paper in a shop, public place or at home or perhaps to pester parents into buying.
For many young girls their first exposure to page 3 will be in their own home. In my era the models were as young as 16 and were even pictured in school uniform or posed with teddy bears. This was the paper, it told the news and my Dad bought it home from work where I had seen the pictures it featured plastered on the walls, and I knew Dad had a favourite model.
The young women who will be most aware of the Page 3 Icon competition are the ones who have watched their fathers, brothers, grandfathers looking at this titillating image, which unlike a pornographic publication is far more likely to grace the breakfast table. What have they learned about their worth as women? How many have heard male loved ones pass judgement on the model’s qualities? What effect does this have on the body image and self identity of these developing girls, when the largest image of a woman in the news they see daily is one of her featured not for her contribution to that news but for her attractiveness, sexual availability and size of her breasts.
Biographies of page 3 models appearing on their own website make reference without irony, to the models ambitions to pose topless from childhood-
“Many of our girls have had a long-standing ambition of appearing on Page 3, but 32D beauty Poppy first gave the news to her parents at the tender age of 13!”
2006 Page 3 Icon winner Freya Haseldine is quoted as saying “I used to see The Sun lying around when I was a kid and think, I’d love to do that. I used to go to Page 3 straight away and dream of the day I would see myself there.’
Another – “Stunning Katie Leigh can remember looking at Page 3 when she was a kid and dreaming of appearing on the nation’s favourite page, but insists that she didn’t really believe it would happen until she started – how can we put it? – growing up!”
The uncomfortable reality being, that by “growing up” they mean “going through puberty and developing breasts”.
At present our current government seem to have noticed the mood and are keen to take action to protect our children and young people from the dangers of online pornography (reference).
When we have two government commissioned reports here and here, which stress the importance of reducing children and young people’s exposure to sexual imagery; and when the UK have signed up to an EU commission to reduce sexual stereotyping in our media, recognising the detrimental affect this has on the self esteem and aspirations of women and girls, why does this government action not stretch to concern over the publications which have allowed Page 3 to continue.
Not only has the Sun invited young readers in with offers, it has conditioned them to see their potential as sexual objects and then recruited them to enter what it has promoted as a short cut to stardom and success by sending in topless photographs.
As a society we react with shock and disbelief at the news of young, apparently naïve, girls who send naked selffies by text or messenger, coming as they do, under pressure from boys who have been influenced themselves by the images they see in newspapers, magazines, adverts and other media. Why are we surprised that these girls are so easily swayed and why do we think these boys have a reinforced sense of their right of sexual access to girls and to a limitless supply of naked breasts?
Whilst blame for this mind-set cannot of course all be laid at the door of page 3 or of Page 3 Idol alone, it has to be acknowledged that it has been the most public and visible encouragement to the young girls of this country to “get them out for the boys” and to the boys to see this as normal.
It seems that over the last few years of it’s existence the Sun made some changes to the Idol competition which originally hosted heats in local clubs, dressing young local applicants in Sun bikinis and inviting them to dance provocatively live on stage. Video’s of these events can still be found on YouTube and make painful viewing as braying crowds of men cheer their favourites or berate those who they feel do not feel fit the bill. Even on today’s page 3 however readers are invited to log on to the clean-cut looking website where they can ”take the girls for a spin” rotating them 360 degrees in a way that I can’t help but liken to a virtual shop or cattle market.
Despite protestations that it has “always been there” Page 3 has made changes over the four decades of it’s existence, some enforced as a reflection of the societal change around it. In the 1990′s when the law changed the minimal age of models was increased, and given recent insight into the hidden crimes of the 1970′s it would surely be unthinkable now to feature a half naked women in school girl attire for “Back to school week”.
With the increasingly unavoidable voice of the No More Page 3 campaign the question is will The Sun be forced to finally clean up it’s act? Or will it continue to market to children and families, convincing our girls and young women that their best vehicle to success is to “get them out” and all they need do to achieve that is to start “growing up”?