Here are my thoughts on the topic in the form of a (edited) comment on a since-deleted post on Girl with a Satchel:
“This really is a double-edged sword, huh? All magazines are a medium that can make you feel bad about yourself only if you let them, which I agree with 100%.
“I don’t believe the media is the ‘hypodermic’ needle we all heard about in media studies at school; turn off the TV or don’t buy the magazine if you believe they facilitate negative body image.
“However, my first thought when seeing the Jennifer Hawkins cover, was ‘oh, her thighs are obviously her problem area. There are a few shadows there and some discolouration’. HORRIBLE, I know, but it just goes to show that I, along with almost everyone out there, am a product of our perfectionist culture and our unrealistic expectations of women.
“Now, in reality, Hawkins looks AMAZING—her face is stunning, her chest and torso look toned and terrific, and if I had her thighs, all my problems would be solved (according to the hypodermic theory, at least). I don’t agree with all the negative comments out there regarding Hawkins as unrealistic and damaging to women’s self-esteem. Nor do I agree with those who say porn stars, strippers, prostitutes, bikini and lingerie models, supermodels, catalogue models, plus sized models, regular girls on the beach or in the club or on the street who are scantily dressed or ANY WOMAN who enjoys flaunting her best assets are victims of objectification by the media and the male species’ desire to view women as sexy playthings and nothing more.
“I regard myself as a feminist, however, and feel that if any woman is proud to show off their bodies, faces, brains, WHATEVER, then that’s empowering and I say to them, ‘you go girl!’.”
My feelings have stayed much the same as I look back on the controversy from a more enlightened perspective, having been reading a lot more and writing blog posts on such topics in the past nine months (I could have had a baby in that time!) that The Scarlett Woman has been out there in the blogosphere.
Satchel Girl Erica Bartle responded to my comments above, saying that “I don’t think any woman should be excluded from the body image debate on the grounds of her appearance,” even a “hot model” like Hawkins.
This sounds a lot like the arguments that were put forth at the “Feminism Has Failed” debate which I attended a few months ago, and have blogged quite often about here:
“Controversially, [Gaye] Alcorn referenced the Body Image Advisory Board and its chairwomen, the ‘gorgeous’ Mia Freedman, Sarah Murdoch and Kate Ellis, saying that of course they had beautiful women to front the campaign, because it wouldn’t have gotten any publicity with Plain Janes. Out of everything the affirmative team said, this was the only thing I took issue with. ‘Like, sorry those women happen to be genetically blessed, but they have as much right to talk about body image and beauty as a less fortunate-looking woman does. You can’t help the way you’re born,’ I said to my friend, who satirically replied, ‘Well, it’s about beauty, hello?!’ Gold.”
Another argument from the affirmative team harkens back to Bartle’s point: Hawkins “can’t be all things to all women”, just as “feminists can’t be accountable for all feminist issues at all times”.
Again, just because Hawkins looks the way she does doesn’t give the general public the right to criticise her for her decision to pose un-airbrushed for Marie Claire, nor does it give them the right to speak about her body as if she is somehow disconnected from it; as if a celebrity’s body becomes public property.
I’m not sure what the “publicity stunt” has done for body image in Australia one year on, much like the publication of Lizzie Miller’s plus-sized tummy in UK Glamour last year. Personally, though, Hawkins’ show of body love has ignited in me the courage to stand up for others who are objectified for their smaller size (just as I would for a larger person), and Miller’s pot belly instilled acceptance of my own.
Related: Has Feminism Failed?