Ulla Lindstrom - the first Page 3 girl in The Sun. November 17th 1969
There has been much discussion, over the last couple of weeks, over whether The Sun newspaper has or has not abolished its long running Page 3 topless girl picture. It seems that they are using the "have they?" or "haven't they?" publicity to push up sales in the interim. There was no Page 3 girl last Monday and the strange alliance of anti Page 3 campaigners celebrated a major victory (by their rather narrow minded standards) as The Times, (like The Sun, another Rupert Murdoch newspaper) officially announced the end of Page 3, something which Murdoch himself had said was "old fashioned".
Rupert Murdoch and the first issue of The Sun printed under his ownership, which featured Ulla Lindstrom's picture on Page 3
Hooray, said the "No More Page 3" group, the Girl Guides and some group supposedly representing mothers. Then, last Thursday, The Sun displayed another topless girl on Page 3 in a knowing snub to what Murdock recently named the "horrible elite" (probably meaning readers of the left wing newspaper The Guardian and people who work at the BBC, who have all been cheering over their lentil soup from their eco-friendly houses in Islington).
"We've had a mammary lapse" joked The Sun on their front page last Thursday. This move caught everyone out, dismayed the No More Page 3 campaign, the Guardian, religious zealots, puritans, outraged mothers and all those people offering a copy of The Sun featuring the "last Page 3 girl" on eBay for inflated sums (£100! Really?)
Nicole, Thursday 22nd January 2015
Initially, we weren't going to cover this issue on Venus Observations, as we have talked about Page 3 at length before here and our views on the subject should be eminently clear by the content of this blog. Indeed, anyone who follows our Pubic Wars posts will be aware of the very many Page 3 girls who featured in men's magazines in the seventies and eighties (much less more recently, as girls next door were supplanted by porn stars in many magazines). In fact the Page 3 girl really is the British equivalent of Hugh Hefner's girl next door Playmate. We won't go into a defence of it as a national icon although it is arguable!
Stephanie Rahn, November 17th 1970
So what further is there to say about the whole issue? Nothing very original from Triple P but we may ramble on a bit just for the excuse of putting up some pictures of Page 3 girls to annoy the objectors. The first point is that every account we read said that Page 3 began in November 1970. This was wrong, of course, as we can see that the first Page 3 girl appeared in the first issue of The Sun published by Murdoch on November 17th 1969. The key point being that the first topless Page 3 girl appeared on the first birthday of the feature, November 17th 1970, when Sun editor Larry Lamb authorised the use of a girl in her "birthday suit", This was twenty two year old Stephanie Rahn, originally from Singapore, who thus became the first topless Page 3 girl. The original idea was that the Page 3 girls would cover up again after this birthday special in 1970 but, of course, that did not happen. So, for the first year Page 3 girls were scantily dressed, yes, even naked, but didn't flash their nipples and it has been suggested that The Sun may go back to this approach as, in the last week or so, it has had several lingerie-clad girls on the Page 3 spot. This is annoying for feminists as it doesn't solve their objectification of women point, while placating some of the other objectors who seem to think nipples are evil.
Now, we have to confess that we have never actually been a fan of Page 3. For much of its history the pictures were photographed by Beverley Goodway (a man, despite his first name) who shot the feature from 1970 until his retirement in 2003. Now it must have been rather mind-numbing to have had to produce around 10,000 photographs of topless girls but many of his pictures were very dull indeed. Partly this was, we suspect, that The Sun had to tread a fine line between mildly titillating (we just can't avoid the word) and actually erotic.
We never found the pictures of Page 3 girls sexy, they were just portraits of women showing their breasts and we were always more of a bottom man. To be fair, in the early years of Page 3 the girls, like Jilly Johnson, were often sleeker up top and it was only into the eighties that the girls started to be chosen more for their large busts.
Discussion of this is all bogged down, of course, with the thorny question as to what extent naked bodies are erotic per se and the conflation, especially in America, of naked and sexual. Although Playboy introduced photographs of the naked female body to a generation of Americans their naked models all were posed in a very wholesome way. It was only, with the arrival of Bob Guccione's Penthouse in the late sixties that the portrayal of women appearing to be sexually aroused changed the nature of this nakedness in magazines. Even today, Playboy caption writers, especially for their online site, get rather breathless, in a rather old fashioned way, about using the word "nude" as if it was still a shocking term.
Casual nudity is more common and accepted in parts of Europe, of course, on beaches, in mixed saunas and swimming pools and just sunbathing in parks. Girls sunbathing topless were very common, for example in Zurich, where Agent Triple P used to go on business in the eighties. An encounter with a couple of girls from our office who were just dressed in their knickers one lunchtime down by the lake provoked no sense of embarrassment or an uncomfortable atmosphere. Although, it has to be said, that this public nudity is changing, with women in the South of France, for example, covering up because of the existence of camera phones.
This brings us to point number one about the Page 3 girl. Contrary to what the objectors say, which is that Page 3 images present impossible to live up to images of women to impressionable young girls, we would argue that it has liberated many British women as regards their own bodies. Back in the sixties, when topless sunbathing became common in the south of France, British newspapers were shocked. By the eighties, however, if you went to a Mediterranean beach you would find that large numbers of British women were going topless or naked and we have even seen it on British beaches (brave, during most of our "summers"). Many young British women had decided, therefore, that showing their busts was not reprehensible. These were not just particularly attractive women either. All shapes and sizes were loosing their tops on the beach. The casual appearance of topless women in the tabloids must have contributed to them feeling comfortable about their breasts in this way. We would argue that the really pernicious images of women in Britain are those outrageously photoshopped ones which appear in fashion advertisements and women's magazines (where there have been plenty of pictures of topless women for years). featuring unhealthily thin women or celebrities whose actual bodies bear no relationship to the digitally manipulated images on display. Legs not long enough? We''ll lengthen them. Waist to big? We'll trim it. Bust not big enough? We'll inflate it. If you want to stop young women having hangups about their bodies then the fashion industry and women's magazines are better targets than Page 3, we would argue.
One of the other points made by the anti-Page 3 brigade is that children shouldn't see pictures of bare breasts. This, we have to say, is the oddest pillar of their arguments. Of all the people that shouldn't be worried about bare breasts then children should be top of the list, as they spend the first months of their lives sucking at them. At the same time you have other feminists fronting a free the nipple campaign, arguing that women's nipples should be able to be displayed as much as men's. Is it because nipples are deemed rude? Sexual? What? Children can only initially follow what their parents imbue into them. When Triple P was young his parents wouldn't get dressed to move from the bedroom to the bathroom. So we grew up not being shocked by casual nudity or thinking it was rude. We do read about parents who say that they would never appear naked in front of their children. Why? We really can't understand this one at all. If children grow up seeing naked bodies then they won't worry about them and it won't traumatise them, like John Ruskin, when they do. It is the subject, perhaps, of another post but we also think that there is too much emphasis at present in "protecting" children from sexuality. Really, this is more about parents not adequately introducing their children to this subject and pretending it doesn't exist for as long as possible by which time they hope someone else has broached the matter. The fundamental difference from Triple P's day, of course, is that the internet means that children have easy access to pornography in a way that our generation didn't. If their parents haven't prepared them in advance then they will be getting far more mixed, confusing and unrealistic messages and expectations than our generation. There is an argument that introducing children to sexuality should be done in a similar way to introducing them to alcohol. Very small amounts in a controlled domestic environment before they are able to go out and go it alone, perhaps under the influence of less benevolent people.
The final point made by the opponents of Page 3 is that it objectifies women. This is true but does it really matter? As we have indicated above, the entire fashion and beauty industry objectifies women by defining women by the way they look. This, we would argue, is the fundamental reason that women will never be treated truly equally (as opposed to acknowledging that men and women are different but complementary) to men (at least, not in the way extreme feminists want). Most men just don't care about the way they look. They may take more care than they did thirty years ago but it is not a fundamental part of their outlook on life. As long as men see women fussing about handbags, shoes and hairstyles they will continue to think, deep down, however liberated they are as regards their position and worth in the workplace, that most women are just a little bit silly spending so much time, effort and money on something so unimportant. Now we have no objection to the increasing objectification of men in films, TV and in magazines. In fact, we would much rather see a fit attractive male body than an unfit fat one. We don't go around pointing at the latest pictures of Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Gray and saying "he has been made into an object and young boys may worry they can't live up to his looks". Now the pro objectification lobby will say, as they do, that the problem with Page 3 is that the biggest image of a woman in the newspaper is of her half naked for the sake of it and that no mention is made of all the other women doing other interesting and useful things. Well, yes, but that is because this particular woman has been chosen for her aesthetics not her career achievements. The picture is large for aesthetic purposes. Would you have a picture as large of the Prime Minister? No. Because the point of having a picture of him would be to illustrate a story whereas with Page 3 the picture is the story. The model has also made the decision herself to objectify her own body (many Page 3 girls are up in arms moaning that their livelihood is at stake) she is not being forced at gunpoint. Would we object to a nice looking man being placed in the newspaper as an alternative? No. Would most men? No. Would it be fairer to have both? Yes. People like to see attractive people of the opposite sex portrayed in a way that celebrates their looks. People, in short, like looking at nice pictures of gorgeous naked people. If this is objectification then you are a bit stuck as it is something of a fundamental driver of humanity If you deny this urge then what is the point of the fashion and beauty industry, which is entirely about improving people's looks as an object? Actually, do we enjoy looking at a beautiful racehorse more than an old nag in a field? Equally, yes. A Ferrari to a thirty year old Morris Marina? Yes.
Following on from this, some of the objectors say yes, we accept the existence of the sex object bit but naked pictures shouldn't be in national newspapers but should be hidden away in adults only ghettos like parts of the internet and men's magazines. Again, why ghetttoise nakedness and the appreciation of sexual beauty? There is an implication here that people who like naked pictures of people are a sad, very small minority. This is, again, more a manifestation of the strange British press outlook as regards sexual matters. They use sex all the time to sell newspapers and magazines from what Miley Cyrus isn't wearing, to which actress is having an affair with a married man, to who has put on weight and looks bad in a bikini or who looks good in a bikini (women's magazines are obsessed with female body shape). However, the implication is usually that anything to do with sex or the naked human form is "dirty". We would argue that, in this area, the British press has become hopelessly adrift from what the majority of the population think and that the "ooh, er, missus", attitude, exemplified by a prurient delight in celebrity nipple slips (where the nipple cannot, of course be shown, as it is "rude") is as outdated as McGill naughty postcards in the first half of the last century.
While we don't read The Sun we do think that the issues relating to pressure groups in clamping down on something that other people seem to enjoy without, we feel, really compelling arguments, is actually not dissimilar to the freedoms of the press espoused by Charlie Hebdo. Frankly, we do not really care whether you feature topless women or insulting cartoons about Mohammed but in neither case is it not for others to force its banning just because they don't like it. Women have breasts. Men and many women like looking at nice ones on pretty girls and there will always be pretty girls who want to make money by displaying them. Deal with it. Take on a more worthy opponent if you are really interested in improving women's lot. There are enough out there.