'Love your body' has become a highly used catchphrase of our times. In fact this cliché is often used by those with questionable motives. Even companies that promote sexual objectification of young women, like The Sun Newspaper, now claim to also promote the ‘love your body’ ideal.
For 45 years, The Sun newspaper has run a topless spread of a female model on the Page 3 of its tabloid. The Sun has even gone as far as to encourage its readers to send in their own images of their breasts - as a way to exploit breast cancer awareness.
In the wake of reports that The Sun might drop the topless shots, numerous Page 3 defenders are arguing that topless photos are actually a form of female “empowerment”, a way for women to feel confident about their bodies.
Former Page 3 model Jodie Marsh has come out telling women to be “proud” of their bodies saying “And remember ladies, you should be PROUD of who you are and PROUD of your body, no matter what shape or size. Women CAN do it all.”
Page 3 defenders have accused those who object to these photographs of “shaming” other women for their bodies. These activists have been told to stop criticising the Page 3 models “pride” in their bodies and that posing topless for Page 3 is an ‘empowering’ experience – not a derogatory one. The Page 3 images apparently are about “loving” the female body – a love that these women should share with the readers (or gawkers) of The Sun.
Some women might in fact, feel “empowered” by posing topless for a tabloid newspaper in some way. But, the idea that pride in how one’s body looks is beneficial to psychological wellbeing is a dangerous myth. This myth focuses on the ornamentality of the body, and flies in the face of psychological research that shows objectification leads to psychological harm and perpetuates gender inequality.
Psychological research has repeatedly shown us that being seen as a sexual object, such as a pair of breasts or legs, is a harmful and unfortunate feature of being a woman in contemporary culture, regardless of age, class, sexuality or ethnicity.
Sadly, women do not need to be Page 3 models to be objectified. Often times, women are merely taking a walk outside when they are objectified or even harassed by gawkers. The issue here is not whether the woman being objectified is proud of her appearance in that moment, the issue is that the person objectifying her is not seeing her as an equal human being.
These kind of unequal relations are epitomised by publications like Page 3, who seek to make sexual objectification of women an everyday part of their news reporting, rather than treating it as the dangerous practice that is truly is.
Research suggests that when women live with the feeling of being scrutinised, they begin to judge their own bodies and attempt to fix their perceived “flaws”. The development of eating disorders and body image disorders are said to, in part, arise due to the cultural objectification of the female body, where women begin monitoring their bodies through strict diet and exercise to conform to the ‘norms’ of female beauty.
A person can, indeed, take “pride” in the superficial appearance of their body, but there are other ways to “empower” ourselves that don’t require other people’s validation. What we can do – as a culture – is to shift focus away from the ornamentality of the body and onto its functionality. That is, we can begin to value what the body does rather than merely how it looks.
In our ‘Redefining Health’ campaign, Endangered Bodies Australia encourages women to love their bodies for what they do, rather than how they look. Redefining health is about changing the way we think about health – to show that is that health is not a number, health is not a look, health is not a size. Health is about emotional, mental, spiritual fulfilment too. The kind of fulfilment we are robbed of when we are objectified for our bodies.
Taking pride in your body – and truly loving it – doesn’t have to be an empty catchphrase. You may love the way your body becomes animated from the inside when you’re dancing, or when you’re sharing a special moment with your baby during breastfeeding, these are examples of body pride that turn the tables on objectification. It’s time to reclaim our bodies and redefine health. Join us here!