Thursday, January 14, 2010

Spot the empowered role model

‘I eat quite healthily. I'll have oats in the morning, or rye toast with avocado; a wrap for lunch; and maybe a chicken salad for dinner. If you eat a balanced diet, you're so much happier ... but I couldn't not eat, I don't know how.’

'I'm not a stick figure.'

'I like to delude myself that I'm in the old-Hollywood mode. I just tailor my clothes well and try to keep my skin clear. While it would be great to work out an hour a day, there is something inherently sort of selfish about it. I can't do it.'

Having always enjoyed sport, Jen runs three times a week and does the odd session of yoga and pilates; she keeps her skin glowing by diligently cleansing and moisturising every day.

'I did it for the experience ... it felt quite sensual and sexy. I felt empowered.'

She has thought about yoga, even done it a couple times. 'But,' she notes, 'even yoga classes go on 80 or 90 minutes.' Not for Tina the ethos of Gwyneth Paltrow or Madonna, with their two hours plus of bendiness a day. 'You will still die,' she observes. 'I'll do grave yoga. Someone can come and stretch me in my grave.'

What she'd really love is a lifestyle show – 'everything that incorporates my lifestyle now'.

Also on Tina's plate is an upcoming humor book for which she signed a rumored $5 million-plus deal with Little, Brown last year. 'It's full of incredibly angry ranting,' she says. 'Actually, it's recipes, photographs of doors. And then, more recipes.'

And did boyfriend Jake Wall, a fellow model, like the idea, too? Definitely, says Jen, adding that during the shoot, she was texting pictures of herself to him between takes. 'He's excited.'

'That is why L.A. is so bad, because they can take your picture from any side. That is why people in L.A. maintain 360-degree fitness. I don't have that kind of time.'

Main claims to fame: Miss Universe, hosting spots on The Great Outdoors and Make Me a Supermodel

Main claims to fame: Writes, produces, stars in, created 49-times-Emmy-nominated TV show, 30 Rock, former head writer on Saturday Night Live, where she guested during 2008 presidential election doing a killer Sarah Palin imitation

Hmmm ... which of these women on a magazine cover would send the message to women and girls that, in the words of The Butterfly Foundation: 'Have fun with the way that you look, but don’t let it rule your life. Putting your energy into living & doing fun things is much more important.'

I have nothing against Jennifer Hawkins. (And nothing particularly for her either.) But honestly, to put her naked on the cover of a magazine in order to promote a healthy body image and for women to feel good about themselves ... spare me. And talking about how brave she is? She's not brave: she's a model doing her job. For which she was handsomely paid, I imagine. Her fee for the shoot didn't go to The Butterfly Foundation. Marie Claire isn't donating a percentage of magazines sold to The Butterfly Foundation. The photo is being auctioned off and proceeds from that will go to the foundation. Very nice; but nobody is sacrificing anything.

And I am going to scream the next time I hear a woman talking about how empowered she felt when she took her clothes off for the camera. If being naked on the cover of a magazine makes you empowered, I guess all those women on the covers of porn magazines must be the most empowered examples of womankind there are.

Sunday Age journalist Michael Bachelard stripped off last weekend to make a tongue-in-cheek point about 'real' men ('We're hairier than you might expect, except on the head'). I found it pretty funny, as readers were supposed to.

But it also made a beautifully clear point - intentional or not - about how empowering it's NOT for women to strip off to show their 'real' bodies and the very real and enduring gender gap between the expectations of men's and women's bodies. Because the first thing that sprang to my mind when I read the line about men being 'hairier than you might expect' was: 'so are we'. Or, at least, we would be if we didn't pour hot wax on our bodies and rip it off to remove any skerrick of body hair that might see the sun (or even, these days, parts that definitely won't).

Women, even those who will never be on a magazine cover, are held to standards that men simply aren't. The sad thing is that instead of those standards on women easing off, the same standards are slowly, slowly being opposed on men too. And no professional woman could get away with posing nude in the way Bachelard did - without first having her body, face and hair groomed to the best possible standard.

Which way forward?

What do I think the Butterfly Foundation could have done if they wanted to use a magazine cover to promote a healthy body image for girls?

De-emphasise the body, for a start. Our culture's obsession with and fetishisation of the body - particularly the female body - is surely a massive contributor to the rise in eating disorders.

I think the US Harper's Bazaar cover story (from November 2009) featuring Tina Fey is far more likely to empower women - and to do good for women with eating disorders - than the Marie Claire cover story. Both being fashion magazines, both discuss health, diet and looks. Tina Fey talks about these things as being secondary to all the other things she has to do and wants to achieve in her life; Jennifer Hawkins solemnly shares her diet (which made me hungry, just reading about it) and exercise routine and says that these are 'the things I love to talk about'.

There is much less chance of a girl developing an eating disorder if she has other things to do and to think about than how she looks.

I know The Butterfly Foundation has said that this was intended to be about highlighting the issue of airbrushing photos, as Hawkins had agreed to go naked and unbrushed. But really, as some have pointed out, drawing attention to 'flaws' like the crease in her skin near her thigh has the opposite of the intended effect. Seeing tiny details like that described as 'flaws' is only likely to make girls and women more critical of themselves. And to make them look longer and harder at their bodies.

If we're serious about using women's magazines to influence healthy self-image (which I doubt), let's have more covers featuring women who DO things, women who are funny and smart, who channel their hard work (and Hawkins doubtlessy works hard) into something other than carrying off a swimsuit. I'd rather see a glamourised Tina Fey than an equally glamourised, though unclothed, Jennifer Hawkins as a stated role model for a healthy body image any day.


Oh ... and slightly off-point, I have to ask, if this is a role model exercise aimed at teenage and twentysomething girls, is it a good idea to include the role model sexting nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend? I thought that was the sort of potentially fraught behaviour we were supposed to be discouraging.