Page 3 – archaic institution or a harmless bit of fun?

Back in 1969, ‘Penthouse Pet’ Ulla Lindstrom launched a new direction for Rupert Murdoch’s flagging newspaper, The Sun, which was to become widely imitated by other papers in the 1970s, and open the doors for ‘lads’ mags’ of the 1990s and beyond.

Despite the growing wave of feminism at the tail end of the 1960s, the model posed clothed, but with her buttons provocatively unfastened, on the third page of the rejuvenated tabloid. It was an instant success and during the following year The Sun continued to feature scantily clad young women.

Nudity itself was not introduced until the following year, when editor Larry Lamb braved the full monty while his boss Murdoch was out of the country, and Stephanie Rahn, a 20-year-old German, became the first model to pose topless in November 1970. Over the next year Lamb’s gamble paid off, Murdoch saw sales rise from £1.5 million to £2.1 million, and the tradition stuck.

During the decade that followed, Page 3 girls progressed to the soft-core pornography standard that is now known as ‘glamour modelling’: teenagers or early twenty-somethings posing naked save a whisper of knicker lace for lads, dads and grandfathers to ogle over their breakfast cereal. Sales of The Sun soared despite – or possibly due to – the public outrage of women countrywide. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s may remember that familiar sinking feeling when a group of sniggering teenagers or builders on their tea break would wave the offending page at you, finding it somehow appropriate to loudly compare your assets to those of whichever ‘aspiring model’ had been persuaded to strip for the camera that day.

Admittedly the sexist imagery of Page 3 (which is deeply offensive to anyone seeking even the vaguest semblance of equality) does not veer anywhere near ‘hard-core’ pornography, but then even though there is some remote semblance of ‘taste’ faintly clinging to the cheesy poses, the feeling of shame continues. Now we are grown, we note The Sun is frequently placed at eye-level of our children in our local supermarket or newsagent, often alongside their favourite comics. How can we explain to our daughters that such a chauvinistic practice, which is not reflected reciprocally in any national women’s paper, holds an acceptable place in today’s society?

Page 3 models are not allowed a voice – just a credit of their name, age, and a random quote (her ‘News in Briefs’ no less) if they’re lucky. They’re there purely for their body; not their brains, talent or worth as a human being. In return, successful models might earn between £30,000 and £100,000k per annum in the precious few years before age takes its toll. For exhibitionists seeking dubious celebrity it’s a good deal, but the likelihood of them ever being taken seriously in any future aspect of their career is slim, to say the least.

Of recent months, Page 3 has come under a renewed backlash from the popular campaigning group, No More Page 3, whose Twitter and Facebook support numbers nearly 25,000 respectively and who have recently received endorsement from Mumsnet, the Girl Guides, the National Union of Teachers and the Royal College of Nursing. All these organisations know that the page doesn’t just degrade women as no more than a set of boobs for men to gawp at, but it also promotes a negative body image for girls and women of all ages. Large, perfect breasts and slender torsos are the only bodies selected for display, which is unrealistic and unrepresentative of much of the population. Even Russell Brand tweeted his support in January 2014. Let’s face it – if a serial womaniser knows it’s wrong, then surely it’s time to put this disturbing, out-dated drool-fest to bed?

Ireland seems to be one step ahead of the UK, dropping topless models in favour of girls in swimwear back in August 2013. Americans are horrified at its existence. Murdoch himself recently suggested on Twitter that Page 3 may have had its day and the topless feature might be replaced with ‘glamorous fashionistas’ instead.

It’s not just a bit of fun. Page 3 is a British embarrassment and belongs in the dark ages alongside Jimmy Savile, The Benny Hill Show, Bernard Manning and the seedier side of the 1970s. ‘I helped make Page 3 part of the language,’ wrote Larry Lamb before his death in 2000. ‘In many ways now I wish I hadn’t.’ Countless women would agree with him – it’s time for Page 3 to go.

by Bryony Sutherland

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