hawk eyed feminism: if cleo were a person she’d be long legged, tight waisted and oh so smooth
Melbourne woman Jessica Barlow recently asked Australian Cleo Magazine to ‘Publish diverse representations of beauty including at least one unaltered photo spread per month and put a disclaimer on any image, including externally sourced images, that has been digitally altered in any way.’ Inspired by the successful US petition resulting in Seventeen Magazine publishing one unaltered photo spread per month, Ms Barlow’s featured on Change.org and at the time received an incredible 15,000 (now 18,248) online signatures.
Cleo responded to this impressive display of Internet activism by engaging individuals in an online Photoshop forum. So far they get a tick. OK, so admittedly they get a lead pencil tick (remember those?). As unfortunately these kinds of reactions by these kinds of magazines usually evoke the same scepticism met when hearing that Lindsay Lohan is making a comeback. Unfortunately I was right to have my yellow, dinosaur-shaped eraser at the ready.
I wasn’t able to join in the live forum but looking through the posts it clearly would have been a frustrating ordeal. The participants were given a one-hour window to voice their opinions and discuss their concerns. Perhaps the format was not the best choice or was not managed effectively as many people were unable to engage sufficiently as registration was complicated, comments were slow to upload, crashes occurred and Cleo only responded to roughly every sixth or seventh comment.
All of this however could have been forgiven if Cleo’s responses were perhaps a bit more in depth and thoughtful than this: ‘In every issue of Cleo you will find a diverse representation of women, including size, ethnicity and lifestyle, and that will continue.’ Silly girls! Cleo has already met your demands — you just didn’t squint hard enough to see them! This standard ‘key message’ response was written back to many people’s comments regarding the unrealistic images and lack of diversity in the magazine. Comments that were also concerned about how this undoubtedly affects young girls’ self-esteem and body image. Oh and I forgot to mention that this standard response was sometimes proceeded by ‘..as regular readers of the magazine would know…’ Alright Cleo, we get which Care Bear you would be (hint: it rhymes with witchy).
There’s no need to shock you with the dozens of statistics, facts and research demonstrating how young women are increasingly facing eating disorders, low self-esteem and problems with their well-being. We all know this. Whilst these are complicated issues we all also know that magazines DO have an impact on a young woman’s sense of self. Denying that is like saying pornography has no impact on young peoples’ ideas of sex.
Interestingly Cleo promotes itself as a magazine that encourages women to be themselves, filling its pages with lots of self-esteem boosting pieces. Perhaps this is true but how can young girls believe this content if every flick of the page presents them with an unrealistic image of beauty? The women pictured in Cleo need to represent the notion that we come in all kinds of fabulous shapes and sizes with all kinds of fabulous features. Otherwise the articles about ‘accepting yourself’ and ‘being happy in your skin’ are rendered useless in the contradiction.
Many of the forum participants had strong and relevant views about the unrealistic expectations of beauty presented in magazine. Views that are being echoed throughout Australian society. But where do we go from here? I applaud Jess Barlow, petition signatories and forum participants for taking a stand and striving to engage a popular magazine in a healthy, productive discussion.
It seems that I may have jumped the gun earlier though as Cleo would more likely be Couldn’t Care Less Bear…
What do you think? Is it up to the Government to introduce strict image policies, consumers to stop buying these magazines or should more pressure be put on the publications to change?