The airbrushing of Ellis

Lydia Turner (managing director of BodyMatters) has an interesting piece in today’s Online Opinion about the photo shoot Kate Ellis did for Grazia:

“Yet again we’ve seen another body image blunder pushed into the spotlight with Minister for Youth Kate Ellis donning tight-fitting leather clothes and dominatrix-style eight-inch heels in a bid to improve the esteem of Australian women.”

Even with my rudimentary knowledge of fashion, I know that “leather is back” and the connection between S&M and those shoes in mainstream fashion is long gone. But here’s the thing: I think people should be able to wear whatever they like, as long as it’s vaguely situation-appropriate (no undie-flashing skirts in the office, thankyouverymuch). Even though I personally believe leggings are not pants, if you want to wear them as pants, then all power to you. So, to me, it doesn’t matter what Kate Ellis is wearing in a fashion shoot, as long as she’s wearing something.

“It shouldn’t surprise anyone when Grazia quotes Jennifer Aniston, “looking good is the best revenge!” But what is Ellis doing supporting this tokenistic stunt? Having recommended, through her National Advisory Board, that a diverse range of body sizes and shapes should be portrayed in magazines, it is rather odd to then engage in a photoshoot that upholds current beauty standards and allowing images of oneself that are most likely airbrushed. Perhaps she just wants to look glamorous in a fashion shoot but needs to cover it in tokenistic body image/self-esteem jargon?”

To me, the airbrushing issue is the only one Ellis needs to be honest about. I’d suggest the editor-in-chief Alison Veness-McGourty needs to be honest about airbrushing in her magazine, but we all know I’m more likely to grow a third breast before that ever happens. So, like marie claire editor Jackie Frank before her (the Jennifer Hawkins shoot), the person in charge slinks quietly in the background, happily letting someone else cop the grief.

“Perhaps most frustrating is that young, smart high-profile women are routinely subjected to sexualised scrutiny, regardless of their profession. Natasha Stott-Despoja, Stephanie Rice, Julia Gillard, Penny Wong, Gabriella Cilmi – who recently stripped to “prove” she’s “all grown up” – the list is endless.

One of the functions of sexualising powerful women is that they become less threatening. Their abilities fade into the background while all that is focused on is whether they are ‘hot-or-not’.”

This is a different issue. I don’t agree that Ellis has been sexualised in this shoot, because that implies that, as a 32-year-old, she shouldn’t be sexy. If she’d posed for Zoo or Ralph, that would be different. But this is a fashion shoot to accompany a story in a women’s fashion mag. I’m only going on the photos published online, but there are no crotch-shots, no orgasm-face, so it’s hardly sexualised. But her point about sexualising powerful women is a good one.

When I first saw this story reported, I thought ‘good on her’. Anything that gets more people interested in politics should be encouraged. And no, I’m not suggesting that she’s using her looks to get people interested – it’s about taking politics out of the dry news setting and reaching people who aren’t normally interested.

But one thing that shits me in all of this is this idea that ‘women are their own worst enemies’. It’s simply a convenient way of putting the blame solely on women. It isn’t women running these publishing houses, and it certainly isn’t women running the advertising industry. And those who say ‘women still buy these magazines even though the ads are all airbrushed’ is, quite frankly, an idiot. Who buys magazines for the ads?

“There are no easy solutions to our current plague of body image problems. At the same time, none of us should have to put up with faux attempts to put things right. Grazia is merely giving the appearance of wanting to empower women. Ellis’ participation only upholds existing beauty standards while catering to the sexual fantasies of men.

Given that girls and women are already taught that their worth is measured by how sexually desirable they are, having our Youth Minister reiterate that message just trivialises an issue she seems to care deeply about.”

As Turner says, there are no easy answers. And while they can be easily dismissed as stunts, putting Sarah Murdoch and Jennifer Hawkins on magazine covers, unairbrushed, is actually a pretty good start. It’s about baby steps. You can’t change an entire industry overnight, you have to take everyone with you. So, an unairbrushed model today, then a size 10 model tomorrow, and who knows, one day the plus-sized models may even get to wear clothes in fashion mags, rather than being half-nude all the time. And while we push for less airbrushing and different body types, we have to keep in mind that models will always be photogenic. That’s their job.

Funnily enough, Turner includes a quote from our old friend “mick of brisbane”:

“She is the sexiest politician I have ever seen!!! I wonder if she would do a photo shoot for Penthouse? With all funds raised going to the community of course!!! I think she could pull off a centrefold with ease!!!”

16 responses to “The airbrushing of Ellis

  1. Mick of Brisbane wins our overuse of exclamation marks award for this week though!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. nice analysis by the way NWN, one widdle point tho:

    “And those who say ‘women still buy these magazines even though the ads are all airbrushed’ is, quite frankly, an idiot. Who buys magazines for the ads?”

    its not just the ads that air brushed usually whoever is in the feature story is cleaned up too…unles the focus of the story is on their dimply thighs, face wrinkles or weird armpits.

  3. Final point, I am not sure whether this was a good or a bad move for women by Kate Ellis (although it is her right to do and wear as she pleases) as I have not seen the article. What I will say is that if the Minister had been an attractive young man photographed in an uber-fashionable suit or modern garb there simply would not be the debate, that is what shits me most about this. Women (especially those in the public eye) seem to have to answer to so many more subtexts, analysis and agendas than their male counterparts. NO FAIR!

  4. I think that if we had seen a young male politician dressed in similar garb that just as many eyebrows would have been raised, perhaps even more. As some-one who plays in the BDSM world the photo that I saw in the newspaper was highly erotic.

    I personally found it offensive. I don’t mind what sex games politicians get up to (provided they are legal) but I resent having it used to promote them. I would like the member of parliament that I vote into office to be more concerned with serious issues and leave the sex out of it.

    • Maybe we’ve been looking at different photos? I didn’t think it was particularly erotic. “On trend” (as they say), with the leather and towering heels, but not erotic…

  5. I should be more clear about why I found the photo offensive.

    The photo I saw was shot in a vacant lot beside a chain link fence. Ms Ellis was wearing ridiculously high heels so that the most determined man or woman could easily outpace her if she was to run. This leads to indicating that if we wished to we could easily overpower her, tie her to the fence and have our evil ways with her.

    If I was one of her constituents I would be worried.

    Either she was not intelligent enough to work this out for herself….and surely we want intelligent MP’s…… or she was not tough enough to insist that the photo shoot picture her as a dominant woman. …..If she is not tough enough to do this with a photographer how can we be certain that she will be determined and tough in dealing with the issues that are important to her constituents.

    • Ah, now that’s interesting. I don’t always make that connection to high heels, probably because I’m not really interested in them so the few pairs I own have sensible heels. But isn’t decrying high heels because you can’t run away from someone in them, implying that you’re too weak to fight in the first place? Or to talk your way out of trouble? Or to use the heel as a weapon?

  6. I wear very high heels and know exactly what they do to my balance and gait. If they have steel tips then yes you could damage some-one if you were very good at balance on one foot. But from memory the shoes she was wearing were in a gladiator style with very little support around the ankle and without the steel heels. Trying to balance in one of them and then give some-one an injury would be a feat indeed.

    I would certainly hope that she has the ability to talk or charm her way out of trouble if that is the way she is happy to dress in such isolated spots.

    • Is there a difference between wearing them in a photo shoot, surrounded by hair, make-up, magazine people, and wearing them out in public? Doll, I’m going to keep prodding you because I don’t actually have an opinion one way or the other on heels so I’m always interested in those who do!

  7. Absolutely,

    surrounded by all those publicity and photographic personnel there is bound to be some-one to lean on when you need to walk about. For all we know she may have walked barefoot to the place she posed and then had some -one strap them on for her.

    I wear uber high heels but ensure they have good ankle support. I have tried strappy ones but the risk of ankle breakage is severe. Either way once the foot is raised onto tippy toes the length of the pace decreases significantly and I have to take two or three teetering steps to an ordinary low heeled persons pace. I teeter on those heels but the salespeople are always amazed by my ability to stand and walk in them. One of the results of dance training I think. They rarely get worn in the street just occasionally from a car into a restaurant.

  8. Yes,

    I am very careful to maintain my image at work. it is important that my clients listen to what I say and respect it. If they sit there picturing me in my fetish clothing they are not going to hear my advice and possibly if they do hear my voice they won’t give it value. I am not a public figure but still I take care to minimize time in public in attire that is more questionable.

    As a public figure and having taken a role where she represents all the members of her constituency it is my opinion she has crossed an unsatisfactory boundary with this photo shoot. Why was it necessary for her to publicise herself in such a provocative way? What was she hoping to achieve as a politician, did it improve outcomes for her constituents? I’m going to seem like an old fuddy duddy but I would have preferred her to promote a stronger, wiser vision of womanhood.

    • I love anyone who presents a strong vision of womanhood. But I think I’m in danger of talking out my arse here, because I haven’t read the article so I don’t know what’s in it. She’s the member for Adelaide – maybe she does represent her constituency? Maybe she regularly wears leather dresses and killer heels , not in a DBSM way, but in a follower of fashion way. Because regardless of its BDSM origins, that’s the look at the moment.

      I do think it’s important for politicians to not just be middle-aged white men in suits, because they certainly aren’t representative of Australia. They don’t represent me.

  9. Certainly it is important that we are represented by more than the old boys network still I am sorry that she descended to what was close to a Dolly shoot. She may be the minister for youth but she is now a decade or more away from that age group.

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