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A passionate debate about 2 mag covers.

Deborah Hutton on the cover of Austalian Women's Weekly

Been to the supermarket/newsagent/airport yet this holiday period?

You’ve probably seen the avalanche of ‘body’ themed magazine covers. It’s that time of year.

When I was an editor, we always made the January issue body-related. It’s no accident. Everyone is coming out the back of Christmas, feeling like we’ve eaten too much, spending time outdoors or at the beach in cossies, shorts and singlets. Making resolutions that are so very often weight related.

Two covers have stood out for me so far. One I love, the other I loathe. Let’s lead with the positive, shall we.

The Women’s Weekly cover of Deborah Hutton, naked at 50, is my early vote for Cover Of The Year. I adore it. Yes, it has been air-brushed but to my eye (and having seen Deb Hutton in a cossie in real life), it’s minimal. There are lines on her face, there is texture to her skin.  [OK, so after reading all your comments and thinking about it for a couple of days, I’m hearing what you’re saying and I agree, the photoshopping is disappointing, again].

She looks beautiful and portraying a 50yo woman like this was a brave and exciting decision for editor Helen McCabe to take (clarification: what would have made it even more brave and exciting is if it had not been airbrushed). I’m hearing there have been some irate older and more conservative readers who have cancelled their subscriptions to AWW in a huff of nude-inspired outrage.

But I love the fact that a woman can be portrayed and perceived as attractive and sensual at 50.

THREE CHEERS FOR THAT.

It’s progress, I think. There’s approximately a million miles to go until women are depicted in a realistic way but this is a step forward (the fact that she is 50 and not the subject of a weight loss story). And it’s so rare that my heart doesn’t fall into my shoes every time I catch sight of a magazine cover, this is one to cheer me.

The Woman's Day cover

Not so much AWW’s stablemate at ACP, Woman’s Day. Here’s their cover – I snapped it at the supermarket where I’m on holidays.

In case you can’t read the words, they go like this:

Liz vs Simone BIKINI WAR ‘My beach body’s better than hers!’

The two women pictured are Liz Hurley and Simone Callahan and it’s difficult to know where to even start with how insulting and ridiculous this cover is, this CONCEPT is.

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War? Really? A bikini war? Ugh.

Vote with your wallets, people. When you’re looking for some holiday reading, don’t buy magazines whose messages you don’t agree with. And if you have kids around, remember that little minds are looking at those words and images and making their own sense of them….

UPDATE: So I’ve been reading your comments all morning while on holidays and I’ve just put down the phone from Women’s Weekly editor Helen McCabe to get the real story on the Deb Hutton cover.

So interesting. All of it – the part where some of you have called me out for being a hypocrite (“how can ‘minimal’ air-brushing be OK?”), the part where others have insisted it’s a black and white issue (“you’re either against airbrushing or OK with it”), the part where some have thrown up their hands in bafflement that I thought Deb Hutton posing for the Australian Women’s Weekly (AWW) was any different to Ricky-Lee posing for Maxim, the part where some have suggested this entire post is about giving ‘a free plug’ to a mate, the part where some Mamamia staff have questioned my judgement in running this post……and on and on for 120 comments or so.

Being on holidays and all, I’m not quite razor-sharp so bear with me a little as I try to unpick what I loved about the AWW cover, what I didn’t and where I stand on the issue of photoshop.

As many have noted and as I stated myself, Deborah is someone I know and like very much. So is the editor of AWW, Helen McCabe – she and I have had many many discussions about magazines, photoshop and the role it all plays in women’s body image but more about that in a moment.

I loved the cover for a few reasons. Firstly, because I think it radiates warmth in the way Deborah does in real life. It captures that. Secondly, because she is 50 years old and she is not on the cover – or naked- because she’s recently lost weight. For once, a magazine cover of a female celebrity is not based on her weight. HOO-BLOODY-RAY.

To me, it’s a refreshing image because women over 40 (heck, women over 25 it sometimes feels like) are often seen as invisible. The last naked celebrity I recall being on a women’s mag cover was Jennifer Hawkins a few years ago when she was about 24.

Would I have loved this image more if it hadn’t been photoshopped? YES YES YES. A thousand times yes. I should perhaps have clarified that a bit more vehmently in my original post but I assumed (clearly incorrectly) that my position on that matter was well known. I am against photoshop which is why when I was photographed for AWW myself, I asked that no photoshop work be done.

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And it wasn’t. So yes, I DO walk my talk.

Back to Deb’s cover, when I first saw the mag, I did note the the photoshopping was – to my expert eye – minimal, something I have since confirmed with Helen McCabe when I called her just now. Both Deborah and Helen were adamant that the cover be minimally re-touched and that she ‘look her age’.

In earlier versions of the cover, the retouching (by the photographer who always has ultimate control of how much or little an image is digitally altered) was too heavy and they requested it be pulled back.

I do not like air-brushing. I do not like it one bit.

Do I wish there was no air-brushing at all? Yes. Do I prefer minimal and declared air-brushing to heavy, undeclared air-brushing? Yes.  Do I have control over whether an image is air-brushed or not? No. Does everyone who contributes to Mamamia agree with my position on airbrushing? No. Do I believe air-brushing will ever be phased out entirely? Sadly, no.

So what are we left with? An industry who stubbornly believe that we – the readers they are trying to entice to buy their product – will not fork over our cash if there’s an un-airbrushed woman on the cover.

I say bollocks to that but I’m not in charge of those decisions anymore. I don’t have to report to a publisher who is shaking his fist (and yes, magazine publishing bosses are ALWAYS male) and demanding to know why my circulation is down – and that is what magazine editors insist will happen if they dare to run a REAL image of a REAL woman, one who hasn’t been created with a computer.

But what if circulation is not down? What if ditching the airbrush INCREASES sales? What if it prompts women like me – and maybe you – to return to the newsagent and pick up a magazine for the first time in years? Looks like we’ll never know because no editor seems to be prepared to take that risk.

Still. I applaud Helen McCabe – not just because she’s my friend, I have many many friends who are mag editors and trust me when I tell you I do not applaud them all – for being the only editor I know who is pushing for less re-touching (“because readers are demanding it”, she tells me) and who is consistently transparent about what digital alteration is done to her covers.

I can think of no other editor who is even pretending to listen to the consumer demand for more transparency. So props for that.

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We still argue about it. I still told her today -again –  that I passionately believe her premise is wrong. That there is no need to make the cover image (or any other image) more “glossy and commercial” with photoshop when we’re talking about women who are already very beautiful and lit in extraordinarily flattering ways by talented photographers such as David Gubert who took these shots of Deborah.

So for anyone who was under the misguided impression that I have stopped fighting the fight against photoshop – either publicly or behind the scenes, you are WRONGITY WRONG WRONG.

Back to why I liked the image. I like looking at images of women – clothes, unclothed, whatever. I think the female face and body is beautiful – in all the different forms in which it comes. I like that AWW have showcased the idea of a 50 year old woman being attractive, outside and in. Most of all I like – actually I love – the words that go with these images inside the magazine where Deborah writes about her relationship with her body and her motivation for posing for these pictures.

She writes about how insecure she was about her body in her teens and twenties when she was modelling and constantly being told to lose weight. About how two skin cancer scares and a neck injury gave her new respect for her body and what it can DO rather than how thin it is. About how there is too much emphasis placed on being a certain weight and not on being healthy. About how she is more accepting of her body -with all its ‘imperfections’ at 50 than she has ever been before in her life.

Yes, I do think it’s disappointing of everyone involved in the production of these images that some of those ‘imperfections’ were not deemed worthy of public view. It pisses me off and baffles me that anyone would think that. So yes, I guess I’m conflicted.

I also find it so interesting the way that month after month, heavily airbrushed images and drastically altered faces and bodies on the covers of magazines go unnoticed. But when an editor pushes the boundaries a little and does something a bit different – like putting a 50 year old woman on the cover –  there’s an outcry. I am in violent agreement that editors and magazines must be held to account and that we should vote with our wallets. But I was also encouraged by SOME of the taboos broken with this cover. Now if only they could break a few more.