Coles announced today that it has pulled fashion magazine Harpers Bazaar from it’s shelves due to this “inappropriate” cover image:
“We didn’t think the cover was appropriate for our stores so the decision was made [to remove it],” a Coles spokesman told Fairfax media.
The magazine’s editor, Kellie Hush, is not impressed. “I have had so much positive feedback from around the globe, it is a shame Coles does not also recognise the artistic integrity of this image,” she told Fairfax. “As Gloria Steinem says: ‘The human body is not obscene.’ ”
No, it’s not. But it appears there are some who don’t want to look at it while they’re buying their Rice Bubbles.
Kellie and I have long clashed, loudly and publicly over the way magazines portray women, particularly over the rampant use of photoshop and the lack of diversity among models. But I respect her as an editor and I feel her pain today.
Once upon a time I edited a magazine that was pulled off the shelves at Coles and Woolworths for similar reasons.
The contentious issue was withdrawn because it had a particularly raunchy coverline, “Oral Sex Lessons”, in giant type in the left hand corner. It was Cosmo. It’s what Cosmo has been doing since the 70s using virtually identical words and phrases.
Still, there was something in the public mood that had shifted and I hadn’t noticed.
Shoppers complained that they didn’t want their children to be reading those words and asking awkward questions at the checkout. Furthermore, some people said the word ‘lessons’ made it sound like something children should do. The supermarkets acted swiftly and decisively and it was a financial disaster for the magazine that month.
It was also awkward personally. I had to answer a lot of media enquiries and essentially defend the cover (“Cosmo has been doing stories like this for decades and the story itself is sealed inside the magazine” etc) without dissing the supermarkets who were our second largest distributors.
At the time, I felt all the emotions Harper Bazaar editor, Kellie Hush is probably feeling today: Shocked, infuriated, confused, defiant.
When you work in particular industry among like-minded people, your view of what’s OK is often way out of step with the current mood and wider population. I saw no problem with the Oral Sex coverline because I’d been in women’s magazines for more than a decade and had been writing and publishing coverlines and sealed sections about oral sex, masturbation, threesomes, orgasms and every other permutation of sex every month without complaint.
But under a conservative government, people had became more prudish. The public push-back forced me to recalibrate what Cosmo published on the cover, in accordance with this new mood.
When it was released a couple of weeks ago, the Miranda Kerr cover received international media attention which is a thrill and a coup for any editor. While some people were confused that a fashion magazine was showing a model with no clothes on, that part didn’t surprise me because fashion mags have a long history of doing arty nudes.
What interested me more was the explicitly sexual nature of the shot which makes me sound like my own nana, admittedly. With Miranda’s back arched, her head thrown back and her eyes half closed, it was the kind of image we’re used to seeing in men’s magazines. Who was it meant to appeal to, I wondered. How was it meant to make a potential (female) reader feel? Inspired? Inadequate? Empowered? Fat? Desirous of new shoes?
Do women respond to this kind of sexualised images of other women in a positive or negative way? Genuine question. Not loaded. I wonder. Tell me.
It’s the kind of shot Miranda probably wouldn’t have been able to do when she was a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Ironically, the company has very strict guidelines for its angels and how the brand portrays women. In short: sexy not sexual. There’s a difference, according to them.
I once read an interview with a VS marketing executive who explained the company’s thinking. They know the VS customer is predominantly female and she has to feel comfortable with the Angels in order to buy into the brand. She should want to be friends with the Angels not be scared they would hit on her boyfriend. The image of the Angels had to be relatable rather than raunchy. Friendly not threatening.
That’s why the VS parade looks more like a sexy fancy dress party than a mens’ magazine.
Did you miss the Victoria’s Secret fashion show? Watch the highlights below (post continues after video).
On the subject of men’s magazines, when I was editing Cosmo, a mate who was editing Ralph at the time would always complain I could get away with so much more than he could when it came to my coverlines and cover images. The censor was all over him (he couldn’t ever use the word breasts or vagina on his cover) but I could seemingly get away with being far more explicit (until I couldn’t).
Well duh. Miranda posed nude on Harpers Bazaar is in a totally different context to that same image on Playboy or Zoo (RIP).
Or is it? Supermarket shoppers clearly don’t view that distinction. And the mood has changed. Zoo magazine recently closed, men’s magazines are no longer on sale at supermarket checkouts and Playboy won’t be publishing nude pictures of its playmates anymore.
What remains the same is that the definition of what’s OK is subjective. One person’s “art” is another person’s “inappropriate” or even offensive.
Ultimately, Coles is not an arbiter of artistic integrity. They have to listen to their customers, just like Kellie Hush needs to listen to her readers who may well love the cover.
Arty or inappropriate? You decide.