There will be acres of coverage in print and on the web about the ending of the “tradition” of a topless female on page 3 of The Sun, but for what it’s worth here are some of my thoughts. I should qualify this article by saying I don’t think I’ve always been the “new man” I’m painting myself to be here, but I’ve always found Page 3 to be rather weird (a word which crops up a few time in this article).
Back in the days when I often had to buy The Sun and other papers as part of my job, I was never especially comfortable opening the cover page and being confronted with bare breasts. It wasn’t the breasts per se, I’m not prudish about toplessness or nudity in the right context, and I don’t carry a napkin with me in case of a breastfeeding emergency in my local cafe.
I think what always made me feel awkward when reading P2 or the other stories on P3 was the rather bizarre context-less context. Let me explain further; the models themselves were mostly flat-lit and posed against a garish backdrop, which left them with little personality. They never looked entirely comfortable to me and the poses and the pointlessness of their being in the paper at all frankly made it all a bit, well, weird.
Sometimes they were posed in front of a plain colour backdrop, other times a faked out-doorsy sort of a thing, which looked even weirder. The studio style changed over the years, but it was always with the intention of putting a topless woman in a completely abstract context without any effort to apply any artistic values.
Of course if you’re going to run a topless model photo every day (setting aside the question “why would you?”), it inevitably becomes a sausage-machine process and art will go out the window, sacrificed on the altar of repeatability and efficiency. Which further degrades the integrity of the model, the photographer, the images and the licence to justify the whole exercise.
The other problem of context is that in which the paper would be read, often in public or in a place visible to the public, or in homes with children. If you’re looking at a photo, painting or sculpture of a topless woman in an art gallery it’s within the context of considering art for art’s sake. You might not like what you see, or you might think it’s amazing, but the Page 3 photos were never art and they didn’t bring a splash of art to the page. So having them visible in public was never about bringing “art” to a wider audience. It was all about a woman being used to sell more papers.
P3 model Leilani poses for a newspaper reader offer. Those are seed bags, not Class A drugs!
Now I’m not going to argue with a woman’s right to pose however and for whomever she wishes and I’ve nothing against artistic nudity. I even worked with one or two Page 3 models in my press days (not in a P3 context though), and they were professional and great to work with, but Page 3 has definitely had its day and it was never an especially glorious day. It probably started as a bit of a dare, a giggle for the blokes, but in the tobacco and alcohol-fuelled, testosterone-driven newsrooms of the 1970s, no man was going to stand up and say “actually guys, this is a bit offensive and weird really isn’t it?” They’d have been chucked out or branded a “poofter” at a time when newsrooms were full of manly men.
On the one hand the loss of Page 3 has little affect on my life. I haven’t bought or read The Sun for many years, but I’m pleased that one area of misogyny can be laid to rest. Unfortunately this has come at a time when artless, exploitative nudity in all its forms is more visible than ever. It’s a bit like blowing out the candle once the house has burst into flames, and Page 3 endures on The Sun’s website which one day will be more widely read than the printed version, which you might be comforted to know really isn’t that many readers in the greater scheme of things.