Something unprecedented has happened in the world of Australian women’s magazines: model, actress, and presenter Sarah Murdoch voluntarily appeared un-retouched on the cover of The Australian Women’s Weekly (a publication similar to U.S. magazines like Woman’s Day or Good Housekeeping). Her wrinkles are clearly visible, as well as some freckles and other skin discolorations.
Inside the magazine, the lengthy feature article discusses Murdoch’s home life, charity work, upcoming TV show, and her role in the National Advisory Group on Body Image. This advisory group is chaired by Mia Freedman, a former editor of magazines including Cosmopolitan, and various people from healthcare, the media and charitable organizations.
Last week, the group announced its recommendations to the government along with revealing Murdoch’s cover image. The recommendations include a voluntary code of conduct for magazines to show more diversity in body shape, mainly so teenagers can stop being forced to make unrealistic comparisons between these images and their own bodies.
When announcing the recommendations, Freedman said: “Some say these industries are built on dreams and aspiration. That’s fine. But who said dreams only come in size zero? Who said everyone aspires to be underweight?”
As is usually the case with magazines publishing “body-positive” images, the question of real change is raised: can these one-off anomalies actually forecast a change in the magazines’ behavior?
A flick through the rest of Women’s Weekly reveals the usual inconsistencies: ultra-retouched advertising for beauty products and fashion spreads, diets, and an article on swimwear for “all shapes and sizes” featuring a very small range of sizes of models.
The magazine’s editor, Helen McCabe, was quite open when questioned about whether she would commit to publishing these types of images as standard, saying:
I can’t possibly commit to that, I’m a realist… There are real business imperatives why magazines have gone this way. It’s a very competitive industry and I’m–at this stage–just taking a little baby step and seeing how this goes for now.
I applaud Women’s Weekly for publishing un-retouched images, and the advisory group for drawing attention to these issues. There has been significant positive support for the move and I hope that the magazine industry listens.
However, I found it sad that at the magazine’s launch, Murdoch shied away from the blown-up image of the cover, and made self-deprecating comments about her wrinkles and spots. Could it be that these issues are more than skin deep?