Sarah Murdoch Untouched

The cover of the November issue of The Australian <em>Women’s Weekly</em>
The cover of the November issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly

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.

Murdoch covering her wrinkles on the larger-than-life cover
Murdoch covering her wrinkles on the larger-than-life cover.

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?


4 thoughts on “Sarah Murdoch Untouched

  1. Wow, could you imagine what that magazine would look like? It’d be amazing. Picture a magazine that made the decision to follow that charter to show diversity in body images and held their advertisers to it as well. Wow. I’d buy that magazine no matter what it was about.

  2. I apologize for my bad english spoken, however I have to thank you a lot for the work you’re doing, both with this blog and both with actions…
    In Italy we have the worst situation about female body image in media.
    Since I was young I wished to do a magazine like that Ariah’s comment.
    At the moment all I can do is a blog and photo exhibitions to show real beauty of women, called “An other (kind of) woman”, in Italian “Un’Altra Donna”:

    I’m learning so much from About face, thank you again!

  3. Ahh, it’s too bad to see this beautiful woman covering her wrinkles.. Wrinkles are natural and beautiful to me. Nothing can be as bad as facial hair that returns with a vengeance.

  4. I think we need to realize the direct connection between “preferred body type” and pornography.
    Weather the pornography industry started or cashes in on the idea of “preferred body type” it perpetuates it. Women, naturally, want men to like and desire them. Pornographic representation of the female body (regardless of what pornographers have it doing) program men to arousal only when the woman looks like the images they have been fed since adolescence. The epidemic of impotence (the inability to perform with the partner in your life without visual aids) can be directly linked to the pornography industry. Programing men to only respond to women who fit the pornographers image of the “perfect sexual female machine” also programs them to be less than interested in real women.

    The fashion and cosmetic industries reinforce the ideas fed by the porn industry and thus these images are also presented to women. In essence women are also fed the tripe presented to men thereby completing the never ending circle.

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