“Guys talk about female body image”

That’s the title of an article by David Penberthy currently up on The Punch. The Punch is an Australian opinion site, owned by News Limited. David Penberthy has been a News Limited employee for years, and is the former editor of Sydney’s tabloid, the Daily Telegraph.

The reason for David jumping on the self-esteem bandwagon is that Australia has been knee-deep in a body image discussion. Last month, the National Advisory Group on Body Image – which was established by the Australian government in March – submitted the Proposed National Strategy on Body Image to the government. Among the recommendations is a Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image, which recommends using ‘healthy weight’ models (a pretty ambiguous term), realistic and natural images of people and disclosure when images of people have been digitally manipulated. The report is currently under consideration by the government, and they will release their response in 2010. You can read the complete report here or, if you’re lazy, a summary of the recommendations here.

So that’s all pretty positive. There was a lot of consulatation and the report attracted a lot of national press. But David felt that this process what missing something, and that something was men.

The Punch has today assembled this special package of pieces about female body image through the eyes of blokes.

Nevermind that the report is aimed at both sexes (though it should be noted that there is a focus on females) and is primarily targeted to school-aged people. Forget that. David wants to talk about chicks he thinks are hot.

We were moved to embark on this project because the one missing feature from the important national debate about female body image is that at no stage has anybody asked the blokes what they think.

It’s a pity – because there is now some interesting evidence that women are laying a serious guilt-trip on themselves and reinforcing stereotypes about their size and shape which have absolutely no bearing on whether men find them attractive or not.

This is the most petulant statement I’ve read in a long time. ALL THIS TALK ABOUT HOW WOMEN FEEL ABOUT THEMSELVES AND NO ONE ASKED MEEEEEEEEEEE.

I get that this, though obviously sensationalist, was well-intentioned and that too many women think that they are unattractive to others. But it’s so fucking ridiculous for anyone to think that the magic cure to low self-esteem is what men find attractive. Get your hand off it, Dave.

It’s possible that men haven’t been quizzed on their sexual preferences as part of the consultation process because a woman’s body image should not be tethered to what men find attractive. How revolutionary.


14 Responses to ““Guys talk about female body image””

  1. 1 Julie 16 November, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    I have read all the stories on The Punch this morning with a furrowed brow and agree with you the feeling is rather petulant. It’s like they feel they have been deliberately excluded from a process or that their opinion has been cast aside.

    It’s all a bit patriarchal but I must admit I do quite like that clip of the young fella singing ‘Fat Bottomed Girls!’

    • 2 Frances 16 November, 2009 at 4:39 pm

      Yeah, it all rubs me up the wrong way (except ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ – one can never be angry at Queen). I get what they were trying to do, but this was such a self-involved way of going about it: “Ladeeeeez, don’t worry! I’ll have sex with you!”

  2. 4 newswithnipples 16 November, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    I’m amazed that he honestly thinks that asking 100 blokes what body parts they think are hot is a helpful contribution to the female body image discussion. Call me crazy, but it’s just another article on “how you can be hotter for men”. And we don’t need any more of those.

  3. 5 hsofia 16 November, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Your take on it is right on!

  4. 6 Trabb's Boy 17 November, 2009 at 1:42 am

    Haaaa ha ha ha ha! I love it! He really feels like he could do women a big favour here!

  5. 7 Atchka! 17 November, 2009 at 3:43 am

    As a guy, I’d like to play devil’s advocate. Personally, I think FA is mostly a woman’s issue since women bear the brunt of society’s contempt for fat.

    I think the fact that David doesn’t understand the reality of fat bigotry should not be a surprise. The argument that men actually pay attention to is how women feel the need to lose weight to be attractive like the women in the magazines. That’s the part you hear about most… from the magazines, who seem to be trying to acknowledge their role in escalating body acceptance issues.

    I didn’t read the article (no time today), but from what you’ve written, the intent doesn’t seem to be to dismiss all the “real” issues of FA, but to get a guy’s perspective, which is (again, having not read it, not 100%) that women shouldn’t worry about losing weight to be attractive because most men aren’t attracted to waifs.

    Of course, it goes completely against what FA *should* be about (accepting yourself for your own mental and physical well-being), but I don’t think that as this dialogue grows you should expect everyone to “get it” right away.

    Is it sexist and self-absorbed? Absolutely. But should they get credit for trying? I think so.

    And, to be fair, there are many, many, MANY women whose entire weight obsession is based on how men perceived them, right or wrong, for better or worse. Although it would be ideal to educate them on the importance of self-worth, not everyone will hear or will want to hear that message.

    Some people just want to be hot.

    And to hear the message that you don’t have to be a size 0 to be an acceptable mate may be a positive message for some people. Maybe it’s not the message we would want to put out there, but it’s better than most of the existing ones.

    Just my two cents.

    (By the way, for some reason I can’t add your blog to my blog roll… you broke it!)


    • 8 Frances 17 November, 2009 at 9:54 am

      The body image discussion that’s taking place in Australia isn’t strictly about FA, as not everyone who suffers from poor body image is fat. One statistic the Advisory Group trot out a lot is that in a national survey of young people (aged 11 to 24) body image has been the second or third most pressing issue affecting Australian youth.

      Which makes this whole exercise all the more confusing. The focus of the proposed strategy is prevention and early intervention – so, they’re aiming at high school kids. Who really should not be thinking about what grown men find attractive.

      I get what Penberthy was trying to do, but it’s so crass. And also contradictory – I know you haven’t read the article, but at one point he writes:

      While not quite a clarion call for the women of Australia to throw out their makeup, schlep around in tracky dacks and generally let themselves go, the findings suggest that women should as a starting point stop fixating and fretting about appearance – and take comfort in the fact that most men want a girl with a pretty face and a nice personality, rather than some foxy airhead with perfect breasts and a stick-thin figure.

      So… men like us the way we are, but we shouldn’t “let ourselves go”?! Face, meet palm.

      (I didn’t break my blog, you broke it! It’s your blogroll!)

      • 9 Atchka! 18 November, 2009 at 3:28 am

        Wow, that’s some Grade A Dumbfuckery. I can see why you’re pissed.

        But I also think David was probably trying to straddle the line between “sensitive male” and “typical guy.”

        When I first started on the Fatosphere, I made many of the same mistakes (like suggesting that an important aspect of FA is that men speak up and say that fat women are attractive to us).

        I don’t think it’s a radical statement to say that male and female priorities are different. Likewise, a man’s priorities for women (and vice versa) are never going to be reflective of a woman’s priorities for women (and vice versa, respectively).

        I don’t think it’s because men are stubborn, self-centered jackasses. I think it’s because we’re ALL stubborn, self-centered jackasses. That is, until we really start to try and understand the other sex, which typically requires listening to what the other sex has to say.

        I’ve only been active on the Fatosphere since September, but already I’ve learned a lot from reading about what women feel are the most important aspects of FA. And I even started at a place where I felt like I understood the goals of FA.

        I guess what I’m saying is to cut the guy some slack. If he screwed up, let him know how he screwed up in a way that isn’t confrontational. Don’t call him a condescending jackass, tell him why he’s a condescending jackass and thank him for trying.

        We have to expect that as people spend more and more time thinking about these issues, they are going to state their opinions which may be half-baked at best and offensive at worst. But was it their intention to be ignorant or condescending? Or do they simply lack the tools and knowledge base to realize how ignorant and condescending they sound?

        Our job should be to educate, not to hate. Let’s tell people when they’re doing good and correct them when they’re not. Doing otherwise may frustrate and alienate potential allies.


        p.s. My blogroll works perfectly with everybody else’s blog. I think that suggests yours is a corrupt failure.

  6. 10 TheRealSydney 17 November, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Loved your post Frances ! I think The Punch’s enlightened perspective was completely crass and inappropriate. Joe Hildebrand’s post about liking ‘fat chicks’ was nothing less than FUCKED to the power of CONDESCENDING!!

    This is what he said of being a ‘fat chick’ – tongue in cheek? I don’t give a fuck, WRONG.

    “It is a sorrowful existence and one that deserves some emancipation”

    • 11 Atchka! 18 November, 2009 at 3:31 am

      I saw this line as referring to the previous paragraph about how unfulfilling it is to strive for thinness (either because of pressure from men or other women). And that women deserved emancipation from the restrictions of that social pressure, that they can do, say, eat what they want and be happy.

      I didn’t see it as saying that being fat was a sorrowful existence.


  7. 12 newswithnipples 18 November, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Don’t forget that Penberthy blames female body image issues on airbrushing in women’s magazines, and made no mention of the airbrushing in Ralph and FHM. (Did you see how one of them turned Ricki-Lee into a fembot?) And then there’s the dumb questions they ask women – have you had a threesome/would you have a threesome/would you have a threesome for your bloke’s birthday/do you pash your girlfriends? – that reduce men and women to these ridiculous two-dimensional sex-obsessed creatures. Ooh, I’m angry today.

  8. 13 Charmony 29 November, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Great post Shannon,
    self worth is not something that is emphasized in this world. Unfortunately, women have been brainwashed into thinking you are only worth it if you are young and beautiful.

  9. 14 Ashlee 8 January, 2010 at 1:54 am

    I wrote a piece that was actually published on The Punch as a reaction to their ‘body image’ special that they did… I wrote it because I didn’t feel their series of articles was completely comprehensive (and ya, this article you are talking about in this post was condescending)… I wanted to put a fat person’s perspective in there (my own, obviously I can’t speak for everyone).

    While some of the articles in their body image week were a bit lacking and perhaps not really that PC, at least it got the conversation going in a few different directions on a fairly mainstream platform. It was far from ideal, but I think they were trying.

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