Molly Lavender considers a slew of calendars which reduce women to body parts
Ah, January. Time for New Year’s resolutions, turning over a new leaf and so on. Time also, perhaps, for hanging up calendars. Actors, sporting heroes, comedians: it seems that every public figure worth their salt has a calendar on the market. Inevitably, amongst the calendars of pop stars and film stars there are also myriad calendars of glamour models.
Glamour calendars have been around for years and, unfortunately, are no longer anything shocking. However, this year I noticed a worrying trend: the emergence of body-part calendars. Now, I’m not talking about body parts in the Gunter von Hagens sense, although, who knows? Maybe he does have his own calendar, depicting preserved bodies in hilarious, month-by-month themed poses. No, what I’m talking about are calendars of female body parts that are disconnected from their owners.
For the first year, it seems (although please do correct me if I’m wrong), we are being confronted with a plethora of calendars dedicated to breasts, legs and bottoms. There are five in particular which have caught my eye, although there may be more in existence. These are: The Big Breast Calendar, Bum Titty Bum Bum, Hot XXX Bums, Legs and Butt Serious. The first three are British creations. Legs I’m not too sure about, but judging from the style of photography it is probably made in the US. Butt Serious definitely originates in the US, as can be ascertained from the use of the word “butt” instead of “bum”. The point is that this is not a trend limited to either the UK or the US.
My introduction to the world of body part calendars began with The Big Breast Calendar (also available in desktop and diary formats). Out of all the calendars mentioned, I’d guess that it would be The Big Breast Calendar that women would react most negatively to – feminist and non-feminist alike – but that doesn’t mean that the others should be let off with just a slap on the wrist. Legs, for example, almost seems relatively harmless and sweet. The idea that a man might become sexually aroused at the sight of a woman’s bare legs seems rather Victorian in these breast-obsessed times. However, it still commits the cardinal sin of treating women as a collection of body parts and not as whole people.
There’s no denying that we currently live in a society where the breast, over and other body part, is held up as a measure of a woman’s sexual attractiveness and worth. When it comes to breasts, we swallow the idea that bigger is better, and therefore the assumption that all women want bigger breasts, without question. So, doubtless, some may read this article and mistake my arguments for female sexual jealousy. Or, to put it more eloquently, “you’re just jealous cos they’ve got bigger tits than you!” I would like to point out that it’s not the size I have an objection to. I’d be just as incensed if the breasts on show came in small, medium and large. What I object to is the breaking down of women into their component parts. The reduction of women to sex objects in the crudest way possible.
Bum Titty Bum Bum takes the form of a desktop calendar. Its selling point is that each time a page is torn off the calendar there will be a new picture of either breasts or bum – but it’s a surprise which one you get! Which will it be, titty or bum bum? Ooh, matron! This calendar is clearly marketed as “a bit of a laugh”; the title alone is designed to raise a smirk. Many would probably argue that it’s cheeky and British and in the spirit of the Carry On films. However, the Carry On films were not explicit. They relied on innuendo and suggestion as opposed to nudity.
Another issue I have with Bum Titty Bum Bum is its tagline. The tagline reads, “the calendar for men who love women”. This is a nice line, a nice get-out, but unfortunately it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If the creators of this calendar love women so much, why have they cut the rest of their bodies out of the photographs? If an alien civilisation made contact with the human race tomorrow and discovered this calendar, they would not recognise the objects depicted as living things. These are pictures of pieces of flesh, pieces of meat. Aside from the fact that these are obviously female parts, there is no clue that we’re looking at women, at actual human beings. The awkward, annoying parts of us have been cut away. The faces that register emotion. The minds that question. The mouths that answer back. Heaven forbid that the buyers of this calendar be put off their masturbatory activities by the thought of a real woman; a real human being with feelings and desires and opinions.
Correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve had a look in calendar shops, both on the high street and on the internet, and I can find no male equivalent of these calendars. As far as I’m aware, there is no “cock of the month” calendar. Perhaps such a thing is available in sex shops, but even then it would probably be marketed towards gay men rather than heterosexual women. Of course men do appear in calendars, but even then they are pictured rather differently than the women. A case in point is the Hollyoaks Hunks and Babes calendars. From the front covers the differences are apparent. The ‘babes’ are pictured in bras, knickers, stockings and suspenders, with high stiletto heels. The ‘hunks’ are topless, but get to keep their jeans on, and are barefoot. The men are allowed to cover their bottom halves but the women are nearly naked and therefore much more vulnerable. Even in the perennially popular firemen calendars that are aimed at women, the men are nearly completely clothed, with only their torsos bare.
There is no such thing as a male glamour model. Why? Because there is no need for such a thing. I’m not saying that straight and bisexual women would not like to see a man posing naked for their delectation; perhaps we would, if ever we were given the opportunity. But whereas the career opportunities for men are almost limitless, glamour modelling is presented as one of the very few ‘acceptable’ and attractive ways for girls to make money (I’m purposely using the word ‘girls’ here, as glamour models are always referred to as ‘glamour girls’ and never glamour women. Presumably this is because girls are less threatening than women, more naïve, more malleable). Supposedly we live in an equal society, where men and women can do the same jobs and get paid the same amount for doing so(!). However, the range of “acceptable” jobs for a woman is much narrower than it is for men. So let’s see, what are the traditional jobs for women accepted by society? Nurse, teacher, office worker, childminder, shop worker, model. Anything else is looked upon with a frown and the phrase, “that’s a bit different for a woman”.
Glamour modelling is presented as a way for young women to increase their self-esteem and achieve success. A form of success that is almost entirely dependent on pleasing other people and doing what you are told. I find it peculiar that glamour models are presented as strong and powerful role models for young women, when in actuality their personal power is close to nil. The argument for them being good role models goes something like this, “they’re independent women getting out there and making their own money; they’re setting a good example”. The trouble is, taking your clothes off for male gratification and then getting paid if you are considered to be fit enough is not really empowerment. Nor is being pressured to have plastic surgery in order to conform to a very specific standard of beauty conducive to self-esteem.
Glamour modelling is one very narrow form of empowerment, yet it’s all too often presented as the only form of empowerment attainable for young women. Other options are not publicised. Getting a job in the City as a stockbroker and making pots of money is also empowering, but nobody mentions that. As is being an entrepreneur and starting your own business. Or becoming a doctor.
Another argument often put forward is, “these glamour models are fooling thousands of men into parting with their money, so who’s REALLY being taken advantage of?” It’s tempting to think of foolish, drooling men lining up to throw their money at young, naked women. Tempting, but incorrect. If there really were a woman alive so sexually potent that the merest glimpse of her flesh was enough to turn men into simpering slaves, then maybe you’d have a point. The truth is that if ever a glamour model decides to retire, there are 10 girls willing to take her place. Maybe that says something about the celebrity culture that’s so rampant in this country at the moment. But the point is that rather than men queuing up to part with their money, there are women queuing up to take their clothes off for validation and remuneration. I rather think that puts the advantage in the hands of the consumers of glamour models, not the models themselves.
I’m not saying that glamour calendars should be banned, as I think that the moment we ban something we close off the possibility of any future intelligent discourse on it. Instead, here’s a newsflash: straight and bisexual men like looking at naked women. And I’m not going to condemn them for it. The female form is a beautiful thing. I’d just like more young women have aspirations of being something other than eye candy. We need to change women’s attitudes about themselves. This may sound odd to any male readers, but teenage girls are not encouraged to have personalities. Advice in girls’ magazine on how to get a boyfriend basically boils down to looking pretty and laughing at his jokes. Looking out for his needs whilst reducing herself to what she looks like and nothing else. And this is very damaging, as when a woman places all of her personal value solely on her looks, her self-esteem is very fragile. Any gain or loss of weight, and the aging process itself, can lead to a feeling of unworthiness. But if a woman has developed her character, her personality, that’s something she can rely on for life.
Possibly there will always be topless modelling. At least, I can’t see it disappearing in my lifetime. What would make me happy, though, would be to see a drop in the number of girls who want to become glamour models; to see the next generation of young women value their minds and personalities just as much as their looks. We need to help girls find out what they want out of life and stop telling them that being desirable is the only route to happiness. Obsessing over somebody else’s approval and trying to modify yourself accordingly is expensive, exhausting and not at all empowering. Let’s put an end to this ersatz empowerment and start looking at how women can make the best of all their attributes, not just their physical ones, and perhaps, in time, glamour modelling will no longer be seen as a legitimate career choice for young girls. However, when it comes to these hateful body part calendars, time is something we don’t have. They are an enemy of equality and must be nipped in the bud now. For as long as women’s bodies are being carved up and sold as commodities we can never be seen as anything more than conveniences for men and not as the fully-rounded people that we are.