Will the daily body shaming and policing of women’s behaviour ever end? Apparently not.



The last few months have been particularly bad for the shaming and policing of women’s bodies in the media, both in New Zealand and globally. First we had NZ Newstalk ZB presenter Rachel Smalley referring to women weighing over 70kgs as “heifers” and “a bunch of lardos” on air when she thought her microphone was switched off – awkward. Then we had the embarrassingly homophobic and sexist (pulled, after outcry) Veet which declared failing to remove your leg-hair would turn you into a dude within 24 hours. “Don’t Risk Dudeness” was Veet’s slogan – because all good girls make sure they are waxed and shaved to flawless perfection or suffer the consequences of “dudeness” or worse yet, possible spinsterhood. 

Then we have Tony Burke, the guy who in 2011 started the facebook group creatively called, “Women Who Eat on Tubes” (nice work, moron). The title says it all really; predominantly men taking non-consensual photos of women eating on, yep you guess it, the Tube. Burke, after his site gained attention this year, told BBC Radio 4 Today, he started the group as an “observational study – just like any reportage photography” and that he was from “an artistic community”.

As someone who did half a decade of Art School and majored in photography (which is why I am still busting tables) I believe I hold some weight when I say that Women Who Eat on Tubes is not “reportage photography”. In actuality what these photographs amount to is gender policing, and not only do they harass women but the photos publicly shame them for performing normal bodily functions… like you know, eating. We also shit and pee and puke which I know is horribly unladylike and not very sexy, but a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

In fact not so long ago the French comedian Remi Gaillard undertook a similar endeavour as Burke, but he kicked it up notch. Gaillard, non-consensually videoed himself performing “pretend” sexual acts on unknowing women who were going about their normal daily business, or as he liked to call it “air sex”. Because rape is just so fucking funny – I mean it is only simulated “pretend rape”, right? What is the big deal? I felt like punching my computer screen as I wrote that. Gaillard’s “comedic act” managed to glorify and minimise rape all in one great swooping cinematic action.

Will there be no end to the creative ways people find to humiliate, police and shame women? Apparently not.
Katrina Turner, a model and the organiser for the New Zealand’s Miss. Bikini Pageant and former 2012 winner of the pageant herself, recently told her finalists that they needed to “tone up” and loose weight. I had the opportunity to speak with Turner regarding her comments, and during our conversation I asked her, “Do you think by asking contestants to tone up and loose weight, you feed into a culture which objectifies women and only values them for how they look?” Turner responded with

“The whole goal of Miss. Bikini NZ celebrates the beauty of women; we love all shapes and sizes, however [and it was a big “however”] our winner goes to an international competition. We are a franchise. She is competing against 70 plus other countries, and the girls overseas have a certain standard of the way they need to look. So if you are entering a competition that is swimsuit based… of course there are going to be standards. And having a great body is one of them.”

I guess Turner has a point, really? She made it clear that “all contestants knew what they were getting themselves into” and that they are aware this was a competition based on how you look. However Turner did state “the original message I sent to them [the contestants], I wish I had communicated it to them in a different way with slightly different terminology, because I am not a dietician or trainer”. 
Effectively 17 teenagers and women have been asked to shed “some pounds” in less than a month. And although Turner has hired a trainer called Mike to help the girl’s lose weight “healthily”, it would be hard to shake those pounds in such a short space of time without resorting to some unhealthy eating tactics.

Katrina Turner is [unconsciously] feeding into an over-arching cultural construct which tells women the only currency you have is your body. People, publically and privately make comments like Turners (Rachel Smelley is a good example of someone saying something privately, but it went public) everyday, believing their words are benign when in fact they are perpetuating the constant commentary, policing and shaming of women’s bodies.
I think Katrina Turner made an interesting point when she said to me “contestants knew what they were getting themselves into”. As women we should know intrinsically what we are getting ourselves into from the get go, and I am not just talking about pageants. After all, there is no escaping the daily rape jokes (Remi Gaillard seems to have these down to a fine art) which minimise and trivialise epidemic levels of violence against women, or being told to shed some pounds to fit some ideal which is impossibly hard to obtain. Certainly being told that you are too fat, is not just a “pageant thing”. Everyday women pass billboards that show impossibly thin girls, who are usually white, dictating the ideal body shape and size and ethnicity – and probably selling some shit you do not need to buy.

The more time spent on changing our bodies, the less time we have to change the world. Capitalist patriarchy is built around distracting [us] from the real problems; closing the pay gap between men and women (which has increased 2 per cent in the past decade to 26 per cent), fighting to end violence against women and children, making sure every child has access to free education.

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We cannot even eat in public without some creepy dude with an IPhone taking a snapshot, so it can be uploaded online and complete strangers can say how “grotesque women look when they eat” and tell us that “we [women] should not eat in public”. What should we do instead, stay tethered to the kitchen?

The reality is that most of the behaviour I have pointed out here is “socially enforced” as Laurie Penny points out, “Gender policing is all about the little things. It’s the daily, intimate terrorism of beauty and dress and behaviour…. Cultural disgust for the female body is deeply political. It is tied into reproductive and social control”. Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, appointed himself Women’s Affairs Minister, when he was elected in 2013. A man who is pro-life and once described abortion as the “easy way out”, is fanatically religious, and had his two daughter’s parade around in white dresses during his acceptance speech.

Between being called “lardos”, having some dude who thinks he is being funny, simulating “pretend sex” with women while filming it without permission, and people in government telling us if we can or cannot have babies, a pervasive picture is being painted of how little women are valued in our society and the lengths which are taken to control women’s behaviour. In the words of Beyonce,

“Just another stage to pageant the pain away. This time I’m gonna take the crown without falling down, down, down. Pretty hurts. Shine a light one whatever is worse. Perfection is the disease of a nation. Pretty hurts, pretty hurts, pretty hurts.”


  1. All I can say is that the concept of a Western Taliban is not as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s not just the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or Saudis who try to control women.

    We are just more subtle about how the West acts to put women down.

    In 50 years, our children reading this, shake their heads at how we were…

    • Are you fucking serious? You are aware the Taliban in Afghanistan seriously oppresses women right? In fact RAWA (The Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan) has spent 20 years trying to fight back and educate women and keep them safe.

      What we need is more rigorous critiquing of insidious shit like what I spoke about in my article…

  2. I suspect that if most men who don’t agree with this argument were put in an alternative universe where they suffered the same sort of indignities, they would become extremely angry or break down and cry within a week.

  3. Well what about men in TV ads such as Expol, Tui ads, Trumpet (undies, undies, togs), Toyota Bugger ads, Dove Men Care underarm ads, Mitre 10 DIY (Hey Mate give us a hand Saturday), Toyota Ad where the guy loses his keys, The Freshup ads (Aaaargghh)? Men are portrayed as thick, insensitive, mono-dimensional, one-step-above-Neanderthals.

    ….but you don’t see us whingeing….we’re too busy watching TV with the Sky remote in one hand, and a cold one in the other.

    • Oh i do in fact write on toxic masculinity, and I am currently working on another article which discusses how patriarchy is in fact not working for men either and men are expected to fit into a very small box; never show emotion, always be strong, never show fear… which of course feeds into violence against women. https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2014/02/19/please-be-that-guy/

      I am not “whinging” I am pointing out some of the seriously damaging behavior and language women have to face on a daily basis.

    • @ John McCartney – the difference is that male-focused advertising is a relatively recent phenomena. Women have been putting up with being targetted for promotion of various “beauty” products since at least post WW2.

      It is all pervasive.

      By the way, Expol ads are not sexually-demeaning, sexist, or demeaning in other ways – unless I’m too “thick, insensitive, mono-dimensional, one-step-above-Neanderthals” to notice?

      Tui ads show scantily-clad women to sell a product – not scantily clad men.

      The same can be said for some of the other ads you referred to.

      If we swapped the mass-advertising, sexualisation; judgementalism on physical appearances; nasty “jokes”, etc, between the male and female demographics, I think we’d see quite a difference.

  4. What rubbish.
    Women are their own worst enemy. I heard a woman talking about womens magazines and what they really were. They were self hate publications. All they contained were items about how you must hate your face or your body – because they were full of remedies and potions that would make you look better.

    And take the recent royal tour. Who did all the comments on what she was wearing – women. And then you put this rubbish out as though it was all a male orchestrated plot.

    And Rachel Smalley was right in a way – theres nothing more unattractive than an overweight woman. Partly because most of them dress like they are rubbish dumps and their clothes make them look even worse.
    What amazes me is that Smalley had the stupidity to start blubing and appologise for it all – when obviously it was all a big act.

    Jeez – if women werent so blooy vain.

    As for beauty contests – Im still waiting for someone to identify the evil people who are forcing these girls into these competitions – I dont think he or she will ever be found actually

    When all these comentators realise that its actually WOMEN who objectify women – then they might wake up and start enjoying life.

    • First you say,

      “…theres nothing more unattractive than an overweight woman. Partly because most of them dress like they are rubbish dumps and their clothes make them look even worse.”

      And then you say,

      “Jeez – if women werent so blooy vain.”

      Yeah, I’m not taking you seriously now.

    • What nonsense.

      “And Rachel Smalley was right in a way – theres nothing more unattractive than an overweight woman. Partly because most of them dress like they are rubbish dumps and their clothes make them look even worse.”

      Actually, I can easily think of something more unattractive, and that is people who are mean and nasty on the inside. There is nothing beautiful about a face screwed up in anger and bitterness, regardless of how aesthetically symmetric their feature or how or blemish-free their skin.

      I love beautiful things, beautiful people, beautiful surroundings, beautiful scents. It makes me happy. But beauty isn’t as narrow a quality as the western ideals would oft suggest. I follow a photographer on instagram who takes pictures of the homeless; many of whom couldn’t be further from the western ideal. And yet each shot captures an intrinsic beauty – the look in someone’s eyes, the story in the lines of their skin. And what is more beautiful than the love of a parent for their child, regardless of their size or hair colour?

      True beauty isn’t something prescribed by a magazine. It is deeper, and more meaningful than that.

      • Does he get permission from each “beautiful” homeless person? Does he buy them a sandwich or give them a blanket first?

    • What a great contribution, Barry. You write like your mind is a rubbish dump and your stupidity makes it even worse. Plus your silk cravat is crooked. There should be a blog rule that anyone commenting on the appearance of others has to publish their own photo. How about it, big boy? You might get a girlfriend even.

    • You nailed it in your last paragraph Barry, although you are a bit contradictory in your earlier statements.

      When all these comentators realise that its actually WOMEN who objectify women – then they might wake up and start enjoying life.

      That’s it right there.

      Oh and to all the offended people out there, there’s just as much objectification of men in the media. It’s just that we don’t let it affect the majority of us and don’t live our lives by it and you rarely hear us crying about it because we just don’t give a stuff about it.

      Have an attitude of “don’t care what others think of me” and you will be one step closer to freedom. At the end of the day who cares what we look like to others?

        • It is ironic that you use a quote by a Yankee pop starlet as resistance to patriarchy and “objectification”. Image google Ms B. and all you get is pic after pic of her pouting at the camera, variously posing in thin airbrushed figure hugging, cleavage revealing costumes and heavy makeup.

          And you wonder why feminism is treated as a joke.

  5. I object to the use of the term ‘Air Sex’ by Gaillard. Sex is consensual, this was clearly not. ‘Air Rape’ would be more apt of a description.

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