Back in 1885, W.Duke and Sons decided to boost their ailing facial soap brand by including a series of erotic trading cards of the most popular female stars of the day in its packaging.
The association between soap and sex might be slim, but it certainly started a trend. Leggy blondes in skimpy clothes have been selling us alcohol, perfume and cars for over a hundred years.
It’s been proven that putting a beautiful, scantily dressed woman on the cover of a men’s magazine – such as Maxim and FHM – sells more copies than the ones that feature the new Springbok captain, even if the readers are dying to know more about his plans for the World Cup.
The rules around sex and consumerism have become increasingly relaxed and nudity has become a bigger part of the general advertising landscape. It’s nothing new.
The sad news of Reeva Steenkamp’s death has dominated the front pages of numerous newspapers across the world, with journalists scouring her twitter account and the SABC taking pains to emphasize that Reeva’s “last appearance” would be broadcast on their (mediocre) reality show (appropriately splashed with condolence messages, of course).
Even sadder to me, though, is that many – if not most – of the pictures in these papers and trailers and on the news sites feature pictures of her in skimpy outfits, lingerie and swimsuits.
True, she was a FHM model and true, she had an amazing body – which the media feels the need to display, even as she was being autopsied. In the UK, The Sun featured a picture of her on the cover unzipping her swimsuit on the cover.
The Daily Mail published a full spread of her wearing lingerie. A tribute page in a leading Western Cape newspaper published a full-length bikini shot taken for the Tropika Island of Treasure series, and it took up about a quarter of the page.
It’s nice to have a tribute, but I doubt that that is the type of photograph her family would have chosen to display at her memorial - why would a newspaper do it?
The photographs have less to do with telling her story and more to do with selling sex and papers. Media mentions of her legal studies and charity work have been little more than surprised footnotes: “She was not only good-looking – she also had a brain!”
Call it militant feminism if you wish, but these tributes have done little more than erotisize a violent act against a young woman whose life was cut tragically short. Had someone dug up an erotic photograph of Anene Booysen or Indian gang rape victim Jyoti Singh Padney and chosen to print it on the front page, the world would have been outraged.
But because Reeva was a model, she is public property and ours to put on display however we wish. Have we really come so far that we won’t stop short of publishing inappropriate photographs of a victim of violence? As one twitter user commented, “A woman is never too dead to be masturbation fodder.”
Cheap tabloids have long been known for their provocative “page 3’s” to drive up sales – Reeva’s murder gives the “legitimate” news press the justification to do the same.
The SABC’s constant reminders that they will broadcasting their series featuring Reeva “as a tribute, on Saturdays, on SABC1 at 18h30” is sure to drum up viewership too.
I am by no means a prude and I don’t suggest that Reeva should have, in any sense of the word, been ashamed of her modeling career.
If anything, we should be the ones who are ashamed that we’ve reduced her to little more than a blonde bombshell whose cleavage can be used to sell even more papers under the circumstances. No one has chosen to lead with pictures of Pistorius in his briefs – why is she being treated differently?
It’s sad that the media refuses to publish photographs of pregnant Kate Middleton “out of respect”, but a murder victim does not inspire the moral high ground.
Sex has nothing to do with soap. And murder has nothing to do with modeling. We need to stop marrying the two for the sake of selling.
Estelle Nagel works in marketing and PR in the tech space.
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