Armytage in a shot from the AWW spread. Photo: AWW
There are many conventions in the life of a female that are so inexplicable they've been refashioned as celebratory. Your first menses. That unforgettable day when, if you're heterosexual, you get to choose between keeping your father's surname as your own or changing it to the surname of your spouse. The first time you're groped without your permission.
But in the warmer seasons, there is one particular convention undertaken by a female that is lauded as celebratory but nonetheless strange. It's the 'famous woman posing in a swimsuit on the cover of a magazine' thing. Like Samantha Armytage in this month's Women's Weekly. Please allow me to role-play the conversation I had with my brain when I saw it.
OOooh Samantha Armytage! I like her! And she's so pretty!
Why is she in bathers? Maybe she swims?
Why, no! She's a television journalist!
Oh, is she at the beach?
Is she on holiday?
Bless us, no.
So, it's for no particular reason, then?
Yeah, seems so. Except that she's a gorgeous, strong woman who is proud of herself!
Um, when we say 'proud of herself 'what do we mean?
Natalie, you're not listening again. Why is she in a swimsuit?
Because her body is not shameful!
Oh. But, like, specifically?
Specifically she is a proud woman who does not care what we think!
See, it's the Weekly's Body Issue, so female bodies, which now run the diverse gamut from 'curvy' to 'athletic' are put on display and lauded for their 'strength'.
Now, before I fully marinate in this self-righteous polemic, I want to come clean. It's tempting to think that many of us Daily Life writers are sitting atop a small hill made of men's chest hair pointing out the faults of a society we think we're above. Dear Reader, this is only partly true. Like, it's actually more of a mountain.
OOH CAN I GET A LOL?
But seriously guys, having worked in magazines and been an instrument of this oppression - sorry - problem - excuse me – tradition for the better part of my own career, I don't want to pretend I'm immune to it. I mean, with my own banal body-hatred and phobia of crowded beaches, I'm not merely obeying the medya's prescription that a woman's greatest worth is her physical self, I'm doubled over my tummy rolls, trembling at its altar.
Still, I'd like to try to grasp what's going on when stripping down to essentially form-fitting underwear has widened from the realm of young models in men's magazines to, well, any woman with a pulse.
Walk past a newsstand and you'll see a coterie of famous and semi-famous women across a raft of magazine covers - young and old, thick and thin, mothers and daughters, all untied by a singular aim: to pose in their swimmers for no reason whatsoever.
Why? Well, the deeper question is why there appears to be a limited number of narratives left to tell about famous women. I mean, there's the one with the man. It could be a marriage, it could be a divorce - whatever it is, it involves a man and the woman is defined by it. I mean him. I mean, SHE IS HAPPY AND IN CONTROL! Oh, occasionally there is a different story. But that happens once in a Magda Szubanski's lifetime.
If that has already been told, we move on to the baby. Is there a bump? A hint of a bump? A planning of a bump? Is there a 'I tried but I'm never going to have a bump'? Is there a birth? Great! Now the woman achieves a sanctioned position in the celebrity hierarchy.
Samantha Armytage appears in her first swimsuit shoot. Photo: AWW
But suppose those narratives have been exhausted. What to say? It's hard to wrap a fairy tale theme around 'internal company transfer'.
Enter: the body. It doesn't matter what size it is – yay! What matters is it that it is on display; its casual appraisal by us, the consumers of this convention.
Think for a moment of a world in which Today presenter and newly minted feminist icon Karl Stefanovic stepped out of his suit and into a pair of boardies to prove that he is not bothered by the haters. Stefanovic, seen here in a variety of togs, will not be defined by what others say about his body. When we stop laughing at the logic which dictates that you quell judgement by inviting more of it, most of us would probably let out a big 'HUH?' Because we know that stripping down has jack shit to do with his job.
Ohhh I know, we're all participants in the male gaze. It's the patriarchy, stupid! But, in attempting to celebrate diversity in women, (age, body type, race, occupation) all we seem to be doing is widening the patriarchal point of view. No longer is the male gaze the specific burden of the young and powerless. If you want to function in society as a famous woman, no matter who you are or what you do, if you can't produce a narrative that's defined by a man there will come a time when you'll have to pose in a way that's pleasing to him. And if anyone asks, you'll have to say you did it for yourself.