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FHM censured for showing photos of an underage girl

September 11th, 2007

Dr Petra

The Press Complaints Commission have censured FHM magazine for featuring a photograph of a 14 year old girl.

The photos, taken by a mobile phone, were sent to the magazine. FHM claim they were under the impression the girl was older (based on her looks and their being told she was living with the person who took her photo). It turns out this wasn’t the case and the girl and her family were caused considerable distress by what the PCC described as a ‘serious intrusion’ into her life. The PCC were critical of EMAP who publish FHM for not taking the case seriously or acting promptly to sort things out. FHM now claim they have greater checks in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again, although they have not decided to stop inviting readers to send in photos of their girlfriends. You can read about the whole case here.

This is a problem for FHM who have just relaunched their publication in an attempt to rescue their audience figures.

It represents a wider issue about men’s media. The send-in-a-photo-of-your-girlfriend is a staple part of most lad’s mags and websites, and in most cases appears to be with the knowledge and consent of the girls. In fact many girls send in photos themselves.

This is often taken as a sign that girls are willing and therefore such competitions are okay. Moreover those justifying their existence claim that it’s a means of celebrating female sexuality. This can lead to girls being victimised, as if their photos are sent in without their consent it’s a problem. If they wanted to send in their photos they are still judged and ‘slut shamed’.

However, critics of such competitions see things very differently. They argue just because women send in photos of themselves or are willing to be photographed by a boyfriend doesn’t automatically make these photo competitions acceptable. Concern has been expressed that in encouraging such competitions there’s an overemphasis on appearing attractive, with less attention given to women’s achievements – which in turn leads to less respect being given to girls and women. There’s also the issue of representing female sexuality in a particular way – a set form of pouts, poses and panties that limits our range of sexual expression rather than increases it.

We live in an era where sexualisation of girls in the media has been linked to causing psychological harm to girls, and where sex education rarely informs girls about their right to sexual pleasure and safe sexual expression. Peer pressure is known to encourage some young men to take sexual risks or act coercively, and leads lads to worry about how their bodies and sexual behaviours ‘measure up’. Again there can be problems where boys are presented as coercers or abusers, and girls as victims. The whole issue is more complex than that and at present we really haven’t managed to capture this effectively in research or education.

At the same time girls’ magazines have encouraged their readers to rate each other’s looks, lad’s magazines have invited their readers to win their girlfriend breast implants and have consistently refused to have any sex positive or educational coverage in their titles.

FHM should have known better. It’s not enough to simply say ‘but she looked older’. If such competitions weren’t being run to begin with this situation simply wouldn’t have arisen.

Not like FHM or any other lad’s mags are going to give a toss about this, even after a rap on the knuckles. If you complain about the way they represent sex or women (even if you’re actually asking them to make things raunchier) they get all sneery and represent you as boring or jealous.

A bit like this…over to a clip from TV series Nathan Barley which pretty much sums lad’s mags on this issue.

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