It’s all over the news. The Duchess of Cambridge, that’s Kate who got hitched to Prince William a few months ago, has breasts. Shock, horror. Who would have thought it? The British press, the sleazier end of which would undoubtedly have loved to have printed the photos themselves if the opportunity had arisen, and if they had dared, has been frothing at the mouth in righteous John Bull-style indignation.
The whiff of hypocrisy is overwhelming. One newspaper magnate has gone so far as to threaten to shut down the Irish edition of one of his papers that also printed the grainy long-lens shots of the royal mammaries. Is he worried about the moral issues at stake here? Hardly, considering this character has a record of publishing some fairly grotesque pornography, tasteful stuff such as Asian Babes and Horny Housewives. It’s more likely he’s worried about the fallout that could hit his other, relatively respectable, titles.
It’s interesting that the British tabloids have raged at the effrontery of someone in France publishing pictures of Kate’s baps, their fury right next to their usual redtop fare of topless 19-year olds and gaping celebrity cleavages – and we’re right back to hypocrisy once again.
As well as the Irish press, the same photos have also made it to Italy where a magazine part owned by Bunga-Bunga Berlusconi’s family has already followed the French lead, and supposedly there is an even raunchier set waiting for a slack news week to be published. By the time you read this, magazines in Denmark and Sweden will have splashed Kate’s boobs over their pages as well. In spite of a French court’s injunction on the French publisher, those unflattering, badly-shot pictures have reached the internet, which means they’ll be out there until the end of time.
The British media, just like that of the rest of the developed world, seems to be obsessed with the shape of 21st century women, and particularly breasts that seem to be required to be of a type in terms of size and perkiness that defy anything nature intended. Look at any newsstand – and I don’t mean the top shelf with the magazines in their opaque wrappers that I have never, ever seen anyone pick up and take to the counter – I mean the consumer and lifestyle stuff, TV guides, gossip titles, fashion glossies. All that featherlight celebrity dross at eye level is just as obsessed with the female form but takes a somewhat different slant on it to the porn a couple of shelves up.
The disturbing side of this is the eye-watering scorn poured on women who don’t fit the Barbie doll mould, who don’t scrape, pluck, shave, dye, wax, uplift, etc in ways that practically bring to mind Victorian whalebone corsets and the bound feet of Chinese ladies of a century or more ago.
In fact, there are breasts everywhere, not least due to their ubiquity on the internet, either unfettered, barely holstered in something hardly more substantial than artfully arranged bootlaces or simply overflowing from a scooped neckline that would have been unthinkable a generation ago when I was a teenager and first started to take a serious interest in these things. Without wanting to get into too much hot water here – after all, my wife probably reads this and so do my daughters – I’m a fairly normal sort of chap and can’t not appreciate the sight of a pulchritudinous young lady. I’m not going to slobber, leer or grab, but neither am I going to complain too hard. I’m thoroughly in favour of equal rights, a woman’s right to choose, freedom of speech, worship, association, etc. So if women want to show it off in print or in public, I may not find it entirely comfortable, but it’s their choice.
It’s very different when choice isn’t there and a line into exploitation is crossed, although where that line lies is difficult to tell. Page 3? The top shelf? The whole machinery of the fashion industry that creates these bizarre ideals of what women ought to look like?
Kate undoubtedly didn’t want to see her topless self plastered all over the pages of gossip magazines and this unwanted peek at a young couple’s private moments is disturbing, distasteful and certainly crosses that line. It smacks of peeping-Tommery. If one of Closer’s readers decided to peer through the curtains at the next door neighbour taking a shower, he or she would be vilified and despised, so is it really that much different when there’s a lens and a publisher in between? This isn’t really about breasts, it’s about an intrusion of privacy, regardless of who those tits belong to, and a salacious media that has created this whole unsavoury climate.
It’s actually hard to picture these hugely privileged people as victims, but they’re the only ones to lose out here, not least because those photos will be out there for as long as the internet exists. The fact that a young woman has the same bits as most women on the planet isn’t exactly news, but one end of the media has been able to splash the story across its pages while the other end has been able to let itself foam at the mouth. It all sells newsprint, so nobody’s going to moan all that hard, while an anonymous paparazzo has probably had the payday of his life as a reward for sitting in a tree cradling a long lens for a couple of days.