Page 3 of The Sun – Are Naked Breasts Really So Bad?


There is much media attention surrounding the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign launched by Lucy-Anne Holmes, aimed at banning topless models featuring on page 3 of the The Sun newspaper.

The petition is a hot-topic on Mumsnet, and supporters include Eliza Doolittle, Jennifer Saunders, Frances Barber, Lauren Laverne Frances Barber, Tony Hawks, Chris Addison, and Graham Linehan. Caitlin Moran has tweeted: “Teenage tits aren’t news OR a feature.”, and Janet Street-Porter wrote in The Independent: “Page 3 girls started in the 1970s as part of a tabloid circulation war. They seem so old-fashioned today… it’s hard to see how a pair of nipples can sell a paper in 2012.”

At the time of writing, the ‘No More Page Three’ petition had reached 45,376 supporters. Yet, despite 45,376 signatories, recent figures published by the National Readership Survey suggests that that “a pair of nipples” do not deter a person from buying a paper, as The Sun is the most read newspaper (both in print and online) in the UK, reaching an audience of approximately 13.6-million per week. Based upon these figures, it would appear that the majority of the UK population do not have that much of an issue with Page 3.

This latest campaign to abolish page 3 as we know it, is nothing new. In 1986, Labour MP, Clare Short, was branded “fat, jealous Clare” by the newspaper when she launched her campaign against page 3. Last year the feminist campaign groups, ‘Object’ and ‘Turn Your Back on Page 3’, made a joint submission about “the hyper-sexualisation of women in the press” to the Leveson inquiry. MP Evan Harris also backed the campaign, stating: “Why should it be considered acceptable and mainstream in hypocritical family newspapers to portray women in this way? It’s just wrong in my view that this should be seen as normalised.” Dr Harris added, “These images can be available for adults if they want to access them, but they should have to reach up to a higher shelf than what is at the general view for young people.”

Why are we so offended by the human body, and is page 3 really as degrading as the protesters claim?

Lucy Holmes felt the necessity to launch the latest campaign after reading a copy of The Sun during the Olympics. Despite the extensive coverage given to the victorious achievements of British female athletes such as Jessica Ennis and Victoria Pendleton, Holmes stated the dominant female image in the paper was “a massive picture of a girl in her pants”.

Journalist, Deborah Orr wrote in The Guardian that “The Sun’s Page 3 is the highly visible tip of misogyny’s iceberg”. Orr claims:

‘A lot of women feel the people who want an end to Page 3 are uptight harridans, envious, bitter, prudish and prescriptive. They would love to be glamour models themselves, given half a chance. They want it for their daughters. You can see them in any city on a Friday night, hobbled by their Lycra dresses and towering heels, so keen to be viewed as “empowered” that they can barely walk…. They are on Team Katie Price, those women, not Team Lucy-Anne Holmes.’

Being neither in support or condemnation of Page 3, I would like to believe my view is a little more objective. I am not at all enamoured by the “busty-babe” look, and I am most certainly not a woman who is on “Team Katie Price”. In fact, when spending time at a friend’s house during my childhood, we would sometimes spend our afternoons giggling at the nonsense printed in The Sun, which her father would leave lying around on the kitchen table we used to do our homework. We would draw moustaches on the face and a bra on the breasts of topless page 3 models, etc., and draw big breasts, fangs, and long hair on John Major and William Hague, whilst (supposedly) working on algebraic equations. “Dear Deidre” – The Sun’s Agony Aunt page, was also a hoot. Yet, I do not pretend to understand the minds of those who buy The Sun because, to be perfectly honest, I am now educated and middle-class. However, I do possess a keen sense of humour, and this has ensured that I have never taken frivolous tabloid stories, or Page 3, too seriously. In my view, The Sun is little more than an adult comic bought by the working-class, and is not really a “family newspaper”. It is only deemed a “family paper” because it happens to be stumbled upon by the rest of the family, as they lounge around on the sofa watching daytime TV, or happen to find it lying on the kitchen table when grabbing a snack, or perhaps whilst the children do their homework – which, of course, was my first encounter with the paper.

Not every person shares my permissive perspective, however. Deborah Orr seems to believe that glamour models affect a woman’s sense of self worth, stating: 

‘I remember, as a teenager, studying the breasts of the women who appeared in the tabloids, and fretting about the dismal fact – to me, then – that mine weren’t “like that”.’

Contrary to Deborah Orr’s belief, not every woman wishes to have large breasts, or to look like a glamour model. Not once have I ever looked at a Page 3 model and compared my body to hers, nor have I ever aspired to look like a glamour model. Every person has a different take on what they believe to be attractive. Furthermore, if Page 3 were to be abolished, and more “positive” body images were featured by the media, such as pictures of victorious Olympic athletes like Jessica Ennis, the new body comparison will subsequently become, “My abs don’t look like that”, or “I’m not that muscular”. The subsequent trend could, thus, become a cocktail of steroid abuse, over training, and eating disorders; instead of the breast augmentation and eating disorder combination that society is familiar with at present.

Women will always be of the belief that her outward appearance is dependent and related to her personal worth. No matter how confident one particular woman is, she will always compare herself to other women. As psychologist A. Schopenhauer has stated: 

‘ … women are all in the same profession (competitors for the attentions of men), they all stand much closer to one another than men do, and consequently strive to emphasize differences in rank.’

In many cases, this is unfortunately, true. An interesting study can be found in this psychological article: R. Joseph, Competition Between Women (1985), (Psychology, 22, 1-11, 1985).

Ironically, the misogyny Orr suggests, appears to lie not in the media’s sexualisation of women, but in womens’ hatred of sexualised women and their naked bodies. If that were not the issue, one must question why this campaign is so focused upon naked breasts on page 3, and not the unpleasant, opportunistic, civilisation-eroding content, and the blatant lies that so regularly appears on other pages of The Sun. This is, after-all, the newspaper that invented the phrase ‘gay plague’, and ironically, if anything is at all misogynistic in the paper, it is some of the text and headlines featured on pages 1,2,4,5, etc. Why is Page 3 such an issue, and why are the campaigns not drawing attention to Mail Online and its “sidebar of shame“? It would appear that the petition is rather distastefully using the subject of misogyny merely as an attempt to rally support. Let us remember that the term ‘misogyny’ means a hatred or dislike of women. Surely, those who enjoy looking at the women on Page 3, are more philogynistic and misogynistic, because if they hated women, why would they wish to ogle at their breasts? Does a woman with a hatred of men enjoy looking at a penis? – No.

Nevertheless, the politician Lynne Featherstone has felt it necessary to focus her argument on a different aspect of misogyny, by specifically linking page 3 to domestic violence – an assertion made without any evidence whatsoever. In her “farticle” ‘Page 3 pictures cause domestic violence’ against women‘, Featherstone claims: 

‘When you know that one in four women experience domestic violence in their life, two women are killed each week by their partner or husband, there is a very long way to go. While a lot of blokes say ‘You are mean, sour-faced, whatever – it’s harmless’, actually it’s not harmless at all.’

Perhaps Lynne Featherstone would be interested to learn that despite her absurd assertion that Page 3 pictures somehow drives men to kill their partners, the National Centre of Domestic Violence statistics suggest that 1 man dies every 3 weeks as a result of Domestic Violence perpetrated against them. However, due to factors such as shame and embarrassment, most men will not seek help to get out of the abusive relationship. Approximately 4 million men are affected every year by domestic violence, and practically the same percentage of men as women are victims of severe acts of Domestic Violence. Bearing in mind the large amount of non-reporting, official Data from Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey show that men made up about 40% of domestic violence victims each year between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the last year for which figures are available. In 2006-07 men made up 43.4% of all those who had suffered partner abuse in the previous year, which rose to 45.5% in 2007-08 but fell to 37.7% in 2008-09. Yet, men assaulted by their partners are often ignored by police, have far fewer refuges to flee to than women, and usually see their female attackers get away with their crimes.

I think this goes some way in invalidating Featherstone’s unsubstantiated assertion that page 3 is the cause of domestic violence. This is, of course, assuming the victim is female, and not the man – for, ironically, looking at page 3 pictures.

If the mere sight of naked breasts really are too offensive to have a place in a ‘family newspaper’, as the protesters claim, I must also question why it is considered acceptable for women to openly take her breasts out in the middle of Starbucks to breastfeed her child in public, whilst in front of a number of families with young children. Consider the vast number of “Breast is Best” pictures published and broadcast on daytime television, in order to promote breastfeeding, not to mention the large-scale breast cancer campaigns featuring photos of naked breasts, and topless women on daytime television shows, such as ‘This Morning’ – a program broadcast before approximately 11 hours before the watershed, and viewable by young children. Last year, the family TV show, ‘This Morning’, featured a woman with the largest breasts in the world (ironically, this link is to the Daily Mail – another “family newspaper”), and most recently a feature on a man with the world’s largest penis. Yet, there was no furore over either. There are also the vast number of breast photos published in school encyclopedias and anatomy books, used for so-called educational purposes, and are uncensored. The Guardian also features this picture:

Reproduced from article ‘The wonder of breasts’, featured in The Guardian newspaper.

If it is the sexualisation of breasts that is the problem, rather than the image of breasts per se, why are there no protests against adverts such as that for Herbal Essences Shampoo? This is, after all, an advert that sexualises both the hair and product, whilst portraying the man as useless and humiliated. The Western world condemn Islam for oppressing women and forcing them to wear a hijab, which essentially prevents the sexual objectification of hair in the same way as wearing a sweater does for a woman’s breasts. Yet, if we find the objectification of hair to be acceptable, when we condemn Islamic countries’ condemnation of oppressing women with a hijab for the equivalent reason the Western countries revolt the revealing breasts, is this not further hypocrisy?


Herbal Essences is, by far, not the only example of sexual objectification. Just take a look at some of these examples, and furthermore, women are not the only ones subject to it. Take into consideration how the Lindt advert with Roger Federer and the adverts for Emporio Armani and H&M featuring David Beckham, and the infamous Diet Coke advert, all objectify men just as much as women. Yet, if this objectification were reversed and instead featured female objectification, there would be the same ever-so-familiar heated debate on the subject.


Also consider that naked breasts are not the only form of sexualisation in the media, which again discredits the argument against page 3. Bear in mind that for a foot fetishist, a photo of bare feet can be just as provocative as a page 3 photograph for a man who likes large breasts; and for a hair fetishist, the sexualisation of hair in a Herbal Essences advert, may also be provocative. Furthermore, there are a number of websites for those with a breast feeding fetish. Consider how a person with such a fetish will sexualise a woman who chooses to breast-feed openly in Starbucks (which is her right), in a similar way that women, who autonomously model for page 3, are sexualised by another.

One of the signatories of the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign has stated: “How are women meant to be taken seriously in the workplace when this is how they are seen?”. I argue that abolishing page 3 pictures will not change the perception of glamour models, as long as pornographic sites exist. In fact, page 3 is far less obscene than pornographic sites, which so often reveal women and men performing a number of lewd acts, which I shall not mention here. Whilst glamour models may, perhaps, degrade themselves, it is their autonomous choice to do so. Just because some women like to be objectified, does not make it wrong, and as long as the objectified person consents to being objectified by others, where is the problem? Live and let live.

If the answer is to reject any form of glamour modeling in order to prevent women from degrading themselves, it would not only infringe their right to autonomy, but it would drive the industry underground where it cannot be regulated. It would also result in the loss of newspaper sales, and less work for models, photographers, and publishers. At a time of economic downturn, this is surely not advantageous.

It is important to remember that sexual taste is incredibly diverse and complex. Not every man is attracted to the sight of breasts: Some may be sexually attracted to bare feet, just as some women may be sexually attracted to the sight of a “beer-belly” – because being with an overweight man makes some women feel less self-conscious about their own “imperfections”. It would appear that any photo could potentially be subject to sexual objectification depending upon the viewer and their sexual preferences. Perhaps the campaigners should review their protest, and call for a ban on all photos – or just airbrush out all people, just as Ikea removed women from the Saudi Arabian Ikea Catalogue. 

I am sure that even the ‘No More Page 3’ supporters would find this a ludicrous proposition.

A photo from the Swedish Ikea catalogue (left), next to the modified picture in the Saudi Arabian catalogue. (Image reproduced courtesy of BBC)

9 thoughts on “Page 3 of The Sun – Are Naked Breasts Really So Bad?

  1. Dark Puss says:

    Thoughtful as always. Interesting also to consider the portrayal of women and men in “art” where there is certainly a sex difference in what historically was deemed acceptable to portray. I’ll give this some more thought when I have time and come back with a more insightful comment.

    Great writing as always on this weblog.

  2. lookatmyemailaddress says:

    Great Article!

    Some points to mention so I feel worth something:

    I particularly like how you countered the issue that such images make women feel insecure. Really everything that people strive for will make them feel that way when faced with examples of those who are much closer. From athletes to high earners and of course physical beauty. It’s just jealousy. The only way to deal with it is to grow above it. Nothing else will ever work.

    The idea of imposing more “positive body images” is nothing other than thought policing. Their thought process is this:
    1) I’m an xyz
    2) The majority of society prefers abc
    3) That sucks. I want to be liked because I have such a fragile ego and, because of my slave morality, I need my masters to constantly reassure me that I’m valuable but they don’t do that enough because of the preference for abc.
    4) Therefore society is BAD and we must reprogram it by forcing positive images of xyz down everybody’s throats.

    Their mistake:
    5) Even if they succeed, it’ll still only be like in the opening scene of “Death Becomes Her” where Meryl Streep demands her private maid to tell her that she’s looking younger every day.

    There are few things more miserable than people trying to control mainstream media to suit their need for validation.

    I like the Schopenhauer quote. Of course it’s a generalization but it gets at an important point: both genders face the same (hetero) dilemma: They can only really be emancipated and free if they are willing to give up sexual success with the opposite gender. It doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily the price attached – only that they must be prepared to pay it.

    I think those breasts serve a useful purpose as they help weed out the newspapers that I will never buy. It is pretty crazy, as you point out, that people take issue with that instead of the other things wrong with tabloids. It’s like when a feminist says all men should be exterminated and then other feminists take issue with that because “she’s giving feminism a bad reputation”.

    That herbal essences ad hints at another interesting gender dynamic: namely that men are often measured by how well they please their female partners. Would be curious to investigate the broader social implications of that power imbalance. Imagine one found that across skin colors.

    Off topic:

  3. Dear lookatmyemailaddress,

    Thanks very much for your insightful comments. We appear to be on the same wavelength on this particular topic. Your comment on “thought policing” is spot on. The “xyz”s of society are forever attempting to brainwash against the “abc”s. It is also unfair to those who actually possess such a body image naturally. Whilst a large percentage of glamour models may have undergone some form of cosmetic surgery and bleached their hair, there are actually some who do possess the physique, skin, and hair colouring of a glamour model as a result of genetics. It is also a similar situation for “size zero” women. Some women are naturally thin, and some women may also be skeletal as a result of illness. Therefore, what an insult it must be when society posts images such as this:

    Furthermore, whoever made the above picture has deliberately selected the worst random paparazzi snaps of thin women standing in the most unflattering positions, in order to make them look unattractive, whilst selecting the best photos of the more voluptuous women, posing for an official photo shoot. Even the most attractive woman can look hideous in a photo taken at the wrong angle on an iPhone (for example), whilst wearing a bikini, and without make-up. Just take the photo of Keira Knightly (3rd photo on the top) as an example. In reality, she is a gorgeous woman, yet, the above photo has deliberately been selected as an “example” of how “unattractive” thin people are, merely to make more voluptuous women, who do not fit the so-called “ideal” body shape, feel better about themselves.

    There is a lot of prejudice and sheer nastiness against women whose appearance is closer to the “ideal”. Such unpleasantness is not directed towards them by men, I hasten to add. This only goes to illustrate Schopenhauer’s quote most aptly.

    The sad thing is, every man has a different taste in women, and not every man will be attracted to the bodies of Keira Knightly or Kate Moss, or the curves of Catherine Zeta-Jones, or the athletic build of Victoria Pendleton, or the dancer physique of Darcey Bussell, or the oozing bosoms of Katie Price and bleached-blonde locks of Pamela Anderson, etc. Some prefer women like Dawn French, more. That is why I do not understand why some women are so competitive over their appearance to the point that they hate other women so much.

    Whilst researching another topic with regards misogyny/misandry, I stumbled across the most appropriate comment on Yahoo Answers, purely by accident:

    ”A man works on his self esteem by building himself up.
    A woman works on hers by tearing another down.”


    That is also the reason why women dress themselves up. They do not dress up for men. Women may claim they dress up “for themselves”, but actually it is a status symbol aimed at other women. How many men are interested in Chanel handbags? – Most men would not really know a £1500 Chanel handbag from a £15 designer imitation handbag from Primark, and nor do they care. Having read some anthropology articles, I believe it stems from when women lived in caves, and were reliant upon men for their survival. Men were the hunters who brought the food back to the cave for the women, who were physically smaller and less able to hunt than the men. The men were almost like the “Peacock” of the species, whilst women had to dress themselves up and compete against each other aesthetically to be equally as attractive as the male “Peacock” – so to speak. There was much competition, and the physically strongest men could select any woman they wished. Therefore, women would dress themselves in leaves and berries, and attempt to make themselves as beautiful as possible, and would compete with each other in the same manner as they do today. Despite being the 21st century, that “female survival instinct” still appears to be very much a feature today.

    Any takers for a garment made of berries and fig leaves…? No? Thought not.

    Incidentally, I found this to be a rather interesting theory with regards female competitiveness/jealousy:

    Indeed, the world has it’s priorities all wrong: Protesting against page 3, when there is far worse content in the paper, and so many heinous atrocities occurring around the world. It reminds me of the anti-abortion protesters who claim to be pro-life. What about all children in third world countries who are starving to death, or dying of preventable diseases because of lack of vaccination? Many are so focused on reproduction, and also in tightening abortion laws that might prevent a few women from terminating a child that will be born with a serious congenital disease, that the so-called pro-life protesters fail to forget about the thousands of children dying from preventable diseases.

    Thank you for the YouTube link. The Pug is most adorable, and I must confess I was more than surprised to discover TJ Kincaid has a pet. He really did not seem the type. I guess it goes to prove (yet again) that we should never judge a person whom we do not know.

  4. lookatmyemailaddress says:

    it’s true that there are varying tastes among men. For almost anything, there is somebody who’s crazy about it. There are even fetishes for amputees ffs.
    But it’s also true that there is a mainstream tendency toward a certain kind of image. And the media exaggerates that quite heavily (because that’s what they do anyway). The result is that those who eat the mainstream media crap (i.e. those who read the sun), are given the impression that that’s pretty much all that men ever like.

    “”A man works on his self esteem by building himself up.
    A woman works on hers by tearing another down.””

    I really can’t say that I’ve seen men do that any less than women but I’ll keep my eyes open.

    Here’s another one you might like concerning the “double standard” when women who sleep around are called sluts and men not:
    “A key that unlocks many locks is valuable. A lock that can be unlocked by many keys is not”.

    That stems from the mainstream perception of women as the gate keepers of sex. The funny thing is that it’s only true because so many people believe it to be true. The sexes are simply behaving according to their perceived circumstances. We’ll probably find that all differences can be traced back to either current circumstances or evolutionary circumstances. Particularly interesting is how the 80/20 rule applied to men in reproduction for most of our history but not to women. That would explain many things like the differences in risk taking aversion. But don’t run that by a feminist. Biology is an invention of the patriarchy and used to oppress women.

    • Amputation fetishes… Oh, and that’s not all! Check out this horrific list:
      As I always say, there is nowt stranger than folk!

      Of course the media exaggerates heavily. The media is an industry, and being such, need to sell stories. There is nothing better than a shock tactic, or an exaggeration to sell a story. Whilst the best educated are taught to question, and to not believe everything they read; the average tabloid reader will believe pretty much anything, so long as it is published or broadcast in the media. The media, of course, play on such naivety, simply because it sells their stories, from which the industry will ultimately profit.

      Alas, the result is that the majority are lead to believe that all men will only like a particular “type”, as you so rightly mentioned.

      “A key that unlocks many locks is valuable. A lock that can be unlocked by many keys is not”.
      Now that really can be read two ways. It could either apply to “double standards”, or it could mean that the woman is in control of how many “keys” can “unlock the lock”. I think there is some truth to both. In reality, however, a man who unlocks too many locks is not really considered all that desirable by a potential long-term partner; just as a woman who has been unlocked by too many keys is considered a slut.

      “Biology is an invention of the patriarchy and used to oppress women.”
      Sadly, there appears to be some truth to that in the mind of some feminists. The beauty of science is that it allows us to uncover the truth. Yet, some people will only believe what they want to believe, irrespective of any valid factual evidence to corroborate their beliefs.

  5. Another marvellous article and very well thought out. I have never bought The Sun and only seen the odd Page 3 girl in factories, the sort of places boys would do work experience at 20 years ago before they mostly got closed down :-) I wouldn’t consider The Sun a newspaper but then as you say, it is probably aimed at readers of a different class and educational background.

    However I can’t see how a photo of a naked or semi-naked girl would encourage anyone to buy a paper, not now in the days of the internet and a plethora of lads-mags (which I also have never bought I might add so I am only guessing at them). Having said that, The Sun never claims to be a thoughtful publication and I imagine that Page 3 is seen as part of the total package of pages of football, pages celebrity tatter and hyped up scandals. I guess the only way to tell for certain would be to run two editions of The Sun with and without the Page 3 and see which is most popular.

    Personally though I wouldn’t want to see it on my breakfast table if I had to campaign about anything to do with The Sun it would be against its general ill-educated demeanour, xenophobic and sex led articles and its ownership by an ill-principled Australian who has far too greater influence in our country and whose only purpose is to manipulate as many people as he can into giving him money and allowing him to make further money. Compared to that, nothing much else compares. Maybe those who are campaigning here are the real tits. Having said that if it was my own little dictatorship I would get rid of Page 3, The Sun, Murdoch and News International but thats just me trying to raise the standards of things instead of joining into the race for the gutter which I guess is more of a Sun/Murdoch mindset.

    • Thanks very much for your lovely comment, Stephen.

      I have never bought The Sun, either. As mentioned in the article, my encounter with the paper was at my friend’s house, when we were at school. I did, however, take a look at The Sun online, and checked up on past Page 3 examples on Google images, whilst writing this article, as I do not believe in writing about something that I know little about. To do so would be most ignorant.

      I note your point about failing to see how a photo of a semi-naked girl would encourage anyone to buy a paper, when there are plenty of “lads-mags” on the top shelf. However, I suppose there might be something therapeutic for some men to have a pair of breasts to gaze at on Page 3 of the paper, after reading a nasty, sensationalised story about a mass-murderer, on the previous pages. Also the glamour models and sex problems featured on the Dear Deirdre agony aunt page probably goes some way in selling the paper, too. As the saying goes, “sex sells”

      Likewise, it would not be my choice of paper to read at the breakfast table.

  6. dumasworld says:

    This was a good read, very well written.

    The one thing that stood out for me was the women who campaign continously for “women’s sexual liberty” complain voraciously when some women decide to actually be “sexually liberal”. One thing that resonates throughout the feminism movement, hypocrisy on many levels.

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