ONTD Political

Reeva Steenkamp: our media invites you to ogle a dead woman

12:44 am - 02/18/2013

There's been a lot of chatter on Twitter (isn't there always?) about the media's use of photos of Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot dead yesterday at the home of her boyfriend, the athlete Oscar Pistorius.

Some newspapers and websites have been "paying tribute" and "celebrating her career" by running multiple photos of her in swimwear, or posing sexily.

Here is The Sun inviting you to admire the hotness of the recently deceased:

And here is the Mail inviting you to reflect on the tragedy of a young woman who died younger than she needed to:

(It might be unfair to single out these two papers, but they're the most obvious illustration of the point. Update: The Huffington Post did a slideshow of bikini shots.)

So I made what I thought was a fairly uncontroversial statement:

Cue four billion (that is my go-to made-up number today) people telling me one of a couple of things. Let's deal with them in turn.

She was a swimwear model.

So she was. She also modelled cosmetics for Avon. She had a law degree. She campaigned against violence against women. And yet - I'm not hearing a lot about that. And it is not just reported that she is a lingerie model, but visually demonstrated.

What do two pictures of her in a bikini tell you that one doesn't?

That Sun front page is particularly jarring - they've given Steenkamp the same treatment they'd give any sexy bikini-posing model. These pictures are intended to titillate, to arouse . . . and they're alongside a thumping great headline about her violent death.

Those were the only pictures available of her.

Bzzt! Wrong. I looked on the Getty newswire - which all British newspapers have access to. (The NS only has a basic subscription, so every picture desk on a national will have access to far more of its pictures, plus those from specialist agencies.) Here's what they had:

You will have seen those pictures a lot yesterday, I imagine. But if your interest is in illustrating a news story, there are a couple of shapes and crops available where she has clothes on.

They'd print just the same of a male model or swimmer who was killed!

In response to me saying "try to imagine a man dying and the media running four billion pictures of them in swimwear", many people came back with "Tom Daley" or "David Beckham". It's an argument that looks superficially attractive, but lacks sophistication. Yes, there might well be photos of Daley in trunks . . . winning medals. (Maybe even presenting Splash). Being portrayed as the successful athlete he is.

Similarly, there might be a single shot of Becks in his tighty whiteys among a retrospective of his life and career, but if you think that any British newspaper would run that on their front page, rather than a photo of him, say, at the World Cup, you are deluded. The backlash would be incredible.

If either of these men were portrayed in a way that was solely about their looks, we would seeing the oddness of it instantly.


It's not that I have a problem with how Reeva Steenkamp made her living. And I don't disapprove of the mere concept of women in underwear, or bikinis. If you're at the beach, swimwear is a totally reasonable thing to wear, although obviously I prefer a Victorian-style pair of bloomers, because I'm a feminist.

What's problematic here is the knee-jerk response to the death of a woman being to print exactly the kind of pictures you'd invite readers to perv over if she were alive. The subtext is so icky I don't even want to type it out.

Roll up to ogle the recently deceased!

Look at the tits on this dead woman!

Buy our newspaper - we have 50 per cent more sexy pictures of a potential murder victim!


perrie 18th-Feb-2013 08:09 am (UTC)
The Sun front page was just sick. I couldn't believe they actually had the gall to run it. The Daily Star was even worse. It wasn't just the pictures as well - all the reports ever referred to her to was "his lover", "His girlfriend", "the model". So depressing.
ljtaylor 18th-Feb-2013 08:52 am (UTC)
"The blonde" that really peeves me too. women are not defined by their hair colours what is with that

edit because spelling fail

Edited at 2013-02-18 08:52 am (UTC)
moonshaz 19th-Feb-2013 05:55 am (UTC)
kaelstra 18th-Feb-2013 03:02 pm (UTC)
While we're at it, in the interest of fairness, I don't like that a lot of these articles are making a big deal about his disability, either.
stillglows 18th-Feb-2013 08:12 am (UTC)
i don't really have words to form how much this sickens me. and it makes me sad to say this doesn't really surprise me.
ljtaylor 18th-Feb-2013 08:50 am (UTC)
I saw a joke once about the Daily Mail's "dead blondes section" on their front page. And it was a gross joke, but it had a point. I mean, just look at that two page spread. All the analysis. The gratuitious number of photos of Miss Steenkamp. It's like they're saying murder is only worth a damn if you can ogle at the victim.

chocolatescum 18th-Feb-2013 08:59 am (UTC)
This is so phenomaly horrific that I just don't even know where to start. I just can't imagine how her grieving loved ones would feel to see her plastered all over papers like that when she was shot fucking dead. Some men probably had a wank over a murdered woman, which is just absolutely sickening. The bastards who ran it would probably be mortified if that were their sister or daughter or mother, but it's just some dead bimbo, so who cares right? The papers will probably get away with this though, as per usual.
lozbabie 18th-Feb-2013 11:24 am (UTC)
I think what upsets me more is that they never identify her. She's 'the lover' 'the blonde'

I love the hashtag that started very quickly #hernamewasReevaSteenkamp

She had a name. She was not just the girlfriend of someone. Reeva had a life and he took it in the most brutal way possible.
zinnia_rose 19th-Feb-2013 06:47 am (UTC)
THIS. Use her goddamned name. She was so much more than a set of boobs that look hot in a bikini.
spiritoftherain 18th-Feb-2013 11:38 am (UTC)
I hate how the internet has ruined the word "problematic" for me, particularly when it fits the topic so well. :(

Edited at 2013-02-18 11:39 am (UTC)
red_pill 18th-Feb-2013 11:54 am (UTC)
the sun is a shitrag. and i know i shouldnt be, but im a little surprised that the mail (of "all grown up" fame) went with that too.

alas, british red tops. your shits.
kittenmommy 19th-Feb-2013 12:43 am (UTC)

So the Daily Fail hasn't improved any? Color me shocked!

FYI, whenever you see The New York Post, just remember that that's our version of the Fail. It'll save you a lot of headaches. ;)
mahsox_mahsox 18th-Feb-2013 12:19 pm (UTC)
I'm guessing they are going for the Nice Guys market, who will be congratulating themselves over how relatively "deserving" of a bikini model they are because they haven't managed to shoot one dead yet. If that's what they are doing the pervy pictures fit pretty well with the plan.
velvetunicorn 18th-Feb-2013 06:27 pm (UTC)
god i can hear it now, "see? hot girls just want assholes"
85redberries 19th-Feb-2013 12:19 am (UTC)
Oh crap. Now I am ever more creeped out.
kittenmommy 19th-Feb-2013 12:44 am (UTC)

I hadn't even thought of that. OMG.
anjak_j 18th-Feb-2013 12:51 pm (UTC)
Disgusting, though not at all surprising given that all three of the papers shown here are complete fucking shitrags. The bonus ableism fail by the NYP makes their cover the winner of the most appalling front page coverage of this tragedy.

As much as I find these papers' choices of image of Steenkamp to be deplorable, I'm equally disturbed by the fact that she is constantly referred to in reports via labels rather than her name - "the blonde", "the model", "Pistorius' girlfriend" - the latter of which strikes me as a cruel slap in her family's face given he's the one accused of murdering Steenkamp.
cinnamontoast 18th-Feb-2013 02:48 pm (UTC)
The NY Post is a rag of the worst order and always has been. The folks at The Post don't care who they hurt as long as there are morons who will cough up the money to buy their rag to ogle the content.
glamoursnipe 18th-Feb-2013 03:12 pm (UTC)
As much as I find these papers' choices of image of Steenkamp to be deplorable, I'm equally disturbed by the fact that she is constantly referred to in reports via labels rather than her name - "the blonde", "the model", "Pistorius' girlfriend" - the latter of which strikes me as a cruel slap in her family's face given he's the one accused of murdering Steenkamp.

Word. Usually, when there's a high-profile death, it's not this reductive: after, for example, Whitney Houston died, the media checked off her troubles and disgraces, but they also celebrated her incendiary talent and contributions to popular culture. She emerged as an actual, if extraordinary and imperfect, human being. I'm really appalled by how Reeva Steenkamp is being depicted as an anonymous sperm receptacle for a top athlete.

And I'm a heterosexual chick who's proud to share the world with beautiful, sexy women in whatever clothing-to-exposed-flesh ratio suits them. Just not at the expense of their total identity.

Edited at 2013-02-18 03:17 pm (UTC)
etherealtsuki 18th-Feb-2013 11:13 pm (UTC)
But Whitney was a super popular singer. A lot of people never heard of Steenkamp until she was murdered in a ghastly way. It's typical of newspapers to focus on someone on their claim to fame, but it's pretty gross how papers turned into mini Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues over a woman who was killed in cold blood.

It really feels like it's saying "What a waste of a pretty white woman. Look at her! Wasted goods!" It's rape culture at play that women are mere objects and that sympathy of our deaths is parallel on how attractive a woman/girl is. And it's not shocking that White women get the most amount of sympathy too. If she was a Black swimsuit model, she wouldn't even get this amount of international press.
kittenmommy 19th-Feb-2013 12:47 am (UTC)

If she was a Black swimsuit model, she wouldn't even get this amount of international press.

And if she were just an average-looking overweight woman (of whatever race), we would hardly be hearing about this at all... it would only be of interest because her murderer was an Olympic athlete.
moonshaz 19th-Feb-2013 05:58 am (UTC)
All of the above is sad but very true. D:
kittenmommy 19th-Feb-2013 06:14 am (UTC)

Right? *sighs*
glamoursnipe 19th-Feb-2013 01:55 pm (UTC)
Too right. It's almost as if these headlines are quoting Heathers: "Jesus God in Heaven...why'd you have to kill such hot snatch?"
kaelstra 18th-Feb-2013 03:06 pm (UTC)
This whole things makes me sick. :(
tabaqui 18th-Feb-2013 05:13 pm (UTC)
I was only seeing bits about this on Huffingtonpost and thus not really seeing any pictures. This is *incredibly* gross. Jayzus. Her family must be horrified.
cozmic_oceanz 18th-Feb-2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
I actually feel like throwing up now. This is ... oh my god =[
iolarah 18th-Feb-2013 06:01 pm (UTC)
Tasteless, thoughtless, and dehumanizing--that about sums up those covers. The photo at the top, of Reeva in the leather jacket, that's the sort of photo that respects her as a person. I hate how so much of our society's actions are entirely predicated on what will generate the most money. People before profits, please.
roseofjuly 18th-Feb-2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
OMG that New York Post cover. Horrible in so many ways.
sfrlz 18th-Feb-2013 06:33 pm (UTC)
well this just made me feel physically ill...
velvetunicorn 18th-Feb-2013 06:50 pm (UTC)
we were just talking about The Male Gaze in class last week and this perfectly illustrates my prof's point. It's actually disgusting that they've done this but it's so disturbing to think of all the people who see this and don't think there's anything off about it. Just gross.
tamingheadfauna Possibe TW: Domestic Violence18th-Feb-2013 07:05 pm (UTC)
Is anyone else making the connection between this and the whole "Why did Chris Brown hit Rhianna, because she is so pretty" crap that was going around when that happened?

This recent version of "too pretty for violence" makes me sick.
etherealtsuki Re: Possibe TW: Domestic Violence18th-Feb-2013 11:22 pm (UTC)
Did that happened with Rihanna because what I heard was " What did Rihanna do to provoke him to hit her?"

But yeah, people have a very erroneous thought that being conventionally beautiful means your life is always golden and you're always on a pedestal. Although when these women get with men, the men are usually surprised that these women are actual human beings with flaws and all and not whatever fantasy they thought of this woman. And often, men do not take that very well. Objectification of women kills.
windy_lea TW for DV and rape.19th-Feb-2013 05:55 am (UTC)
On the flip side of the "too pretty for violence" thing, I've also seen the "too ugly to rape" thing. I mean, society's pretty comfortable with dismissing all sorts of rape accusations, but if the woman's not conventionally attractive, well, she must be lying amirite. Cause rape is only ever just about sex; power and control don't factor in at all.

Blegh, sorry. Not sure of the relevance except in it's connection to the ease with which women are treated as a commodity and are shit outta luck, conventionally attractive or not.
zinnia_rose Re: TW for DV and rape.19th-Feb-2013 06:48 am (UTC)
Ugh, I've heard that too. Rape is not a fucking compliment on one's appearance.
makeme_moo Re: TW for DV and rape.20th-Feb-2013 02:27 am (UTC)
...I've also seen the "too ugly to rape" thing.

Semi-OT, but this is happening all over twitter right now. I am seeing nothing but red at the #LiberalTips2AvoidRape tag - especially the "stop shaving!" and "don't wash!" jokes.
nekokonneko 18th-Feb-2013 07:50 pm (UTC)
I had thought the most disgusting thing about this case was the hand-wringing over Pistorius's ruined career. Looks like I was wrong >:|
happythree 18th-Feb-2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I guess some news outlets have been running profiles on him like they're honoring his passing.
kittenmommy 19th-Feb-2013 12:50 am (UTC)

That is so disgusting that I can't even. I wish I could say I'm surprised.
tamingheadfauna 19th-Feb-2013 07:47 am (UTC)
All of the hand wringing over "his career" makes me vurp, honestly.

But an all too common silencing and derailing technique:
"ZOMG! Cis-white dude is accused of a serious crime! What about Him?!"

Yeah, well, he can find a new career. She can't find a new life. FYVM.
fragbert 18th-Feb-2013 08:18 pm (UTC)
I think this is just a by-product of Missing White Woman Syndrome.
happythree 18th-Feb-2013 09:40 pm (UTC)
I agree that there are shared, intersecting elements between this and MWWS, but I guess it strikes me as a bit reductionist to state that it's a by product of MWWS. The amount of attention this is receiving certainly relates to the victim's race, but there seem to be other elements at work as well. Sports culture, for one.
fragbert 18th-Feb-2013 09:44 pm (UTC)
...there seem to be other elements at work as well. Sports culture, for one.

I couldn't agree more.

In retrospect, I think my choice of "by-product" was a bad one. "Corollary", perhaps, would have been better.
bleakwinters 18th-Feb-2013 08:39 pm (UTC)
She had a fucking name, you ass clarinets. She was a woman with goals, and ideal, and a history beyond modelling. Her name was Reeva Steenkamp, you abject pieces of shit.
iluvkidnappers 18th-Feb-2013 09:32 pm (UTC)
ughhhh a facebook friend of mine who ive been growing to hate recently posted

If Supermodel Reeva Steenkamp dating a very attractive, very successful, Olympian "hero" isn't safe...what chance do the rest of us have


kittenmommy 19th-Feb-2013 12:40 am (UTC)

That last one... oh, nvm, it's the Post. Stay classy, guys!

Yeah, since she was a swimsuit model, one pic of her in swimwear wouldn't be remiss. I'd be tempted to run a pic of her from her law school graduation on the front page, though. Because that's equally representative of who she was.

She was lovely. I hope he rots in jail.
hinoema 19th-Feb-2013 04:35 am (UTC)
And one thing you *really* won't see?


Now that would be an appropriate headline.
kittenmommy 19th-Feb-2013 06:16 am (UTC)

That would've been the perfect headline. Alas.
halfshellvenus 19th-Feb-2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
I don't know which media article is more offensive- the Sun, where she seems to be unbuttoning her bra (a come-on to the reader), or the fact that the Mail used THREE photos, all of which were aimed at sexiness.

That top picture, of the beautiful (clothed) woman who is smiling for real? THAT was the picture to use.

The tragedy of her death is sad enough, but the travesty of how it's being used to sell newsrags-aiming-to-be-tabloids is something that could be entirely avoided. Ugh.
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