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!


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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)
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"
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.
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...
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