Most are probably familiar with the murder charges against South African Oscar Pistorius, who previously wowed the world by being the first double-legged amputee to participate in the Olympics. Unfortunately, his recent claim to fame is much less glorious. Regardless of it being premeditated or accidental, his murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp is a great tragedy. Another tragedy is the media’s coverage of the incident. Magazines like the Sun, the Mail and even The New York Post all covered the story by choosing to use photos of Reeva posing sexily in a bikini. The Huffington Post joined in by posting an online slideshow of bikini shots. Yes, she was a swimwear model. However, she also had a law degree, campaigned against violence towards women, and modeled cosmetics for Avon. Reeva was a very intelligent, successful women and advocate. It is a shame that the media disproportionately praised her physical attributes.
To be clear, I am not saying there is anything wrong with modeling swimwear. However, I do find it distasteful (and frankly creepy) to objectify the body of a murder victim. It demonstrates how far the media will go to sell magazines, which brings up a bigger issue: why does the sexualisation of women’s (and men’s) bodies sell magazines? Why has the coverage of this tragedy caused seemingly little uproar in the US, while hundreds of people in the UK posted their disgust on Twitter and Facebook?
Perhaps we are becoming so accustomed to the way the media objectifies us, that we hardly notice when they run stories like Reeva’s. Or perhaps we are too busy self-evaluating and feeling bad about ourselves to do anything about it. A recent study published in Psychological Science, found that women who often evaluated themselves based on their appearance and sexual desirability had a decreased motivation to challenge gender-based inequalities and injustices.
So, the media promotes this status quo that makes us feel bad about ourselves which in turn decreases our motivation to stand up against it. This is great for magazine sales, but bad for us. We must find a way to break this vicious cycle and it starts with acknowledging these issues and standing up against them. Challenge the status quo, view the media critically, and use your voice to advocate for yourself and others.