Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Media Watch: Australia

Today, two recent stories from Down Under written by Daily Mail Australia's Laura House, both dutifully regurgitated verbatim in the good old Mail Online here in the UK. They concern two Figure competitors from the state of Victoria - Tiffany Conway, a 37-year-old mother of two, and Ashleigh Wilson, a 28-year-old personal trainer.
Tiffany Conway (left) and Ashleigh Wilson

I don't usually pay that much attention to what's coming out of the Mail's Australia office, but these two stories, published within a few weeks of each other, caught my attention because I think that taken together they rather nicely represent the good, the bad and the ugly of the way the mainstream media deals with female muscle stories.

Let's start with the good.

The "good" in Tiffany Conway's story, as is so often the case with mainstream female muscle reporting - and the Mail and other online resources that keep churning out such stories should be applauded for it - is triumph over adversity through weight-training. In Tiffany's case it was depression and anxiety. brought on, apparently, by such a bad diet that she weighed in at over 80kg before she decided to turn her life around in 2011. Five years later she became Victoria's Masters Figure champion.

The more I exercised and the better I ate, the better I felt about myself, Tiffany tells us in the article. That came through in my energy, and people around me started noticing that I was happier. I looked fresher, and I was just more fun to be around. The benefits to be gained from making such investment in yourself stays with you for a lifetime, and it has honestly touched every part of my life for the better.

ALL good.

We might quibble about the use of the one-size-fits-all term "Bodybuilder" in the article, we might even really get nit-picky and crticise the writer for laziness in her reporting of Tiffany winning "the IFBB competition" in 2016, but on the whole, the story is a very positive muscle message for the women of Australia, with Tiffany an excellent advocate for the lifestyle, its benefits, and for the joys of competing. For 10 years I wouldn't stand in front of anyone in a bikini let alone stand on a stage in a very small bikini in front of 400 people, she says. It was the most empowering thing.

A few weeks before though, Ashleigh Wilson's less than empowering story had appeared in the very same Mail, after the Bikini turned Figure competitor had appeared on Aussie TV's Channel Nine in a show called Operation Thailand.

Brace yourself now.

I've been competing in bodybuilding for about four years, says Ashleigh. I started off in Bikini and I went on to Figure and that's where I've stayed. Within this category they emphasise femininity - decent muscle size and condition but also amazing shape. I don't feel like I can reach that shape that they ask for because I have a flat chest.

I feel like a 20-year-old boy when I'm at the gym and I am lean. It just makes me feel like I'm not a complete woman. I hate how I don't fit clothes. I have to put padding in my sports bras just to feel a little bit womanly. Can you see where this is going?

And so, Ashleigh Wilson travels to Thailand with an Australian cosmetic tourism company, meets the surgeon, and decides to go with a D-cup. This surgery is so important because I want to look good on stage and when I'm walking down the street. I want to feel good about myself when I get up in the morning, she says.

Oh dear.

Here's the other side of the mainstream media's take on female muscle stories - the "bodybuilding left me feeling/looking like a man" angle. Hardly empowering, and in this case, hardly even about bodybuilding, because whatever the reasons for Ashleigh's decision (and I wouldn't for a minute deny her the right to have cosmetic surgery) there are women like Cydney Gillon or Natalia Coelho whose all-natural all-muscle chests demonstrate that enhancements are not necessary in order to win Figure titles. And I bet both Cydney and Natalia feel all-woman all of the time.

Despite originally getting the $3,700 augmentation to achieve her aspirations in bodybuilding, we are told, Jess has since chosen to follow a different path. "Fitness and health is still a big part of my life but getting on stage is no longer something I desire," she says. Less and less about bodybuilding all the time. I did this show to help inform people about the process of going to Thailand, Ashleigh concludes. It was the best thing I ever did and not at all was I scared because I was overseas.

Call me a cynic if you like, but I suspect Ashleigh may not have had to pay full price in exchange for such a glowing recommendation of the her surgical tourism experience.

Same journalist, same news source. One story where bodybuilding has nothing but positive effects on a woman's body image; one story where bodybuilding has such negative effects on her body image the woman turns to cosmetic surgery.

Given the respective women's ages and looks, their mainstream appeal if you like, which story do you think got more media attention, globally-speaking?

Clue: it's not the one about the transformative, empowering effects of bodybuilding.

It's the one about the tits.

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