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Much ado about nothing?

Jane Shillingford on images of women presented in the media

Some of us beyond the age of forty may never have heard of the pop star Rita Ora, 24, who has just become one of the judges on the BBC singing talent show The Voice, for which the 2015 series begins this weekend. I’m happy to confess that, though I’ve heard the name, I’ve never (knowingly) heard a single bar of her music and, if that shames me as an out-of-touch senior citizen, well then so be it.

By chance, waiting for my evening meal with nothing better to do, I happened to catch – briefly – Rita’s promotional appearance on the BBC’s The One Show at 7.00pm last Monday 5th January in the company of her fellow judges on The Voice – Sir Tom Jones, Ricky Wilson (of the Kaiser Chiefs rock band) and American producer/musician Wil.i.am.

It was remarkable, apparently, for the fact that she was wearing an Ermanno Scervino white suit evidently without anything – even underwear – beneath the blazer top.

[I’m not going to risk accusations of gratuitous titillation here by including a photograph of said outfit – I shall leave that impression to the imagination, or indeed googling skills, of my readers].

At the time I did think to myself that there was perhaps a degree too much of Miss Ora on display for what, back in the day, used to be termed ‘peak-time family viewing’ – and in truth her outfit might perhaps have been more appropriate for an evening movie premiere red carpet or night club appearance. Then again – I reasoned with myself – we’re in the 21st Century now, maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy for even thinking this, and perhaps I should relax. After all, no doubt virtually every 10 year old in the land has already seen far more (than Miss Ora was offering) on their televisions, computers and smartphones.

Thereafter I thought nothing more of the incident.

Until this morning, that is, when I read in the media of the huge controversy that has built up a head of steam during the week. Apparently over 400 formal complaints have been received by the BBC about Miss Ora’s choice of outfit and social media has also been awash with comment, both for and against.

I spent my working life in the print media, and only briefly took on a TV review column, but I know plenty of television insiders. One of them who dealt with viewer complaints once told me that – generally – there were always more complaints about swearing than nudity; that most complainants were middle-aged or beyond; and that (in his experience) the cause of the great majority of complaints was rarely that the complainants themselves were offended per se, but that they were embarrassed to find themselves watching such nudity, or listening to such profanity, in the company of younger members of their own family.

It also occurred to me that we as women have some ‘working out’ to do.

I note that many of those defending Rita Ora’s right to wear what she likes for a 7.00pm appearance on the BBC1 [several on social media have teased those complaining with comments along the lines ‘Women have boobs, get over it!’] are also those who enter the lists most vigorously when it comes to the issues of rape, sexual violence and the bone-headed stupidity of men.

There seems to me to be a basic inconsistency here – and perhaps a degree of ‘disconnection’ in logic – between a female’s right to express her sexual confidence by wearing whatever she likes at any time and, on the other hand, her right to be selective about the (inevitable?) reactions that her choice of apparel can prompt on any particular occasion.



In the recent past it has become the norm to see a tsunami of music videos featuring semi-naked or scantily-clad young female pop performers and dancers bumping and grinding their way through routines that would not look out of place in a ‘gentlemen’s club’.

Artistes such as Rhianna, Miley Cyrus and even sometimes Beyonce – to name but three – seem to be making careers out of it, following in the footsteps of predecessors who loved to shock their audience, such as Madonna.

They are worshipped as iconic examples of ‘modern woman’ by millions of female fans around the world and feature almost weekly in the vast array of celebrity gossip magazines.

And yet the UK public can still work itself into a frenzy of  indignation over (to me) a little-known pop performer like Rita Ora, who happens to show a bit of cleavage – well okay, quite a bit, actually – on an early evening fluffy magazine television show.

Pardon me for shaking my head at times like these.





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About Jane Shillingford

Jane spent the bulk of her career working on women’s magazines. Now retired and living on the south coast, she has no regrets and 'would do it all again'. More Posts