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The Page 3 generation: growing up with the pin-up column

Feminist artists and activists look back on 44 years of the controversial Sun column

UPDATE: The Sun has rubbished claims that it was dropping Page 3 and said that it will continue the column. A front page headline on Thursday read: "We’ve had a mammary lapse." *slow clap*

Page 3 is dead. Long live Page 3. News broke yesterday that the Sun has quietly shut down its long-running column of topless models in favour of an online-only approach – if you want to see any Page 3 girls, you'll have to log on to (and pay for) the newspaper's dedicated website. The third page in today's issue of the Sun? A full-page advertisement for Sainsbury's. 

It's difficult to understate the place of Page 3 in UK popular culture. The phenomenon of the topless newspaper pin-up is as British as they come – a national print extension of the saucy seaside postcard. If the Page 3 girl had an equivalent in art, she'd be a Martin Parr photo: luridly coloured and coolly crass, with an unstudied whiff of provincialism. 

Almost every woman has a Page 3 story – in school, you might have been one of the kids whispering of a daring sixth former who ran off to London to pose for the Sun. Or you could be one of the older, maybe wiser, more politically inclined thousands who signed one of the many petitions against the column. You could even be part of the No More Page 3 campaign, who have been lobbying the newspaper for over two years to shut it down. An entire generation – two, if you count your parents – have lived with the Page 3 girls issuing wink-wink-nudge-nudge political commentary on the news of the day.

For many, the end of Page 3 is a feminist triumph. For others, it's fallen prey to conservative killjoys, and its only crime was to exist in an age where hardcore porn is only a click away. Former models have come out both for and against the demise of the column. People say it's a class thing. No, it's a sex thing. No, it's about nudity in art. The death of the "most famous female in British journalism" (if you take the Financial Times' word for it) is far from a cut-and-dry affair. So we decided to ask some of our top feminist activists and artists about Page 3. 

Co-founder of anti-harassment group Hollaback London

It's not a zero sum game. Nuance is so important!

My personal position is that I, of course, support all women's rights to bodily autonomy – and of course that includes respecting the labour of glamour models as sex workers – AND (not but) I also support the lives, needs and safety of young girls I work with that tell me Page 3 has been used as a tool to embarrass and humiliate them and women who tell me the insidious way it's been used in offices and workplaces to silently remind them of "their place". When you look at the poisonous rhetoric about women and girls' bodies that comes out of women's magazines (often written by women) to zero uproar, it's clear something much bigger needs to change. 

No More Page 3 campaigner

This is a great day for people power! We'd noticed there'd been a few changes to Page 3 recently, but weren't quite sure what it signified. The Sun seemed to be actively trying to draw attention to it for a little while, so this has come as a welcome surprise!

We don't know the details for sure yet – it does unfortunately appear that the Sun intends to keep the objectifying images, albeit with bras on, which is obviously far from ideal. We have always been clear that it is not the nudity that bothers us; it’s the context of sexualised pictures in a self-proclaimed ‘family newspaper’, so simply covering up the nipples doesn’t mean it’s not sexist or inappropriate anymore!

It’s clear that there's still lots to be done, and I'll continue to campaign for equality of representation until women are portrayed the same way as men in the newspapers: not for what they look like, but for what they have achieved. Still, we feel this could be an important step in the battle against media sexism, and it’s good to see the Sun are finally listening to public opinion. We feel that what we are witnessing here is not simply a backlash against one outdated, sexist page in a newspaper, but a shift in societal attitudes,  and we are so incredibly grateful to everyone who has stood up with us and said "No More Page Three!"

“I remember seeing copies at one of my grandparent's house from a very young age and I actually used to draw bras on the topless models”   

Founder of creative feminist platform Girls Get Busy

When I first heard that Page 3 might be shutting down I was actually quite surprised because I didn't think the Sun would do anything. Having seen the backlash from Page 3 models, makes me wonder if it really is a victory for feminism. It seems that the tabloids are now spinning an agenda that feminists (labelled as dull man-haters of course) hate glamour modelling. For me, it's not a case of dictating how women should earn their money, but more about a national newspaper not being the appropriate setting for those kind of images - like how is that news?

Although we never had the Sun in my household growing up, I remember seeing copies at one of my grandparent's house from a very young age and I actually used to draw bras on the topless models. So even as a five year old, I think I knew it made me feel uncomfortable and found it unnecessary.

I also feel like Page 3 has helped fuel a culture of sexism and confusion... The fact that we have topless images in newspapers sold in local newsagents and supermarkets, kind of gives the impression that female bodies are just for male consumption and I think this has contributed to things like street harassment.

Artist and Auto Italia founder

Although I knew it still existed, it’s not something I come into contact with at all. I grew up in a place where people still to this day boycott the Sun newspaper, but purely for other reasons. Page 3 feels like a pretty conservative space, from another time but I think that has more to do with the excessive and diverse images of bodies circulating online.

Let's be honest, the idea of banning Page 3 is full of contradictions. Essentially, it becomes about a question of autonomy and representation. There is a hint of privilege around the debate and ideas of how we define positive and negative imagery. I guess I’m more interested in those questions. I just googled today's Page 3 girl which is the least shocking image of a women I have seen in a long time.