That’s how one of our subscribers described the cover image of our second issue. And d’you know what? I feel I have to agree. When our editor suggested the idea of an image of a woman scrawling the Simone de Beauvoir quote across a wall as the cover shot, I thought it was quite a smart idea. The image chosen is clearly a sexualised representation of ‘woman’ and deliberately so. My colleagues’ argument was that, by explicitly and overtly using an image depicting one of the stereotypes of ‘woman’ on the cover of our ‘pictures and image’ issue, we would be ironically challenging that representation. Perhaps it was even an attempt to reclaim the sexualised representation of women from the world of commodified bodies.

But I couldn’t agree. As any advertiser – and social psychologist – will tell you, repetition reinforces. And this is so, even when a given representation is used to ironically question that representation. It compounds rather than challenges. The idea of framing, that a whole series of associations are triggered by a word or phrase, could well be applied to visual language. Visual is, after all, our first language. And in the view of the cognitive linguist, George Lakoff, when we attempt to negate a frame, we actually evoke that frame (see Lakoff’s ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant’). Not only is the frame and all its connotations brought to mind, neurologically speaking, they are embedded even further into our amygdala.

We can’t help but know that the portrayal of women as sexual objects is so very prevalent in our society. We need to challenge that. Perhaps Her Edit’s better option would have been to present ‘woman’ as a miner, a boxer, an engineer. Or indeed any number of the non-stereotypical depictions of women that can be found in Anne Leibovitz and Susan Sontag’s ‘Women’. But there are four of us in the Her Edit gang and my argument was trumped by democracy. I must work harder on my ability to persuade.

Sue Christoforou


  1. liane aukin says:

    Why does the cover have to be something symbolic? Aren’t women always used as symbols? Love. Memory. The Muse. Victory. You name it somebody has given it a female form. How about portraits/photographs of women thinkers, philosopher,scientists, revolutionaries, artists i.e. Hannah Arendt, Marie Curie, Caryl Churchill, Aphra Behn,Rosie the Welder, Georgia O’Keefe ,Cleo Barnard……..

  2. Jayne Phenton says:

    Thanks for your comment Liane and excellent point about the symbolic use of women. I think perhaps this image reads less than as a representation or symbol of a social construct of ‘woman’, but rather as how commonly received ciphers of women’s sexuality (are we talking about the choice of knickers?) might redefine what is essentially a strong and active image of a woman declaring how those ciphers come to define us as women. Is our sexuality defined by our underwear? In the same issue, Annabelle Bond talks about retaining her femininity by choosing to wear her lipstick (another cipher?) even when she’s scaling mountains while Kate Palmer finds freedom from received notions of ‘woman’ because when she’s snowboarding she isn’t required to comply with those constructs by virtue of wearing genderless clothing. Is the ‘non-stereotypical depiction’ of a woman boxer, miner or engineer compromised because she’s wearing lipstick or frilly knickers?
    It’s an interesting debate and I hope we’ll see some more comments on this page. Thank you for the excellent suggestions for the cover and I hope we’ll be able to feature at least some of them in the future. With images we’re rather hampered by copyright and the associated fees and as Her Edit is free and carries no advertising, our resources for purchasing publishing rights are limited, but it’s early days so please stick with us. We have some excellent content lined up for our next issue in January and I think with less room for contention among the Her Edit gang!

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