An apology from OK! - why it was never just about Kate

Friday, 26 July 2013

OK! has apologised for its spectacularly misjudged cover that saw the magazine focusing on the Duchess of Cambridge's 'post-baby weight loss regime' in an edition that hit newsstands less than a day after she gave birth earlier this week.

The cover prompted a call to boycott the magazine by Katy Hill, and as outrage mounted, OK! attempted to avert what was clearly becoming a major PR disaster. The following statement was issued by the magazine's parent company Northern & Shell:

"Kate is one of the great beauties of our age and OK! readers love her. Like the rest of the world, we were very moved by her radiance as she and William introduced the Prince of Cambridge to the world. We would not dream of being critical of her appearance. If that was misunderstood on our cover it was not intended."

What the magazine has failed to understand is that everyone who saw that cover knows full well that the issue here is not about a perceived insult to Kate's appearance. You've got to be a pretty sad individual to take potshots at the looks of a woman who's just spent the best part of the last day in labour (and yes, screenshots of the musings of said sad individuals can be found on Twitter if you care to look), but that's not what OK! was doing. What was going on was, for women's magazines, the next logical step in the reader's "journey" through Kate's pregnancy and its connection to the way we're expected to control and scrutinise our own bodies.

Before she became pregnant, the focus was on her weight. As a woman who would obviously be looking to get pregnant in the near future, wasn't she a bit too thin? We saw headlines about "fears" for her fertility. As she was snapped with her stomach showing a slight bulge one day, it was speculated whether she was indeed pregnant or whether she'd just been pigging out on carbs. Did she look a bit rounder in the face or were we just imagining it? During her pregnancy, numerous stories about the size of her bump appeared. Was it "worryingly small"?

As Kate gave birth, the message to the reader was clear. How IS she planning to return to her pre-pregnancy shape? How can YOU emulate her? It's one of our priorities, as evidenced by the mileage women's magazines get out of celebrity baby weight stories every year. A focus on appearance, exercise and shedding weight at the time when what women need most is to rest, make sure they're getting enough food, and heal from the process of giving birth, is ridiculous, but it's not one that all women can ignore and brush off, as I hope Kate will be doing this week.

OK! magazine doesn't care that it's churning out this stuff - not to the extent of worrying about the impact on its readers. No doubt there's some concern that one of its biggest advertisers is reassessing its relationship with the magazine.No doubt there was also concern about another celebrity encouraging people to boycott the title. That's where priorities lie, and that's unsurprising, but depressing.

Possibly worse, however, than its cover, is a (now deleted) Tweet from the magazine, posted around the time that Kate left hospital.

One of the more bizarre things to come out of the birth of the Royal baby is the extent to which people - including newsreaders - seem unaware that when a woman gives birth, her abdomen doesn't ping back to its pre-pregnancy state immediately. Kate's being hailed as a heroine for busting the "last taboo" of pregnancy - simply for stepping out in public with a one-day postpartum stomach visible under her dress. They way women look as they walk out of maternity units across the land every day of the year is now, apparently, "being brave" and worthy of a pat on the head.

It's a sad thing that magazines are stooping to the level of the sort of people who take to Twitter to say "lol omg she still looks soooo fat". The fact that this particular magazine is one with a readership of 331,000 is possibly even sadder, because it shows that somewhere, somehow, people are buying into the sort of messages it gives out and the culture it's helped to create.

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