Reeva Steenkamp: our media invites you to ogle a dead woman

Tasteless photos of the woman found dead at the home of Oscar Pistorius.

There's been a lot of chatter on Twitter (isn't there always?) about the media's use of photos of Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot dead yesterday at the home of her boyfriend, the athlete Oscar Pistorius. 

Some newspapers and websites have been "paying tribute" and "celebrating her career" by running multiple photos of her in swimwear, or posing sexily.

Here is The Sun inviting you to admire the hotness of the recently deceased:

And here is the Mail inviting you to reflect on the tragedy of a young woman who died younger than she needed to:

(It might be unfair to single out these two papers, but they're the most obvious illustration of the point. Update: The Huffington Post did a slideshow of bikini shots.)

So I made what I thought was a fairly uncontroversial statement:

Cue four billion (that is my go-to made-up number today) people telling me one of a couple of things. Let's deal with them in turn.

She was a swimwear model.

So she was. She also modelled cosmetics for Avon. She had a law degree. She campaigned against violence against women. And yet - I'm not hearing a lot about that. And it is not just reported that she is a lingerie model, but visually demonstrated.

What do two pictures of her in a bikini tell you that one doesn't?

That Sun front page is particularly jarring - they've given Steenkamp the same treatment they'd give any sexy bikini-posing model. These pictures are intended to titillate, to arouse . . . and they're alongside a thumping great headline about her violent death. 

Those were the only pictures available of her.

Bzzt! Wrong. I looked on the Getty newswire - which all British newspapers have access to. (The NS only has a basic subscription, so every picture desk on a national will have access to far more of its pictures, plus those from specialist agencies.) Here's what they had:

You will have seen those pictures a lot yesterday, I imagine. But if your interest is in illustrating a news story, there are a couple of shapes and crops available where she has clothes on.

They'd print just the same of a male model or swimmer who was killed!

In response to me saying "try to imagine a man dying and the media running four billion pictures of them in swimwear", many people came back with "Tom Daley" or "David Beckham". It's an argument that looks superficially attractive, but lacks sophistication. Yes, there might well be photos of Daley in trunks . . . winning medals. (Maybe even presenting Splash). Being portrayed as the successful athlete he is.

Similarly, there might be a single shot of Becks in his tighty whiteys among a retrospective of his life and career, but if you think that any British newspaper would run that on their front page, rather than a photo of him, say, at the World Cup, you are deluded. The backlash would be incredible. 

If either of these men were portrayed in a way that was solely about their looks, we would seeing the oddness of it instantly. 

***

It's not that I have a problem with how Reeva Steenkamp made her living. And I don't disapprove of the mere concept of women in underwear, or bikinis. If you're at the beach, swimwear is a totally reasonable thing to wear, although obviously I prefer a Victorian-style pair of bloomers, because I'm a feminist.

What's problematic here is the knee-jerk response to the death of a woman being to print exactly the kind of pictures you'd invite readers to perv over if she were alive. The subtext is so icky I don't even want to type it out.

Roll up to ogle the recently deceased!

Look at the tits on this dead woman!

Buy our newspaper - we have 50 per cent more sexy pictures of a potential murder victim! 

Reeva Steenkamp. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Steve Garry
Show Hide image

The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism