The Government’s Body Image Campaign and the Clipsal 500 Grid Girls

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 14:48 :35 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for the Status of Women a question about the government’s Body Image Campaign and its commitment to improving self-image in young women.

Leave granted.

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN: On 14 October last year the minister responded to a previous question without notice and described how the government’s Body Image Campaign aims to explore ways to boost self-esteem and develop positive body image, particularly in young girls. The minister said:

The body image campaign is designed to help empower young South Australian girls and remind them that things like character, skills and personality attributes are far more important than their weight and shape.

The minister also stated that the government wants to ensure that we have a generation of young girls who look beyond stereotypes and find confidence within themselves. The minister would no doubt be aware of the recent near-record numbers that attended the Clipsal 500 event in Adelaide, which the Premier has celebrated as ‘another great South Australian event that successfully showcases what the state has to offer’.

Indeed, on 25 October of last year, the Clipsal 500 issued a media release which described the new grid girl trackside outfits as ‘super-sexy’, complete with ‘laser cut leather, bonded knits and black mesh combined to give a high end, sexy look’. In light of the government’s commitment to developing positive body image in young girls, my question to the minister is: has the minister made representations to the Premier about the issue of grid girls and the stereotype they represent, and, if so, will we see a different approach at next year’s event?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:50 :16 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question and his interest in this most important policy area. I have spoken in this place on numerous occasions and, in fact, have answered many questions in this place on our body image campaign, involving building better self-esteem for young women.

It has initiated a high level of interest in this place, which I have been pleased to receive. The products from that particular project initiative have now been collated and we are now looking at ways, particularly through social media, we might be able to release the sorts of images and materials that were developed by that group of young girls and women. It will be delightful to see that work being rolled out in the near future.

In relation to other images of women around our society, I have to say that it is very easy to be disappointed. We regularly see women being portrayed in ways that I think are hardly dignified and hardly reflect a high value of women and are often very much focused on body image, and I personally find that disappointing. However, in relation to regulating against those images that aren’t illegal, and I am talking about those images that comply with all of our current legislation, one has to be mindful of trying to balance a society that has a range of different views and attitudes that we might not all share without being overprescriptive and being a nanny state. So, trying to get that balance right is very difficult.

If I put legislation through this place to ban the grid girl outfits, I could not imagine too much support for legislation of that sort, because most people would see that as overbearing, and that’s not our place as legislators. What we do do is encourage, through a range of different initiatives, a respectful attitude to and valuing of women. There are a number of programs that we are directly involved in through—I have just forgotten their name. The Natasha Stott Despoja—not Our Watch.

The Hon. T.A. Franks: Our Watch.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: It is Our Watch; sorry. That is a national organisation that the South Australian government contributes to which particularly focuses on social and cultural attitudes around women. They are involved in a number of projects, including doing quite a lot of work with the media around the way they portray images of women throughout the media and the way they talk about women as well. I think all of those things are really encouraging. It’s important that we try to educate our community and, I guess, try to encourage people to understand the consequences of some of their language and attitudes and try to change that in a positive way.

Further Question

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 14:54 ): I have a supplementary. Would the minister accept that it is within the capability of the government to make forceful representations to Clipsal 500, given that it underwrites the event, that grid girls no longer be part of the celebrations?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:55 :04 ): I have to say I would feel pretty uncomfortable about that; I think it is a very heavy-handed way to approach this issue. As I said, I do not appreciate seeing images of young girls with very little clothing on being portrayed that particular way in public as a positive thing, but I do not believe it is my place to interfere.

I am happy to consider the issue, but I think it is a fairly heavy-handed way to approach social and cultural attitudes. It would mean, basically, that I would be asked to complain about every image I saw of a woman that did not show the respect I thought was deserved. I think that would be an incredibly unrealistic way to approach social and cultural attitudes around women.

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