Is Lisa Wilkinson living in some kind of alternate reality?
The Project host’s latest rallying cry against women’s magazines and ‘trashy gossip websites’ that ‘bring out the worst in human nature’ is somewhat surprising for one simple fact: She was in charge of Dolly and Cleo for 15 years.
These hugely influential magazines were built upon images of conventionally attractive, predominantly white females alongside articles that encouraged body hatred, pitted women against each other and sent the constant message ‘you’re not quite good enough’.
Under Wilkinson’s leadership, both magazines reached record sales and made huge profits with hundreds of thousands of Australian women reading them every month.
But it appears Wilkinson would prefer to keep this inconvenient truth stashed away in the archives.
Lisa Wilkinson edited Cleo for more than 10 years. The magazine that claimed to ’empower women’ was obsessed with dieting, beauty and how to please a man in bed
After Cleo folded in 2016, Wilkinson wrote: ‘At your best, you were fun, informative, lusty and liberating, and several generations of Australian women are in your debt’
The magazine used top Australian and international models including Claudia Schiffer (above) on its covers
According to The Australian, Wilkinson gave a scathing assessment of the publications at a recent event in Melbourne to promote her autobiography.
‘Every time we pick up one of those magazines in a doctor’s waiting room and every time we click on that salacious link to a trashy gossip website, not believing the ridiculous emotion-charged headline but clicking on that link nonetheless, a click means you like it, so it only brings more of it,’ she said.
‘In these faces women exist only to be ogled at, picked on, ridiculed, pitted against each other, laughed at or scorned. It’s designed to make us feel better if we are having a bad day, but it doesn’t, it makes us feels worse and it simply brings out the worst in human nature.
‘It’s part of a system to weaken and suppress women and we’ve been witnessing it for decades.’
It’s fine to have these opinions, but wouldn’t it be more convincing if Wilkinson acknowledged the significant role she played in this ‘system of female suppression’? How her editing directly led to more ads featuring products that promised to ‘improve or fix’ women’s appearances, and as a nice sidekick – made lots of money for her bosses, including the late Kerry Packer?
Wilkinson was editor of Dolly for five years in the 1980s. The magazine featured attractive, slim clear-skinned teenagers on its covers and in its pages. It was marketed to Australian girls aged 13 to 17 – highly impressionable ages where self-esteem and identity are being formed.
Content included ‘Last Chance Swimsuit Shape-Up’; ‘Dieting Myths – The Things You Believe Could Make You Fat!’; ‘Fade Freckles From Your Life – Forever!’; ‘Amazing 7-Day Binge Repair Diet’; ‘Your Last Chance To Be A Dolly Cover Girl’; ‘Six Stunning Make-Overs’, plus countless more.
Sure, Dolly provided important medical advice that ‘girls were too embarrassed to ask about’ in its famous Dolly Doctor section, and stories about how to navigate bullying and friendships.
But surrounding this content were images of traditionally beautiful females and accompanying articles and ads that supported this ideal. Its modelling competitions pitted girls against each other in the most unsupportive ways.
Dolly ran modelling competitions which pitted teenage girls against each other and fostered body hatred and envy. Picture: Glossy Sheen
The magazine included articles on dieting and achieving the perfect tan. Picture: Glossy Sheen
Lisa Wilkinson, pictured during her time at Dolly, started as an editorial assistant and went on to become the magazine’s youngest editor at 21
Dolly was so popular because there was nothing else like it – which made its subliminal yet powerful message of ‘look like this and your life will be better’ even more damaging.
Wilkinson was editor of Cleo for more than 10 years in the late 80s and early 90s. Content during this time included: ‘Does Smoking Make You Slim?’; ‘Great Legs In Just Two Weeks’; ‘Drop A Dress Size By Saturday’; ‘Forever Slim: Bonus 34 Page Summer Diet Book’; and ‘Modelling’s Top 20 Who Makes It, Who Doesn’t’.
Then there’s the articles about men and dating: ‘What Makes A Man Look Twice? It’s Not What You Think!’; ‘How To Get Him Back From Her Bed’; ‘What Men Really Think Of Fat Women!’; ’20 Things Men Want Most In Bed (How Many Can You Do?)’.
Cleo, marketed to women in their late teens and 20s, went harder on impossible beauty standards. It featured only models – usually top Australian and international names – and more photos of women in swimsuits with dietary advice.
With an older age group, it also focused heavily on sex, often featuring sealed sections with images of a slim, beautiful female in bed with a muscular male – usually with tips on how to perform better in the bedroom to keep him happy.
Sure, Cleo featured articles about how to fast-track your career and manage your finances – but these more ‘serious’ stories were included to give the impression that it was a magazine that ’empowered’ women, when in reality, it strengthened the systems of oppression that Lisa now loathes.
LISA’S OUTRAGE OVER RESTAURANT PHOTOS
During her speech at the networking event, Wilkinson also spoke about photos Daily Mail Australia published of her dining at a restaurant in Melbourne.
‘Apparently, if you’ve read any of the trashy media gossip over the last few months, I’m also a craven, shameless media whore who has the temerity to eat dinner and sip on a margarita on her own while on a business trip to Melbourne – very possibly without even checking with her husband first,’ she said.
In the past, Wilkinson also labelled the photographer ‘an old creepy guy’ and said the pictures left her feeling ‘totally violated’.
The drama escalated when the photographer, Steve, wrote her an open letter telling his version of events – which were quite different to Wilkinson’s.
He also questioned Wilkinson’s outrage when she had embraced ‘celebrity journalism’ during her career.
‘Lisa, it is nonsense. Yes, I make a living out of taking pictures. It’s the same celebrity/entertainment journalism that pays your $2 million-a-year salary. Our platforms might be different, but in many ways our jobs are similar,’ he wrote.
‘So instead of the hypocrisy I think it’s time for some honesty – and perhaps even an apology. Sincerely, Steve (aka the creepy old man).’
Images of thin, beautiful women in provocative poses were marketed to Dolly readers as young as 14
Lisa Wilkinson said of Dolly: ‘A magazine that for 46 years was a bible to so many generations of young Aussie women – including yours truly.’ Pictured above: Dolly featured only slim, attractive females
Lisa Wilkinson during her reign at Cleo. Under her leadership, both Dolly and Cleo hit record readership numbers and profits
I was one of the young girls who read Dolly, and turned to Cleo when I was older. I don’t remember much of the content now, but I still clearly remember the images of the models and how they made me feel.
Dolly planted the seed of ‘this is how you need to look’ in my impressionable 14 year old mind. In my late teens and 20s, Cleo well and truly watered ‘this is how you need to look if you want to get (and keep) a man’. And despite a university education, successful career, and financial independence, I can say with 100 per cent honesty that those feelings of ‘you’re not quite good enough’ started with these magazines – and still linger decades later – as they would for many Australian women.
Yet Wilkinson, for all of her passion for women’s rights and her anger at modern media’s attitudes, still chooses to gloss over Dolly and Cleo’s history of using ‘perfect’ females to draw girls and women into critically evaluating and comparing their faces and figures, and buying advertised products to remedy any ‘defects’.
Dolly, especially, was never a community service initiative.
Supermodel Elle Macpherson was this edition’s covergirl alongside content that ranged from ‘How to get him back from her bed’ to ‘How to get that fabulous job overseas’. Wilkinson said Macpherson was her best-selling cover model. ‘Hands down, you wanted a good selling cover (it was) Elle Macpherson every single time – strong, athletic, powerful.’
More ‘liberating’ content – this time including ‘Will he EVER leave her for you?’ and The Cindy Crawford Diet
When Dolly folded in 2016, Wilkinson wrote: ‘A magazine that for 46 years was a bible to so many generations of young Aussie women – including yours truly.
‘I collected every single issue when I was in high school devouring the fashion, the pop stars, the big sisterly advice and of course, the iconic Dolly Doctor. As the old jingle went, Dolly was a girl like me.
‘To then get my first job there was a joy I’ll never forget… and I went on to spend seven years there – five of them as editor.
‘Vale Dolly. So many of us will never forget you.’
Wilkinson views women’s magazines and ‘trashy gossip websites’ as a vile part of the media which weaken and suppress women and says it has been doing so ‘for decades’ – but fails to acknowledge her significant role
Wilkinson was furious over photos, including the one above, showing her dining alone and enjoying a margarita in Melbourne. She said the photos portrayed her as a ‘craven, shameless media whore who has the temerity to eat dinner and sip on a margarita on her own while on a business trip to Melbourne’
When Cleo was also axed in 2016, Wilkinson said: ‘Thank you Cleo. For your guiding hand in changing times. For your fun. For taking away some of the fear. And yes, for the orgasms too. You were a magazine of your times, and a key driver in changing those times for the better.
‘At your best, you were fun, informative, lusty and liberating, and several generations of Australian women are in your debt. While it’s sad that our daughters no longer need you, it doesn’t mean that you failed, but that you, and we, succeeded.
‘For those of us who really knew you, we bid you a fond farewell.
‘We will miss you.’
Several generations of Australian women in debt to Cleo? Spare me.
Put simply, I’ll start taking Wilkinson’s position on how the media treats women seriously when she acknowledges that the practices she now so vocally deplores were perpetuated by her on Australian teenage girls and women for, let’s face it, quite a long time.