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Is Sonia Kruger’s Criticism of Elle Magazine Justified?

Is Sonia Kruger’s Criticism of Elle Magazine Justified?
Franki Hobson

Writer

May 27, 2015

Sonia Kruger says Elle magazine’s decision not to run an image of Nicole Trunfio breastfeeding her baby on their newsstand issue sends the wrong message. But there’s more to the story… 

Is it a case of ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t?’ Or does Sonia Kruger’s criticism of Elle magazine’s decision to withhold a breastfeeding cover image of model Nicole Trunfio from their newsstand edition really send the wrong message about, and to, breastfeeding mothers?

Elle magazine produced two different cover editions for their June issue – one for newsstand sales, with a fully dressed Nicole Trunfio laughing while holding her four-month-old son, Zion, and a second exclusive cover for subscribers, with an image of Nicole breastfeeding her son.

Naked pregnant celebrities have been selling magazine covers since Demi Moore first hit the stands on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine back in 1991. Since then a swathe of celebs have celebrated their baby bodies on magazine covers, with little criticism. So it wasn’t that surprising that Channel 9 Morning’s host and new mum Sonia Kruger hit out at Elle magazine’s decision not to run the breastfeeding shot of Nicole on the newsstand issue of Elle. “You wussed out,” Sonia told Elle’s Editor-In-Chief Justine Cullen, when the two recently appeared on a Today Show panel discussing the cover. Justine said the magazine never intended to photograph, or run, the breastfeeding cover at all – it was more a “bonus”.

“It was such a beautiful moment and we wanted to release that,” Justine responded. “It wasn’t so much about promoting breastfeeding, but it’s always an amazing thing to be able to normalise breastfeeding. As a media outlet, we’ve got this power and we can do that.”

“But you wussed out,” Sonia argued. “To put it on the subscribers issue and not put it on the issue that is on stands… aren’t you actually sending the wrong message – this is not for general consumption?”

Justine said, “Outside of normalising breastfeeding, it’s about not judging women. We’re always made to feel ashamed for breastfeeding in public, or for not breastfeeding, or being able to breastfeed.”

babycover2Image: Elle magazine. Model Nicole Trunfio and her fiancé Gary Clark Jnr welcomed Zion into the world on January 11.

babycover1Image: @nictrunfio Nicole posted the ‘subscribers’ cover on her Instagram account, writing: “There is nothing more powerful and beautiful than motherhood. The last thing I want to do is be controversial, so please take this for what it is, let us #normalizebreastfeeding there is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public. #weareonlyhuman I’m so proud of this cover and for what it stands for. I obviously don’t look like this while I am breastfeeding but this stands for all women out there, whether you breastfeed or not, we gave birth, we are women, we are mothers. Thank you to ELLE for being so bold and making such an encouraging, positive and healthy statement. #womenunite”

babycover3

Image: @nictrunfio Nicole is quoted on Elle’s Website saying:  “When I saw the cover of me breastfeeding, which was unplanned and just natural, I teared up and thought, ‘Wow this is such a special moment where my worlds have collided’.”

Whether or not the breastfeeding cover was planned or not was irrelevant to Sonia’s argument about the message withholding it from newsstands sent. “The very fact that you didn’t put it on the main cover, to me, says that we are judging women.”

Justine explained that there were multiple factors involved when deciding on the two covers, including the opportunity to run an exclusive bonus for loyal subscribers, as well as “commercial” reasons, to which Sonia asked: “Do you mean it’s more palatable for the general public – that people might actually boycott the magazine because you have a breastfeeding mother on the cover?”

“No,” Justine replied. “Of course that is possible. The fact that we are even here talking about that says that it was important to put that out there. You don’t know what the public’s reaction will be. It’s been overwhelmingly positive at this point, but it didn’t necessarily have to go that way.” Justine said they looked at the newsstand cover, where Nicole is wearing a black Prada dress and laughing, and decided that “joyful” feel was an image of motherhood that they wanted to share.

babycover6Image: Vanity Fair. Demi Moore was the first of a long list of celebs to appear pregnant and naked on a magazine cover in 1991.

babycover7Image: W magazine. Cindy Crawford for W magazine’s June 1999 cover.

babycover5Image: Elle magazine. Jessica Simpson 2002 Elle cover.

babycover4Image: TIME magazine. Jamie Lynne Grumet, who subscribes to attachment parenting, breastfeeding her three-year-old son for a 2012 cover of Time magazine.

As a mother and former magazine editor, I understand both sides. I agree with Sonia – by publishing the breastfeeding image for ‘subscribers only’, it does inadvertently send the message that ‘breastfeeding is not for public consumption’. Although I don’t think this was ever Elle magazine’s intention. Let’s not forget that while some women’s magazines do advocate for positive social change (and some do not), they are a business, often part of international media houses chocker’s with red tape – and there to make money. So of course “commercial” factors weighed heavily and impacted the decision.

So what are some of those “commercial” factors? From experience, I know that the supermarkets account for a massive chunk of magazine sales, and with their often conservative approach, it could have been deemed a risk to piss off the big distributors, have complaints from their shoppers ‘offended’ by a breastfeeding image, or worse, get pulled from the shelves and lose a whole month’s sales (mind you the supermarkets are often happy to run some men’s mag’s which border on soft porn…)

Then there are the big budget advertisers to consider – what if ‘breastfeeding’ wasn’t ‘on brand’? Or they pulled their advertising dollars? I’ve seen this happen when clients didn’t approve of the editorial featured alongside their advertised products…

And of course Elle is a fashion magazine with brand values to adhere to, so while Justine agrees that the breastfeeding image is more powerful, it was the ‘fashionable’ Prada LBD that was always pegged as the ‘cover dress’.

But it’s a no-brainer that a breastfeeding shot of gorgeous Australian model Nicole Trunfio with her son was going to be a publicity hit for Elle (Nicole Trunfio has more than 100k Instagram followers), sales, and of course it supports the sisterhood and breastfeeding movement – bonus.

Regardless of the reasons behind the decision to run the breastfeeding image for subscribers only, the result has been a positive for all parties. Elle magazine have generated a load of publicity, and no doubt a load of sales, as well as celebrating motherhood (even if the breastfeeding shot didn’t exist, Nicole gracing the cover with Zion is still gorgeous). And Sonia has raised a very valid point: why is breastfeeding still not ‘palatable’, or for ‘general public consumption’? Is it society? The advertisers? The supermarkets? The media companies? All of the above?

It’s 2015 and we are still taking ‘baby steps’ for breastfeeding to be ‘normalised’? Come, on!

What do you think? Should Elle have published the breastfeeding cover on both newsstand and subscriber editions? Tell us in the comments section below… 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

By Franki Hobson

Writer

Franki Hobson has worn many hats during her many years as a women's lifestyle journalist and editor. Her launching pad was COSMOPOLITAN magazine, where she moved from News & Entertainment Editor to Features Director, covering everything from the legalisation of the Morning After Pill to Gwen Stefani, fashion, beauty, sex, health, fitness, entertainment and relationships. Franki Hobson is a contributing lifestyle writer for The Carousel.

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