Sunday Star Times

2 February 2003

The skin trade


For some it's a way to dump a goodie-goodie image; for others it's about the cash. But do the bevies of beauties who disrobe for men' s mags ever regret the exposure? By Sarah Stuart

Katrina Hobbs is a very Nice Girl.

It says so, just beneath that photo of her squeezing her breasts and wearing a string bikini bottom on the latest cover of lad mag Ralph.

"TV's Nice Girl Shows Another Side," it reads, referring, you suspect, to her front side.

"Do girls check out a bloke's package when he sits down?" asks the interviewer opposite a gorgeous photo of Hobbs in a khaki bikini.

"God!" replies the Live This host. "I don't . . . I mean, no, I haven' t. I don't think about stuff like that."

Truth is, the Ralph cover, the billboards and the interview gave Hobbs a bit of a shock when she ran into a gas station a week ago and saw it sitting on the magazine rack. It's almost 18 months since the photo shoot and while she's happy with the state of her perfectly toned and tanned bod, she does wonder where some of her freckles and wrinkles have gone.

Photoshop is a miraculous computer programme which can whisk away cellulite, blemishes, even reshape the entire body (hello Kate Winslet in last month's British GQ). There's the story of a local billboard which featured a prominent Auck-land model wearing very little. She squealed about the heft of her thighs and refused to let the campaign go ahead until they were slimmed. Click, drag, diet by mouse.

It's even easier in a glossy magazine and that may be one reason why a whole host of Kiwi starlets are stripping for hot shots pawed over by teenage boys and middle-aged men. It started with Shortland Street sweetheart Angela Dotchin baring her better half in 1999 and has snowballed to include such good-natured gals as wholesome Young Entertainer Ainsley Allen, warrior princess Lucy Lawless and thinking man's crumpet Jodie Rimmer. Getting your kit off for the lads is suddenly as credible a career move as Telethon once was.

"The thing is," says the nicely frank Hobbs, "you know you're never going to look bad."

There are three magazines vying for local talent. Brass is fully home- grown, while Ralph and FHM like to use a local cover to wrap around their mostly international content. Nipples are rarely shown, top fashion photographers are often used, but there are still cover-lines such as "12 full-on pages of hot models showing you their undies" on Hobbs' Ralph this month.

Money is one incentive, with up to $20,000 paid for a really big star. But as FHM doesn't pay its models and celebrities like Lawless don' t need the dosh, what's the real attraction?

"It's good for publicity and for changing your public image," says Hobbs. "I'd had interviews saying she's such a sweet girl and a nice girl and I like that, but I wanted to show I'm a sexy woman too."

"It's pornography," protests TV's nicest girl Petra Bagust, one of a small clique who has turned down numerous offers to reveal almost all.

"When I look through an FHM or one of those mags that are so hot right now I don't come away feeling fabulous about myself. You can get that feeling from Vogue as well, but with the men's mags you feel like you need to have a shower."

Some may be beautifully photo-graphed but they're still soft pornography, says the TV3 star who has a firm "never" ready when the lad mag editors call.

"Porn is a disease that has become totally acceptable and personally I think it's damaging to men and to women."

But it's very good for careers.

Ten years ago posing for a men's magazine was career suicide, says celebrity agent Andy Haden. "Now it's considered an advancement."

Haden says he would never tell a star not to do a men's mag shoot, although some of his clients have come to that conclusion themselves. It was the advent of credible celebrities such as Elle Macpherson and Renee Zellweger appearing in Playboy magazine that prompted local lovelies to follow suit, he says.

"It used to be an end of the road, do it for the dosh, kind of job but now it can be a very good thing to do," he says. "Unless you want to be a newsreader or take your career in a direction that requires neutrality rather than a polarised audience."

Shortland Street's Rachel McKenna, aka Angela Bloomfield, was in the first clutch of nice girls turned naughty. It's almost four years since she took everything (yes, everything) off for an arty black and white shoot in Ralph magazine. "This isn't exploitation. It's me getting comfortable with my body," she said at the time. Any regrets for the newly married actress now?

"I'm still as conflicted about it now as I was prior to doing it," says Bloomfield. "I carry that conflict and that's about whether I'm OK about having a nude photo of myself out in the national domain. I go `that's OK', and then I'm like `is that OK?'"

Bloomfield and Dotchin used the shoots as a way of shedding their Shortland Street skin, of revamping their images. When Dotchin's shoot appeared, Bloomfield says she wasn't sure it was a good idea. But when the editors persisted in asking, she wondered whether she could carry off something like that.

"Whether it was my ego or a chance to express a different side of myself to my public, I'm not sure. But it was really freeing in a way; you've got nothing left to hide."

Bloomfield says the Ralph photo shoot was good for her own body image but she wouldn't do it again.

"You grow and learn how you want to present yourself and the older I get the more protective I get I suppose. It's not something people should be doing in a kind of networking, self-promotional way because it's dangerous. You are going to pick up gigs you don't want."

And a fair few that you do. FHM editor Lee Davis was responsible for Ainslie Allen's red bikini shot in Brass and says the performer was swamped with offers of work after publication. The Mickey Mouse Club girl had grown up and announced it through the pages of a magazine.

"There's hardly any difference between fashion mags and these photographs- -we use the same photographers, stylists, make-up artists," says Davis. "There's not a lot of difference between Vogue and FHM's bikini shots."

Maybe, says Bagust, but the rest of the mag is. "I understand young women wanting pics of themselves, but the philosophy of the mag is important to me," she says. "It doesn't mean I haven't been seen in my bikini in other publications, but it's the context that is the key. And, pardon the pun, I don't feel I need that kind of exposure. I feel I've got nothing to prove."

Neither does Hobbs. She turned down Playboy because it would have meant full chest exposure, but was comfortable with Ralph.

"I wouldn't say I'm a regular buyer (of Ralph). What have I got with me here - ah, Vogue Living, Vogue Entertaining and Travel and Vanity Fair. That's why I find stimulating. But who am I to say what's stimulating for someone else? I feel that you don't have the right to judge anyone else as long as they are not hurting anyone."

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