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Is it time for Rihanna to cover up?

By Helen Carson

Every day we’re bombarded with images of female celebs flashing their breasts, but is stripping off all about empowerment or exploitation ... and is the public finally finding it a turn-off?

From hot babes in lads’ mags to female pop stars hitting the town in their scimpies, there has never been a bigger spotlight on women’s bodies. Whether it’s Rihanna in her latest see-through top or string bikini, Madonna flashing her nipple on stage, the TOWIE girls in bum-skimming skirts or the latest celebrity mum to ping back into shape after having a baby, up and close and personal images of women’s bodies have never been so exposed.

And, while women should be free to wear what ever they want, where do you draw the line with the constant parade of female flesh?

Is there a danger that overtly sexual images of women are now becoming part of our culture, with no holds barred reality shows portraying women’s personal lives where nothing is sacred?

Then, of course, there’s also the recurring debate about whether women should go topless while sunbathing on the beach. Some say taking off your bikini top is as routine as slathering on the high protection sun cream, while others insist it’s become a bit, well, passe. So should you still dare to bare? Or is time to put it away?

We caught up with several local women to get their views.

The Playboy model

Playboy and former Page 3 model Laurena Lacey (26), from Belcoo, Co Fermanagh, now lives in LA. She says:

It was always my dream to be a model, I think most girls dream about it at some stage.

I was at university in Birmingham studying for a degree in property and construction when I got signed to a London agency. I dropped out of my course after three months as I was getting into debt while studying and felt I wasn’t learning anything. I just wanted to follow my dream. I mainly did fitness, glamour and Page 3 work. Glamour doesn’t necessarily mean nudity, it is a more sensual style of picture — Page 3 is obviously topless.

People in Northern Ireland are slightly more uptight about topless modelling but I think they should just appreciate it for what it is. I enjoy what I do, it is a creative process and it is really liberating. It is a way to express yourself and a natural thing. I don’t see it as trashy, although other people do. When you’re doing a photographic shoot, everyone is working. It is not the way most people think it is — it is hard work.

I’ve modelled for Playboy, have been to parties at the Playboy mansion, and worked with famous Playmates Holly, Kendra and Bridget — they’re definitely interesting characters! There are some crazy people at the parties, you have to expect that. You don’t have to have sex with the men there, but a lot of them come onto you as they’ve paid a lot of money to attend. As long as you can handle that, it’s ok.

The mansion is a big place and there are lots of different things going on in different rooms, but you don’t really see a lot of things that go on, unless you look for it. I’ve met Heff, and he does make an appearance at parties. He’s created an iconic brand. People in the industry know Playboy is quite respectable compared to Hustler and others which lean towards porn.

I heard about Rihanna when she was here — she was trying to be outrageous and it was brilliant marketing. I also think she is very beautiful and am glad she decided to film in Northern Ireland.

My family are very supportive of what I do, and my mum comes on shoots with me.

I look after myself and eat a healthy diet which is easy in Bel Air or the West Village, but not when I’m in Northern Ireland which is the opposite. Healthy food here is a salad and I don’t like that. All the food is healthy in LA, as everyone there is trying to stay fit. I’m also doing a lot of weights at the minute, as I’m trying to build muscle. But I think the province should welcome the industry I’m in.”

The on-trend online fashion editor

Katrina Doran (37) is editor of and married to Peter Forster. The couple live in Belfast. She says:

Flesh-flaunting celebrities do what they do purely for publicity, and they don’t care what their fans or mothers of their fans think about it. I would say to them ‘Hold something back for yourself’. I actually find the pictures of Rihanna smoking more offensive than the ones of her in a revealing outfit.

I’d rather see what clothes women are wearing, rather than what is underneath. Unfortunately, these type of pictures are exactly the ones that are picked up by the media, because we all like looking at them.

It is also about the shock factor — there are always pictures of celebrities looking too fat in a bikini, or too thin. There never seem to be any pictures of a healthy girl in a bikini — it’s quite sad.”

The model who regretted plastic surgery

Gemma Garrett (31), from Belfast, is married to Andy Cosgrove (30). After her PIP breast implants leaked she had them removed and later presented a BBC3 documentary on the cosmetic surgery business and young women. She says:

Everyone should be free to dress the way they want, but when it comes to stars like Rihanna, there is a reason they dress the way they do — and that is to make the newspapers.

Stars like Rihanna are role models for young girls and the way she dresses a lot of the time is inappropriate. If she wasn’t an international pop star, then I wouldn’t see a problem. If she wants to go out with her nipples showing, then that is her prerogative. But sometimes I don’t think she takes her responsibility seriously. I hate criticising her because I am a fan but famous female pop stars, who charge young women up to £60 for a ticket to see them perform, need to be responsible about the message they give out.

There is a lot of pressure on young women these days to look a certain way, and that is what the documentary I made recently looked at. Often young women are getting plastic surgery that they just don’t need.”

The FHM honey

Katie Larmour (27) TV presenter/model and FHM Holiday Honey winner 2011, lives in Holywood with boyfriend Harry Diamond (27), a successful amateur golfer and bar owner. She says:

Going topless is just not something I’m interested in, but I wouldn’t criticise any other women for doing it.

I have a lot of friends in modelling in Northern Ireland who do glamour work, but it is just not for me. You make your own choices in life. I wasn’t tall enough to be a catwalk model in Milan, but you find your niche in modelling. I’m happy doing press calls and commercial photo shoots.

When I won FHM’s Holiday Honeys last year it could have been a route into glamour work, but I’ve used it as a platform for creating my own recently launched swimsuit collection.

FHM is into its sexy shoots, but neither my family nor I had a problem with that. The women who appear in it are famous tennis players and actresses. I did have to send in pictures of myself in a bikini, but winning the title has enabled me to fulfil a childhood dream and use my art degree to design my own swimwear collection.

I’m doing something glamorous in an industry I love. I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing a sexy photo shoot in lingerie or swimwear — it is a celebration of women’s figures.

The mum with three daughters

Paula Kelly (40) is a director of She lives in Annacloy with husband Paul (48) and their three daughters Ciara (22), Eva (11) and six-year-old Hannah. She says:

We are constantly bombarded with images that sexualise women and as a mum I always think about that from the child’s point of view.

I think women deserve to dress the way they want to. And if a woman makes a living out of topless modelling, then that is fair enough if they’re comfortable with it. However, we have to be aware that young people see these images on TV, in newspapers and online. I think young people are being accelerated into adulthood a lot quicker now.

There are matching bras and pants on sale in shops for nine-year-old girls.

We are very careful not to have newspapers in our house which have topless pictures, and are strict when it comes to what the children watch on TV.

Women are constantly under pressure on how thin and how good-looking they are, to the point where Botox is very acceptable.

The feedback I get on is that parents here just want to protect and shelter their children from these images and ideas for as long as possible.

I encourage my children to get out and play, and be a child as long as possible.”

The radio presenter

Caroline Fleck (40) is a presenter for Downtown Radio. She lives in Belfast with son Jack (14). She says:

I expect celebrities to look like celebrities because they are different from the average person on the street, so when Rihanna steps out in next to nothing, it’s no shock.

I grew up in the Eighties when Madonna was doing her thing and everyone was going ‘Oh my God’. Remember when she brought out the sex coffee table book? So, anything that goes on now with pop stars is not shocking or new. When it comes to the TOWIE girls or WAGs, however, I understand why they turn up in revealing outfits or mini-skirts up to their bums, it is the only way they will get publicity. And I do think it is demeaning to women.

When I was growing up people were famous because they could do something, but the reality stars are not — it’s all they’ve got. Then again it’s what people want to watch.

Yes, people can complain pop stars are setting a bad example to children, but we are watching these shows and buying into it. Young girls can’t afford hair extensions and boob jobs themselves so they must get the money from somewhere? It’s up to the parents to be responsible and give children an idea of what is right and wrong.

Stars who have popped out

  • A topless Rihanna incurred the wrath of Ulster farmer and DUP Alderman Alan Graham when she filmed her video for We Found Love In A Hopeless Place in his Co Down wheat field.
  • Madonna continues to shock, even aged 53, by flashing her boob to the audience| at a concert in |Istanbul, Turkey recently.
  • Janet Jackson’s infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the 2004 Superbowl broadcast caused huge controversy among conservative Americans. The incident where singer Justin Timberlake ripped off part of her costume to reveal her breast in a nipple shield was dubbed ‘Nipplegate’.
  • Other famous female flashers include Katie Price, whose tight and revealing clothing has often let something slip and Britney Spears whose figure-hugging dresses and plunging neckline have exposed a lot of flesh. A braless Mischa Barton was let down by her dress on an evening out, as was Pixie Geldof, who was also left red-faced.

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