Topless Kate photos: what's all the fuss about, asks Italy

Sep 17, 2012
Andrea Vogt

As Chi goes on sale with 50 controversial photographs, our correspondent in Italy explains the culture gap

Getty images

LAUGHING off royal rage and threats of legal action, the Italian gossip magazine Chi was all set to splash topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge across a 26-page spread in today’s special edition.

The magazine was due to hit newsstands just as lawyers representing William and Kate headed to court in Paris to press criminal proceedings under France’s strict privacy rules against the photographer who snapped Kate sunbathing topless on a private holiday in Provence. They were also hoping to win an injunction against further sales of the magazine that published them, the French version of Closer.

Like Closer France, Chi is run by the Italian publishing giant Mondadori, part of the media empire of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Chi’s editor-in-chief Alfonso Signorini approved approximately 50 of 200 pics in the magazine’s possession and defended their publication as a natural and tasteful portrait of “the daily life of a young, famous, modern couple in love”.

While his argument might appear disingenuous - to put it mildly – in Britain, Signorini’s remarks expose a culture gap between the UK and Italy.

Here, William and Kate are not seen as a future king and queen but as two young, good-looking celebrities – no different from famous actors, footballers, pop singers or a host of other modern media stars. If a celebrity gossip magazine can get hold of topless pictures of Megan Fox or Emma Watson – or indeed Kate Middleton - they are going to use them.   

Chi’s spread, titled ‘Scandal at court: the Queen is Naked’, plays directly to widespread snickering in Italy about the royal uproar in Britain. So we saw the royal breasts? Big deal. As one headline read, there’s no need to call in ‘00 Tette’ (a play on 007, swapping the Italian word for ‘seven’ - sette - with the word for ‘tits’).  

Bad puns aside, when it comes to topless Kate pics, most regular Italians wonder what all the fuss is about and chalk up the furore in London to “uptight” Anglo-Saxon prudishness, not to mention hypocrisy, since Britain’s tabloid press regularly carries scoops about public figures’ intimate secrets - and those figures include Italian footballers, coaches and Fleet Street favourite Silvio Berlusconi himself.

On Italy’s beaches, going topless is par for the course. In the gossip mags, topless snaps are standard (and not scandalous) fodder.  

“I don’t see anything morbid or damaging in them,” says Chi’s Signorini. “Chi pays attention to respecting people’s dignity. I don’t think they hurt Kate’s image.”

But whose idea of modern dignity are we talking about here? Signorini and Berlusconi’s? While it is true that women take off their bikini tops on Mediterranean beaches every day of summer and, liberatingly, no-one bats an eye, it is also true that Berlusconi’s modern media empire promotes some of the most backward and sexually objectified portrayals of women in the mainstream western media today.

On television, scantily clad dancers gyrate and shimmy to spice up news satire shows – and it is considered perfectly
acceptable for mainstream television audiences.

Gossip rags in Italy not only publish topless photos of famous women regularly, but often accompany them with commentary about whether they are fake or real, too prosperous, too saggy, too lopsided or too whatever (though never too Photoshopped).

In the case of the Duchess, Chi called in Italian plastic surgeon Paolo Santanche to comment. “On such a statuesque physique the breasts are not particularly great,” Santanche notes. “The flat shape they assume when the princess is supine and very pear shaped when she is leaning forward on the one hand confirms they are absolutely natural and on the other gives away that they are not very firm and they are slightly empty.”

Editors such as Chi's Alfonso Signorini – they’re mainly men - make very different editorial decisions when it comes to the dignity of men. Chi, for instance, refused to run stills from a video showing the Lazio governor undressed in the company of a transsexual prostitute.

Many publications refused to print pics of nude Czech premier Mirek Topolanek, whose dangling dignity was blurred with pixels but published in El Pais in 2009 after he was snapped relaxing at a party on the grounds of Berlusconi’s estate (photos, which, by the way, appeared in some other European tabloids and which Berlusconi tried to block citing privacy laws).

At the end of the day, there is a huge double standard when it comes to gender and editorial decisions about what offends dignity or not.

Italians may brand Brits as old prudes still displaying Victorian morals but an underlying hypocrisy remains: it is not the Duchess who has a hang-up with body image, but those who photograph, print and purchase the magazines in order to ogle at her.

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The point the Italians are missing is that what really gets us is the invasion of privacy. I wholeheartedly believe they had an expectation of privacy. The photographer had to go to some extreme lengths and jumping through hoops (or tree climbing, base jumping or whatever else) to engineer a position to get the shots - I'm pretty sure he wasn't just strolling down the road and by lucky hap spotted the Duchess of Cambridge au naturel.

I agree with Sachman, these people who say "what's the big deal?" have missed the point and it's not really about privacy. Prince William does not want his new wife hounded as his mother was hounded, eventually to her death, so that he lost her at the age of only 15. No wonder he has reacted so strongly, he has my heartfelt sympathy and the callousness and glibness of the French editor beggar belief especially as it was those same French press that caused his mother's death.

In an interview Alfonso Signorini goes on about how we are not living in the Victorian age but we are in 2012 or something. But what does 2012 have anything to do with it? so according to his twisted logic we will have less privacy in 2020? in what year will be have no privacy at all? It really annoys me listening to him trying to justify it. There is a line and it has clearly been crossed. He probably can't see the line because he has been blinded by greed & ego.