Jeanette Fitzsimons: our Next glamour girl

Jeanette Fitzsimons, as you’ve never seen her, glams it up on Next magazine’s February cover

People like to talk about Jeanette Fitzsimons’ “steely” political character. Former co-leader Rod Donald called her “the steel magnolia”. On Next magazine’s February cover, Fitzsimons owns the page.

The Dominion Post, mindful of Next’s “role models not supermodels” tagline, made some catty observations about make up and airbrushing. Plenty of the former, a touch of the latter, plus an exquisite black dress, make for a smokin’ picture. Something seemed missing though: when Next brushed away the character lines, with them went Fitzsimons’ trademark modesty. The cover figure’s character seems changed. Whether they’ve peeled away the surface distractions, and revealed the true Jeanette, I guess only she will know.

But I don’t buy the Dom Post’s line: Next dresses Fitzsimons up, but they dress some others down. Miriama Kamo features, in what must surely be a deliberately-chosen uncomposed shot: the girl next door, with a less than perfect smile. (Ed's note: in the interest of full disclosure, that story was written by co-Punditeer Eleanor Black). Twice in the space of a few pages, Next shows us another side to a woman we think we know, that we haven’t seen before.

There’s a little blip in the trend lately, towards magazines trying the gimmick of an untouched cover shot. Next’s approach might be another route to the same end: take an everyday woman (blessed with some natural advantages), give her the same treatment as any actress or supermodel, and she looks no less arresting than they. The basic point is the same.

“Jeanette Fitzsimons,” blares the magazine cover, “How one woman followed her heart and changed our world”. I envy Fitzsimons’ perspective on decades of green advocacy. The cover story quotes her on her 1982 decision to resign as energy spokesperson for the Values Party, feeling that “there was no role for a green party, no public discussion about sustainability, and no interest in preserving anything for the future”. How much has that really changed? Discourse has changed a lot, now that the Greens are a genuine political force, in Parliament in respectable numbers. But the world … maybe not so much.

For this article’s purposes, though, Fitzsimons proves that a woman really can have it all, if she’s passionate enough: she can be beautiful, brainy, articulate, wife, mother, politician, party leader, world-grade environmentalist, deservedly loved – and in Fitzsimons’ case, undeservedly often ignored. The randomness of our media-driven collective enthusiasms – like calling Judy Bailey “mother of the nation”, for reading the news for heaven’s sake, and emoting it prettily – sometimes really sucks.

But maybe the world is changing. Next calls this “the love issue”, with pieces on couples and single girls, and a page advertising lots of romantic red stuff; but it is in fact a very green issue. Now, Next’s editor will know that people interested in Fitzsimons are likely to also be interested in eco-stuff. This issue is a nod to that, and a canny marketing hook (if they like the issue this month, maybe they’ll buy it again). But it might also be a tiny, candle-strength beacon. If the world’s not quite made over yet, Next is doing its bit to help things along (in a girly, product-promoting way, with things like organic ammonia-free hair colour) by showing one can be Green and glamorous – that Green is glamorous.

Fitzsimons is said to be a “wry commentator”, and this is a very wry move, that’ll make people look and think twice. It‘s a cover that will sell, and spark conversations in the lunchroom – sadly, a level of interest not often sparked by the Greens’ actual policies.

I was fascinated by the pictures too, but I did buy the mag and read the words, and I was glad I did. And not just because it allows me to say this: while debating whether and how Fitzsimons has been airbrushed, and remarking on her gorgeousness, think about what she says too – because she’s not just a pretty face.