Voices from the Glossy Page

Four former Island Girls look back on their experiences in the Newfoundland Buy&Sell

Illustration by Robyn Flannigan

I was eighteen-years-old when I learned of the Island Girl section of the Newfoundland Buy&Sell, working a summer job between university semesters as labour on a construction site. Sitting in the cab of a co-workers truck, I flipped through a stack of classified magazines on the seat beside me while the three of us chatted absentmindedly on break.

I recall opening to the glossy page, and remarking out-loud that I didn’t know that it was a section in the classifieds. My co-workers were surprised, but were quick to reach back and each take a copy, flipping through to that same page, thicker than the rest, and comparing the Island Girls.

A conversation ensued on preferences and attractiveness, and I quickly understood that it was well-worn ground; both of them were able to recall specific girls in previous issues, flipping through the stacks of long out-dated ads to find them. The conversation continued until we got back to the site.

The Island Girl section carries with it a complex legacy, conjuring up varied ideas on what the section represents, and what place it has in the cultural landscape of this province. Owing to a childhood home in Ontario, I didn’t grow up with the Buy&Sell, or with faded photos of Island Girls hung up in the shed. In many ways the section has been a fascination of mine, with how it’s perceived by those who consume it and the debate over whether the section is demeaning or empowering.

Regardless of which side of that fence you’re on, it’s often too easy to forget the actual people in front of the camera and smiling from the page. I asked four former Island Girls to share their stories and experiences with the section in their own words, and what legacy they think the section has for the province.

How and when did you first learn about the Island Girl section of the Buy&Sell?

Amanda: I first learned about it when my modeling agent was the photographer and asked me to do a shoot.

Danielle: I only found out about the Island Girl section of the Buy&Sell when I started dating my current boyfriend about four years ago and heard his friends talking about it one day, so I checked it out.

Haley: I first learned about Island Girl when I was pretty young. I can remember as a child I would tag along with my dad, who is a mechanic, going to different garages or sheds and seeing these Island Girl pictures hung on the wall.

Anonymous: I had actually never heard of the Island Girl until someone messaged me on Facebook asking if I was interested in becoming one. They made me feel like it was a cool thing to do.

What made you want to become one?

Amanda: I was perusing a modelling career and it helped to build my portfolio.

Danielle: What made me want to become an Island Girl I think was seeing all the different shapes and sizes of the beautiful women chosen for each issue, and seeing how confident each woman looked.

Haley: I wanted to become an Island Girl because when I looked at the pictures of the other girls I couldn’t help but think about how great it made them feel to open up a magazine and see a picture of themselves looking so good! I knew it would be a huge confidence boost and to really help me to step outside my comfort zone.

Anonymous: We got free things and it was a confidence boost for me as an eighteen or nineteen-year-old, so I figured why not?

What does being an Island Girl mean to you?

Amanda: Nothing really, to me it was just another photo shoot.

Danielle: Being an Island Girl doesn’t really mean a lot to me. It was fun and I did it for a laugh, never thinking my photos would actually make it into the magazine.

Haley: Being an Island Girl was really important to me. It was something I wanted to do since I was little, so it was almost like becoming famous for a week. With Island Girl being something native to Newfoundland, I felt pretty proud to help carry on a tradition that has been going on for decades.

Anonymous: I guess just the confident boost of feeling like I was pretty enough to be issued in the magazine. I would never do it now [laughs].

What was the photo-shoot like?

Amanda: It was easy and fun, I always liked being in front of the camera. The photographer would have photo concepts he’d want and I would pose the way he asked.

Danielle: The photo-shoot was the best part. I did my photos as a boudoir shoot with a lady in Baytona; she has a Facebook page I follow and I’ve always wanted to try it. She made me so comfortable and beautiful. I’ll definitely do it again.

Haley: The photo shoot was actually really fun. I was super nervous because I had never done anything like this before, but the photographer made the whole experience socomfortable. Mike Mahoney was my photographer, and we did the shoot at his house due to really bad weather. He asked what some of my favourite bands were and started putting on some music to help lighten the mood. Within minutes I felt as if I was a model my whole life. He made it really easy to feel beautiful while keeping the whole shoot very professional.

Anonymous: The photo shoot was awkward for me, as I’m a very awkward person when it comes to getting pictures taken of me, but I must say the pictures did come out nice. The photographer was very friendly and patient with me. My shoot was during winter so I was absolutely freezing, but it was a fun experience to get my hair and makeup done and pictures taken.

Is there an empowering aspect to having your photos published?

Amanda: No, I found modelling always made me self-conscious.  I always worried what people thought of me doing the shoots.

Danielle: To me there is, I’ve struggled with self-image all my life. Between fluctuations with my weight, acne and bad skin, not knowing how to do makeup or hair, and getting braces at twenty, it was a definite confidence boost and totally empowering because I’m not a size 0; I’m not a model, but it just shows you don’t have to be.

Haley: I would defiantly agree that there is an empowering aspect to having your photos published. I can’t deny there was an ear-to-ear smile on my face when I opened the Buy&Sell and saw myself for the first time. Even now a couple years later I have met people who have asked me, “were you an island girl?” or have asked me to sign a copy!

Anonymous: From the beginning I knew the photos would be published.  I think I had to sign a release form actually.

Looking back, what do you think about the section?

Amanda: Not a lot honestly, I know there’s kind of a stigma that comes with it. I always just thought of it as something fun

Danielle: Looking back I think the section was great. I had a lot of fun with it and got a lot of compliments from a lot of people. I think I would have chosen a different photo to send in to be featured in the magazine, but I’m happy with the outcome either way.

Haley: I believe the section is an important part of Newfie history. Everyone knows someone who faithfully goes to get the weekly Buy&Sell to cut the picture out and hang it up in the man cave, or out in the shed on the wall.

Anonymous: Honestly, I think it’s a pointless section. I had no idea what I was really doing until a few years later I realized I was hung up in people’s sheds [laughs], and that honestly made me feel really awkward. At the time a few people I knew had been asked, and I feel as it was a fairly new process I remember getting a gift card for restaurants, tanning sessions, and a few other things for free for doing it, and I was young, so it grabbed my attention.

It made my eighteen or nineteen-year-old inner self feel pretty, and like I stood out because this guy messaged me on Facebook to do it. If someone asked me to do that now at my age I never would. However, that being said, it’s a great confidence boost for others and it can be fun for some people, but it isn’t for me. I feel like it does grab reader’s attention and everyone who purchases it looks forward to seeing monthly or weekly Island Girls, so it may be beneficial— who knows.

[Responses edited for style and clarity]

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