Melinda Messenger felt “exploited and vulnerable” as Formula One grid girl

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Kayleigh Dray
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Melinda Messenger has explained why she 100% backs Formula One’s plans to ban ‘grid girls’ and walk-on models from their racetracks.

Formula One bosses made headlines last week when they declared that the practice of employing promotional models was “at odds with modern day societal norms”, scrapping their use with immediate effect.

Since then, their decision has been met with ire from F1 fans on social media – with ex-Formula One Group chief executive, Bernie Ecclestone, insisting that the use of so-called ‘grid girls’ is entirely “necessary”.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: “Sponsors wanted to see the people that represented them very smartly dressed, which is what they [the grid girls] did.

“I thought people enjoyed seeing the girls and they were necessary really, because when a driver wants to get on to the grid it’s much better and easier for them to know their place where they need to stop.

“I can’t see how a good-looking girl standing with a driver and a number in front of a Formula One car can be offensive to anybody.”

Now, though, TV presenter Melinda Messenger – who once worked as a grid girl – has said she 100% agrees with the F1’s decision to ditch grid girls.

“I didn’t have a kind of aspiration to be a grid girl,” Messenger explained to the Loose Women panel on Tuesday (6 Feb), before going on to reveal why she got into the job in the first place.

“I’d just become famous as a model, I was doing some TV, and the Jordan [racing] team asked me if I’d be one of their grid girls,” she said.

“It was decent money, and I’d get to take my brother along to watch the races, so I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Messenger went on to work as a grid girl for four years – although she admits that she sometimes felt uncomfortable with her role as a “decoration”.

“I felt quite vulnerable and quite exploited,” she said, “but I just kind of accepted that that’s the way it was… [and] I don’t think I was fully able to recognise [why that was such a big problem] at the time at the age I was.

“Now, of course, I’m almost 47, and I’ve sort of reflected on these things a lot and I am really aware of it.”

Insisting that the decision to ban grid girls is a “move in the right direction”, Messenger continued: “The perception of women is affected, very subtly, and not so subtly, by these roles that we’re given and the roles we play, so it’s really important that this changes.”

She added: “There’s a huge number of women and girls out there that don’t necessarily have a public voice, who don’t want to always be represented in this way.

“They don’t want the impact that comes from the sort of judgement and connotations that are given to women when they’re objectified.”

It wasn’t long before Messenger’s appearance on Loose Women had sparked a discussion on Twitter – although many of the comments (the majority of which failed to listen to what Messenger had to say, focusing instead on her physical appearance) only served to prove the former model’s point.

“Melinda Messenger is on,” wrote one creep, adding: “The w**k bank is now open.”

Another added: “Speaking of masturbation, here’s Melinda Messenger.”

And yet another couldn’t resist adding: “Melinda is still fit as f**k.”

While Messenger approves of the F1 ban, there are many grid girls who have spoken out against it.

Lauren-Jade Pope, a ‘grid girl and promo model’, tweeted: “Because of these feminists, they’ve have cost us our jobs! I have been a grid girl for 8 years and I have never felt uncomfortable! I love my job, if I didn’t I wouldn’t do it! No one forces us to do this! This is our choice!”

Meanwhile, Rebecca Cooper, another grid girl, said on Twitter: “If we don’t do something to stop this where will it end? No grid girls, no cheerleaders, female singers being told what to wear on stage, no models in magazines?! I’ll fight for my right to choose what I wear, where I work and to keep a job I love. I’ll #fightformyrighttochoose.”

There will be a protest march at Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre on Saturday 10 Feb, which has been organised to show support for women who face losing their jobs in sports, promotion and hospitality industries.

The description of the event reads: “We are marching in protest of the recent news from F1 banning of Grid/Promo girls. The extremists are ruining a perfectly harmless industry and we must make a stand.”

Images: Rex Features


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.