Monday, March 8, 2010

blog 7

An eating disorder is characterized by disordered eating: starving yourself, binging, purging, eating only extremely healthy foods. Accompanying the disordered behavior is a mental attitude that involves some kind of body dysmorphia.

I think that fashion and film industries are partially to blame when it comes to encouraging eating disorders among young people. Fashion models on the runway and in magazines are usually extremely thin because the clothes hang on them as they would on a hanger. They are made up to look beautiful and glamourous. Actresses also are under pressure to remain extremely thin. They have resources such as nutritionists and trainers that ordinary people don't, which is why they can get away with losing baby weight really quickly, for example.

so why do eating disorders surprise us?

Friday, March 5, 2010


Naomi Wolf's idea of “the beauty myth” permeates almost every facet of the culture in which we live. It is especially prevalent in advertisements, since they saturate every type of media, be it television, magazines, movies or the Internet. It can be very easy to overlook the perpetuation of the beauty myth in advertisements, because they are often subtle. But when looking through an educated and sensitive lens, it becomes obvious that people (I'd venture to say mostly women) are being attacked by a barrage of images and words that leave them feeling dissatisfied with themselves and their bodies.

So what is the beauty myth? Naomi Wolf says it is a societal backlash to women gaining more and more power. She cites historical examples such as the ideal of the “flapper,” a very thin woman, developing after women got the right to vote; and the ideal being Marilyn Monroe, a larger woman, when the cult of domesticity in the 1950s was strongest, and then immediately changing to Twiggy when women became more liberated in the 1960s. Wolf explains, “the more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us.

Today's beauty myth, she says, tells a story. The story is that the idea “beauty” is universal, objective, and attainable by all women. The typical ideal portrayed by most advertisements is an image of a woman who is blonde, thin, tall, young, white, with sizable breasts. Wolf says of this mythical beauty, “women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it. … Strong men battle for beautiful women, and beautiful women are more reproductively successful. … None of this is true.” Yet it is still maintained in our society.

The relationship between popular culture and body image is a complicated one. The myth is constantly played out on television, in magazines' ads and editorial content (which is often influenced by advertisers, as they essentially keep magazines in business), and in film. Women across the country internalize the images they see in the media and compare themselves to those images. When it's not a match, insecurities arise. Thus we observe the overwhelming rates of eating disorders in our country which, when juxtaposed against the high obesity rate, creates a very intriguing picture of body image in the United States. What is going on here?

A good example of the beauty myth in pop culture is the show “Friends.” I really like this show, as do a lot of people. It's funny and clever and it has a very basic cultural root: everyone can relate to having a close-knit group of friends with whom they share everything. But the characters on the show are all just perfect-looking.

The female characters in “Friends” are thin and busty, with long pretty hair. Two of them are blonde. Monica was fat in high school, and they all tease her about it from time to time in a “Thank God you're skinny now!” kind of way. The men also fit into a mold of male beauty; they are all tall, thin, dark-haired, with distinctive facial features. Because the characters were relatively “normal” – that is, unglamorous and relatable with actual problems and insecurities – they were seen as what the typical woman should look like.

This is a bothersome ad that I found online for the clothing company Sisley. The image shows two young women, very gaunt and heavily made-up, holding straws next to a white dress. The text underneath the Sisley name is “Fashion Junkie.” The white dress is meant to represent cocaine, and the women seem to be pretty coked-up, with their sunken eyes and emaciated appearance. Sisley seems to be a repeat offender, as a Google search for their brand name brings up a host of ads featuring women being sexually objectified in some way.

This ad is offensive because of the message it sends. In 2007, 199,262 women were arrested for drug abuse violations (from the Office of National Drug Control Policy web site). This advertisement glamorizes drug abuse and makes it look cool. These women are wearing beautiful dresses, and they fit the ideal of very thin with long hair. The demographic that this ad is targeting is young women and teenage girls who like fashion.

Additionally, the women in this ad are portrayed not as strong and independent, but as weak addicts. The word “junkie” communicates that they need their drug of choice to sustain them, be it cocaine or fashion. They are hunched over the table in a passive position, needing to get their fix. The stereotypes about women that this ad preserves are that women are weak, can't rely on only themselves (usually they need a man to help them; here, they need their drug), and silent. The women are communicating nothing but desperation. Only one of them has her eyes open, and they are sunken back into her head. These women are dolls.

Here is an example of a positive ad that I found. It's for Kohl's department store, New Balance shoes in particular.

I think this ad sends a positive message about women for several reasons. Firstly, it communicates that women do indeed play sports! These women are active instead of passive. I love the big smiles on their faces; it's really refreshing to see women in advertisements being truly happy and joyful as opposed to a typical fashion ad where women appear either grouchy or orgasmic. The woman on the left in the sports bra looks like a more normal woman that is typically portrayed in ads: her belly isn't completely flat, her arms aren't like twigs, and you can see lines on her face from smiling. Also, since she is a woman of color, it's good that her hair appears curly and more natural.

The women look like best friends who do active things together, instead of dolls that exist only to please men. I couldn't say exactly how old they look, but they seem to be older than the typical 18-22 year old models that are usually seen in fashion ads. This ad is probably targeting women who exercise, or just women in general. I think it's applicable for all ages. It's very empowering for women as well as enforcing a different kind of femininity.

There is still a long way to go when it comes to the beauty myth in advertising. We are bombarded with negative images of women, and images that reinforce the impossible ideal. But, with ads like this Kohl's one, the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, and others, change is on the horizon.

extra credit: 1 in 3

I went to the event “When It Hits Home” on February 24, 2010. I was only able to stay for the first segment, which was a screening of the film “1 in 3.” The film was made by an Oklahoma alumnus, Lagueria Davis. It is about intimate partner violence and all the different people that can be affected by it. The film focuses on two women: one, a worker at the battered women's shelter; and the other is a wife and mother whose husband beats her.

“1 in 3” is relevant to women's & gender studies because it is a gender issue. Dr. Irvine, who introduced the film, said that only 10% of intimate partner violence victims are male, making it mainly a women's issue. I think that if someone cares about women, they should care about intimate partner violence because it is such a huge problem affecting all kinds of women in our country today.

The film wasn't exactly connected to what we are learning in class, but it reminded me of a few things. Women learn to be subordinate to men in the same way we learn to hate our bodies. It is a lesson that starts before we can even talk, and it continues forever. If a woman is not pretty enough, it could be reason for her husband to hit her. If a woman is too pretty, he could accuse her of trying to flirt with other men and then hit her because of that.

The main thing I learned from “1 in 3” is that intimate partner violence is everywhere. It's not a black problem or a white problem, it doesn't affect only poor people or only rich people. It is all around us and the only reason we don't see at as much as that statistic suggests we would is because people hide it. Just like women of all backgrounds have body image issues, women of all backgrounds suffer from intimate partner violence.

The film itself was devastating. It was well done and I thought the script was great, but watching it was a very difficult experience. The violence was not glamorized, nor was the reaction to the violence. There were several different types of victims portrayed: poor women, white women, black women, rich women. The main victim was a wealthy white suburban wife, while the woman who helped her at the shelter was a young black woman from a middle-class background. I appreciated this because I feared it would be another “white saves black” movie like “The Blind Side.” My reaction was sadness and bitterness. I felt these things because I know that a problem like intimate partner violence is not something that can be solved by a law or a protest. It is a learned behavior; violence breeds violence. I wish that more people had been at the screening so they could better understand.

extra credit: the vagina monologues

I participated in this year's production in “The Vagina Monologues” for several reasons. I had seen the play last year and I thought it looked like a lot of fun to be a part of. It seemed like a valuable experience. I also think that the work itself is very important and subversive for women today.

I think that “The Vagina Monologues” is relevant to women's & gender studies because it is a play about women's unique experiences. The play is all about gender differences and opening up to topics we don't normally discuss, like pubic hair and sex slavery and how awful gynecological exams are. I think that anyone who is interested in women's & gender studies should see or read the monologues because it's a much more entertaining and accessible way to learn about actual women's issues than taking a class is.

Taking part in “The Vagina Monologues” didn't necessarily raise my awareness of topics we were learning about in class, because I feel like I already had a good background of knowledge before taking the class and being in the play. But one monologue in particular is a good connection to the class: the monologue entitled “Hair.” This monologue is about a woman whose husband demands that she shave her vagina, even though she doesn't like to because it makes her feel like a little girl. But she does it anyway, to please him. “Hair” reminds me of the video that we watched about plastic surgery where one woman was requesting a labiaplasty, or surgery on her vagina to make it prettier. I think it's sad that a woman would feel the need to change the appearance of her vagina. It's such an unseen, intimate part of our bodies; the only thing that would make it seem like it needs to be changed is pressure from an outside source.

On the flip side, one monologue reflects a positive body image. It's called “Because He Liked to Look at It,” and it's about a man who loves looking at vaginas; when he looks at a woman's vagina, it's like he reads her palm, he knows things about her. The woman speaking the monologue says that his adoration is what made her love her vagina.

My reaction of being in “The Vagina Monologues” is exactly what I thought it would be. I had a great time with my own part (I was part of the angry gang in the monologue called “My Angry Vagina”) as well as watching everyone else do theirs. It was really wonderful to be surrounded by women who all wanted to celebrate our womanhood and start a celebration with the audience too! I can't wait to do it again next year.