After hearing Biggest Loser star Jillian Michaels say that she probably will adopt because she “can’t handle” what pregnancy might do to her body, Gwynnie and Madonna’s trainer Tracy Anderson wants to give hope to women whose body image fears might have them thinking twice about getting pregnant (while she conveniently plugs her fitness program). She’s laid out her plan in this Huffington Post piece. Take heart, dear readers. Anderson understands what you’re going through because she’s a mom too! Her workout advice is predictable–it involves a lot of “discipline,” “focus,” “dedication” and “patience.” She also says it’s okay for moms to take time for themselves and that children will benefit from healthy moms. That’s all well and good, except for the fact that when she talks about her own approach to postpartum fitness, she doesn’t sound all that healthy.
Even though I was tired and could hardly catch a shower as a new mom, I found myself with a new power and belief that I could achieve anything…As soon as my OB-GYN gave me the green light to work out again, I started experimenting with my workouts whenever my son Sam was sleeping or with his Nana.
Six weeks after having Sam, I was smaller and more fit than I had been in my entire life. It took a lot of work, but I am a testament to the fact that pregnancy is not the end to your dreams of a perfect body.
Hmmm…I gave birth to my daughter seven weeks ago. I just got the okay to exercise from my doctor at my six-week check-up. For Anderson to have been her smallest and most fit at six weeks postpartum means that she must have been hitting the gym pretty hard at a point when most new moms are still physically healing and coping with serious sleep deprivation, hormone crashes and the general OMFG factor of caring for a newborn. As for that sage wisdom about napping when the baby naps? Apparently in Anderson’s world, there is no rest for the weary.
I absolutely get what she means when she says that she came to appreciate her power after giving birth. Bringing a baby into the world does make you feel like you can achieve anything. It also makes you very tired. And sore. And in desperate need of any tiny bit of shut-eye you can grab in between feedings, diaper changes, and the madness of managing baby meltdowns. Anderson sculpts and molds bodies for a living–I suppose it makes sense that she would want to immediately channel her new mommy power into her quest for the “perfect” body. That doesn’t mean the rest of us should follow her lead.
Obsessing about baby weight is the opposite of empowering. It prevents women from giving ourselves a break at a time when we need it most, and it keeps us disconnected from the amazing feats our bodies have just accomplished. Anderson’s timeline for getting her “best body ever” is unrealistic at best and it could be downright dangerous for some new moms.
Exercise is important, but sometimes the best thing we can do to take care of ourselves is to take it slow. You wouldn’t run a marathon and then wake up the next day and try to run another one. Hopefully you would pat yourself on the back and give yourself permission to relax for a while. So why should mothers put pressure on ourselves to work out six days a week (per Anderson’s recommendation) when we’ve just been through the biggest workout of our lives?
Did you think this was a scary sign of the times? My Beautiful Mommy was written by plastic surgeon, Michael Salzhauer M.D., and published in 2008 to help children deal with the excitement and stress of mommy’s efforts to “achieve beautiful results.”
Well, what about this? Reported last year, this 50 year-old-woman in the UK spent 10,000 pounds to look like her daughter.
Or the reports that plastic surgery among married couples was and is on the rise? Reported here, here and here. And, apparently, it’s not just celebrities like Gene Simmons and his wife but regular folks like the couple in Atlanta that run a construction business together.
I’ll add an 11th: Thou shalt recognize intersectionality in every component of media representation, sniffing out and calling them out on colorism, homophobia, heterosexism, classism, racism, ageism, ableism etc.
What would you like to add? Lets make it a full-fledged manifest(a).
Season 1, episode 16: Home: Mercedes is confronted with the cheerleading coach’s demand that she lose weight and wear the signature Cheerios short skirts. Despite initial protest, Mercedes attempts to fit the mold by starving herself and ends up fainting in the cafeteria.
Her struggles with self-doubt and a negative body image are not only revealing and honest but offer moments of insight. I appreciated the scene between a crying Mercedes and a pregnant Quinn. Quinn encourages her to be herself, a strong, confident and beautiful young woman. Quinn also poses a question to the viewers: why is it that her own pregnancy has prompted her to treat herself better by eating right and nourishing her body when she was not willing to do it for herself?
Many of the torturous diet and exercise rituals we are willing to endure and often pursue with much gusto in the name of thinness are nothing short of dysfunctional and abusive. Those rituals are accompanied by a tremendous amount of negative self-talk.
You know that self-talk. Disparaging comments you make about yourself as you look in the mirror or grab parts of your body that society thinks could be thinner or more toned (or more ____ , or less____; the list is endless).
One of the powerful and empowering moments of this episode comes not only from Mercedes’ ultimate rejection of the beauty myth and the cult of thinness when she sings Beautiful in front of the whole school but Quinn’s lingering question that urges us to ask ourselves why we don’t treat ourselves better.
We know it’s not just arm and leg hair that is considered unattractive. 90s porn culture targeted a new area of hair growth on women and deemed it unattractive and unacceptable. In fact, trimmed, shaped or completely removed pubic hair has become normative. It is difficult many to remember the previous aesthetic, an aesthetic that did not require a woman’s vulva to be shaved, waxed or shorn to be considered “attractive” or desirable. As quoted in the Times Online UK piece from 2007:
But then around the mid-90s some mysterious memo went out to twentysomething women that it was no longer sufficient to tidy the “bikini line” so it didn’t cascade down the inner thigh like a spider plant. The gyms of Britain were suddenly full of women waxed into weeny welcome mats, with all the stubble, bruises, pimpled hair follicles and burst blood vessels that accompany this excruciating sexifying of the sex.
Like a trend for comedy-size breast implants, inflatable lips, hair extensions, extreme nails and high street daywear revealing more tittage than a ten-quid hooker, waxing filtered down from the porn industry. Here defuzzing makes the action, as it were, easier to follow. And for male performers depilation adds the illusion of an extra inch. Maybe Hitchens had that in mind.
The aesthetics of porn reigns in an age when sex is so commodified that lapdancing is deemed “empowering”, prostitution glorified in TV drama, sex less concerned with pleasure than display. Young women have swallowed the idea that they must look so “hot” that men would pay to sleep with them: pity the poor cow so badly maintained that she’d have to give it away for free.
And bikini-area maintenance is, after all, big business. I mentioned the latest trend in pubic hair removal in the form of “virgin waxing” in my post from September 2008. Virgin waxing is being offered in salons across the country as a type of preventative maintenance. This salon’s website states:
I call it the “Virgin”- waxing for children 8 years old and up who have never shaved before [my question, why would an 8-year-old be shaving?]
What’s the motivation to subjecting your pre-pubescent daughter to bikini waxing before the hair has even arrived? Apparently, virgin waxing is a pro-active measure designed to eradicate pubic hair in 2 to 6 sessions, eliminating the need for lifetime waxing. The salon claims that the savings can be applied directly to a college fund. Well, I am guessing that these virgin waxing treatments aren’t cheap in the first place and the notion that a girl’s pubic hair will be removed before she gets it, maintaining her pre-pubescent appearance is inherently disturbing.
Aside from all the glaring problems revolving around women’s sexuality and women’s bodies, hair-free or neatly groomed bikini-areas are expensive. According to UK author, Janice Turner:
You don’t need to page Dr Freud to wonder how the craze for bare pudenda might be tied to some unsavory fetishisation of youth. And now the waxed look is supported by a massive industry — hair removal in Britain is worth £280 million a year.
We plan on writing about the the relationship between patriarchy, porn culture and pre-pubescent privates in an upcoming post but this post is devoted to the products sold to women to maintain trimmed or hairless vulva.
Well, Schick’s European counterpart, Wilkinson Sword takes the campaign for a step further in a series of less subtle advertisements.
On their interactive website, women can trim the pooch at the Poodle Parlour (I guess shaving a pussy cat would be too obvious for these folks). There’s also a series of extended ads called The Neighborhood (“the neighborhood is open, come and see”) with titles like The Landing Strip and Tidying Up Downstairs.
The typical American watches four hours of TV and is exposed to 247 commercial messages each day. This includes print ads, commercials, and billboards. The life expectancy of an American woman is 80.4 years. This means that the average American woman will be exposed to 7,248,462 commercial messages in her lifetime, and she will have watched 117,384 hours of television. But are the messages sent in the media accurate?
In talking to other teenage girls about the depiction of women in the media today, the vast majority agreed that no, women are not accurately portrayed, and yes, there is a problem. They also agreed that this is most apparent on television shows.
Let me start off by saying that whenever I read about online and cell phone phenomenons such as “sexting”, I feel old. I was in high school only 10 years ago, but the current culture feels so far removed from what I grew up around. There were plenty of rumors about people’s behavior regarding sex, drugs, and relationships, but they were just words, nothing more. All teenagers in all periods of time have acted reckless, made stupid decisions, and made mistakes. Except now, those mistakes live online, on computers, in a digital chip forever. There’s no escaping – pictures meant for one person can be shown to hundreds of Facebook friends, and profiles and pages deleted are stored in Google cache, long after they’re gone. There seems to be these two parallels running at the same speed – risque and sexual behavior starting at younger ages, as technology makes communication easier and faster.
I started thinking “Have we learned nothing from the Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians of the world?” Of course it then occurred to me that mainstream media, and the treatment of these women is part of the problem. I’m not saying they should’ve been slut shamed or torn to shreds, but the way it was handled doesn’t exactly set a good example. Paris Hilton went from being an anonymous heiress to a household name (again hit television show, movie roles, spokesperson, etc.) What did Kim Kardashian get after her sex tape was “leaked?” A hit television show on E! and countless offers to be a spokesperson, cover model, etc. So far network heads, corporations, and publications have shown that you get rewarded for this kind of behavior.
Like I said, the answer isn’t slut-shaming, but maybe the answer is not rewarding these exploits or at the least not paying attention? I got annoyed the other week when I read the Huffington Post writing about Brandon Davis’ tweets about ex-girlfriend Mischa Barton. “Why is the media still giving this asshole a platform?” I wondered. The question isn’t just “Why were these women rewarded for their sex tapes?” But like Davis’ tweets, “Why were the sex tapes a top story in the news in the first place?” The media is our educator – they get to set the norms. So what is the norm the average 15 year old girl is growing up watching? Girls Next Door, Pretty Wild, and Keeping up with the Kardashians, just to name a few. I grew up watching Daria and Buffy. Quite a difference in the last decade, no? Not everyone is lucky or educated enough to be as media literate as us.
The pop culture landscape is flooded with endless streams of hypsersexualized images, with images targeting younger and younger audiences, and personal sexual exploits that would concern any parent resulting in reality TV careers. What’s a young person to do? The messages are conflicted and inconsistent. The news reports the latest story on sexting or a tween sexual exploit shared on Facebook and at the next turn a new celeb-wannabe gets rewarded with fame and fortune for the same behavior.
As parents are less able to keep up with all the new technological innovations that make this behavior easier and faster, teenagers expose every aspect of their lives through social networking, the two combined create a problem that just seems to be spreading instead of slowing down. Combine this with the contradictions of the media environment and one can become overwhelmed, searching for answers.
We need to be educated – in technology, in the long lasting effects of this behavior, and in having a critical eye when it comes to magazines, TV, movies, and music. It’s important not to forget about the influence the media can and does have on our society and culture.
Whether or not you subscribe to a tabloid (or a number of tabloids), read them occasionally or only skim the covers as you make your way through the check-out stand (even Whole Foods carries a select few, such as Us Magazine), tabloids matter. They matter because they comprise a component of our pop culture environment, like it or not.
You may scoff at the rags, belittle them, feel disgust and/or frustration, you may have boycotted them entirely (good for you!), but (you know this was coming, right?) plenty of other people read them. They do inform a large segment of the population. Don’t you want to know what messages are being constructed and disseminated?
When I attended Z Media Institute in 1997, I was in a full-on boycott of the mass media. I’d shut the cable off, stopped buying tabloids and I even stopped flipping through them when I got my nails done. I was done. I felt great. In fact, I felt smug about my choice and my intellectual elitism. Mass media? Pop culture? Nope. I’d moved on and I was above it. And then Michael Albert started talking about the NBA.
I think he could tell how surprised some of us were by his intricate knowledge of professional basketball and his affinity for Michael Jordan. Michael Albert was my favorite teacher at the institute (besides the workshop I attended with Noam Chomsky). He taught all sorts of cool media theory classes and I was heavy into theory those days. I respected him and was sorta oogley-eyed. His status as an out-and-out NBA fan didn’t match up with his intellectual, activist and anti-mainstream persona. Without any prompting on the part of his surprised and speechless students, he went on to explain that as an alternative media activist he couldn’t just turn a blind eye to the mass media. He could examine it critically, limit his level of mediation and even enjoy parts of it. Why would he want to completely distance himself from and consider himself superior to mass culture, pop culture? How could he expect to relate to the rest of the population? How could he speak the same language and create change if people perceived him as an intellectual snob in an ivory tower that viewed their hankering for some end-of-the day programming?
Of all the invaluable things I learned during my time in Woodshole, MA, this conversation has remained with me in incredible clarity. My time at ZMI changed me and Michael Albert’s talk on activism and the NBA changed my approach to activism, my understanding of pop culture and my to relate to and resonate with the “average” mediated individual in immeasurable ways. And, it allowed me to have a little more fun.
So, unlike a lot of you reading this, I do read tabloids. It’s part of my job as a media critic and an educator. I need to know what my students are subjected to. What are they reading? What are they watching. In essence, what are they consuming? It allows me to speak the same language and use examples that are relevant to them. This allows me to connect with them and create a shift in consciousness.
Aside from creating more interesting, often entertaining, and relatable lectures, *I* want to know what messages and images are being constructed. These messages and images shape our social values. I’ve been a student of media literacy for 15 years, I consider myself a conscious media consumer and I limit my level of mediation but most people I interact with don’t fall into that category. I’m talking about my neighbors, the people at the market, the gym, the drivers next to me on the 405.
In the end, whether or not you read the tabloids, tabloid messages help frame our culture. With that said, I have decided that beginning with last week’s tabs, I am going to examine the covers of at least 2 tabloids and find out what they’re saying. It may seem trivial or superficial but tabloid talk matters. Aren’t you curious to see what they’re telling thousands of people each week?
Well, lets take a look:
“Tabloid talk” was inspired specifically by these two covers from last week. Interestingly enough, both covers featured women exclusively. But that’s nothing to get too excited about. The dominant themes are: weight and body image (you’re either too thin, a plastic surgery freak or a body project success), relationships with men (endings and beginnings) and the girl-on-girl feud. Oh, and there’s a brief mention of Kate Gosselin and it’s not good. For more on all the “Kate-hate,” check out this article at CNN with commentary by WIMN director, Jennifer Pozner.
Sound familiar? Yeah, because I posted covers from a few weeks ago that had countless cover stories of warring women (women are never really friends, right?) and post-baby bodies.
How does this compare to older cover stories? Again, lets take a look at this 2004 tabloid cover from my personal archive:
Hmm, not much has changed, has it? I always find the examination of tabloid covers and advertisements more powerful when viewed as part of a larger spectrum of images. The seemingly mundane or superficial focal points become more powerful when viewed collectively.
So, let tabloid talk begin. It will be my weekly online content analysis. Complete results will be tallied and posted in 56 weeks.
There was a lot of news this past week related to body image and beauty norms. This is my week end round-up of posts previously not covered at Feminist Fatale this week.
After reading about Kate Hudson’s alleged breast implants less than 24 hours after Britney Spears released unaltered photos for her new Candies campaign, I questioned the impact that unretouched and “curvy” photos have when, clearly, so many women are still dissatisfied. For every Britney, there are countless Kates. Some women wondered why Kate’s alleged breast implants had such an impact on me. Isn’t is just a personal choice? Paulina Porizkova’s post at the Huffington Post echoed my sentiments exactly (read full post here).
My issue here isn’t with Kate. If big boobs make her happier, then more power to her. The issue here, this fixing something perfect to something else perfect, is so much a sign of our times, and one that truly saddens me. The availability and ease of transforming our bodies is completely losing our identities and uniqueness. No one ages anymore, no one has imperfections of any kind anymore, all smiles are flawless and no one past 35 can express displeasure. Madonna no longer looks like Madonna: what started as a sexy, well shaped, and somewhat hairy Italian girl has ended as a cool Nordic blonde. It’s not that she doesn’t look great, she does. But she is starting to sort of melt away into the stew of the famous women over-fifty-high-cheek-boned blondes-who-cannot-frown.
On the Tyra Banks show, a woman reported spending $80,000 on beauty treatments for her children. Here are some of the comments this elicited on my post at Facebook:
arrrgggg….I saw that yesterday and was stunned speechless. Gross.
on beauty products? How about investing in your children’s education. Put all that money where it will make a real difference in their lives. Wow I feel really bad for those kids.
This is disgusting.
she’s nuts, right?
quintessential consumerism, image-oriented insanity/vanity. Sick. Can you imagine using money in this way when there is so much you could do to benefit others?
I’ve been blogging on pregnant and post-natal bodies recently. I’ve examined the added pressure imposed by the tabloids obsession with bump watching and celeb baby-bounce-back stories. (Remember my story from May 2009 on the Pretty Pushers that promises to keep women looking attractive and fashionable moments after birth?!) So, Jillian Michaels’ statement was interesting and unsurprising: I Won’t Ruin my Body with Pregnancy. Her candid statement is, sadly, not unique or isolated. I’ve heard many women echo that sentiment. In fact, if you’re wealthy you can hire a surrogate or adopt. This statement is an example of one of the ways that constant pressure on and endless scrutiny of women’s bodies manifests.