June 7, 2010

This is What a Real Woman Looks Like

This student created video is the follow-up to the in-class body collage assignment that begged the question, “What does a real woman look like?” (See The Daily Femme for their analysis of the body collage project, Questioning the Magazine Industry’s Ideal of Female Beauty Through the Power of Photographs).

The students’ statement about their project:

Today we’re inundated with images of a false reality that concentrate on one ideal form of beauty. Altering images via Photoshop, ultimately exposes us to millions of images are not “real.” Our project takes a look at the dangers of the media, from Photoshopping to white-washing to an emphasis on an unattainable perfection. Collectively, the images in the media do not represent the diversity found in the larger population; not all women are tall, thin, white, heterosexual or young. And in real life, nobody is Photoshopped. Where are representations of “real” women?

The advertising industry sells us images directly aimed women’s mounting insecurities. The for-profit consumer culture exploits these insecurities and rakes in billions of dollars each year. Ultimately, these images dehumanize, hypersexualize and disempower women.

Having struggled with our own body image issues and eating disorders, we know first hand the amount of pressure the media can exert on women and the psychological and physical costs. We wanted to address the serious nature of these issues and focus on the importance of a healthy body image.

Part of our video was inspired by our in-class project, the body collage that covered two walls from floor to ceiling with images of women in the print media. We were shocked to see the onslaught of these homogeneous all at once. This experience inspired our project as well as the Feminist Majority Foundation campaign, “This is what a feminist looks like.” Ultimately, our statement “this is what a real woman looks like” is a reaction to the exclusion of women in the mass media and the erasing of age, race and authenticity as a result of the standard industry practice of altering women that already reflect an incredibly small percentage of the population.

The video is a mosaic of our own stories; our struggles with our own body image, our relationship with our bodies and our message of self-love and acceptance.



This video was created as a final project in Women’s Studies 30: Women and Pop Culture with Melanie Klein at Santa Monica College (this video is also featured at Jezebel). Thanks to students of this fledgling class for their dedication, motivation and hard work. For more posts related to this class, see Body Image: A Personal Story, Young Women Speak Out About “The Curse,” Violence Against Women: The Clothesline Project Video, Student Activism Breaks the Silence Around Violence,  and Social Media and Feminism in the Classroom and Beyond.

May 11, 2009

Book Spotlight: Bodies

Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, talks about her latest work, Bodies:

Her latest book, Bodies, maps the progress of our alienation, from a time when we took our bodies for granted to one where they are an endlessly perfectible work in progress. “When I was growing up,” she explains, “one or two girls were beautiful, but it was not an aspiration, right? We didn’t expect to be that sportsman or that beauty queen. That was OK, that was what movie stars were for. That wasn’t something that was essential for all of us.” Yet today, movie-star looks are not just an aspiration but an imperative, and ordinary people think nothing of starving or surgically enhancing their bodies in a tireless campaign to make them look as though they belong to somebody else altogether.

Just as Donald Winnicott identified the “false self”, whereby a neglected baby will blame itself for its carer’s lack of interest, and create an artificial version of itself in the hope of winning love, so Orbach argues that we are creating false bodies. Assailed by media imagery that celebrates only one type of body and one type of beauty, we assume any discrepancy between our own appearance and this digitally airbrushed “ideal” must be our fault, and that it’s not merely necessary but morally virtuous to do whatever it takes to correct our deficiency. The simultaneous rise of anorexia and obesity is not a paradox, but rather two sides of the same psychological coin – both manifestations of our panic about hunger, in which normal appetite becomes pathologised as the enemy. Crucially, whereas once we might have experienced the pressure to look different as an onerous tyranny, today we tell ourselves that it’s empowering.

“We transform the sense of being criticised,” Orbach writes, “by becoming the moving and enthusiastic actor in our own self-improvement programme. We will eagerly repair what is wrong … We see ourselves as agents, not victims. It is the individual woman who feels herself to be at fault for not matching up to the current imagery … She applies herself to the job of perfecting that image for herself and so makes it her own, not assaultive or alien.”

Orbach’s writing is closer in tone to cultural studies than to the jaunty self-help register of most contemporary books about eating, but in person there is nothing abstractly academic about her. Framed by a mass of curls, she is small, even birdlike, but her sprightly energy conveys a vivid sense of aliveness. Her accent has a faint American inflection, which can sound almost antipodean at times, particularly when her sentences end in a question mark – “right?” – and she is surprisingly relaxed, even imprecise, with her words, often letting sentences tail away unfinished. But she is very clear about where we are going wrong.

I’ve been half looking forward to the meeting, and half dreading it because, although it must be 20 years since I first read what Orbach calls “Fifi”, her work feels uncomfortably relevant to my own current state. She is the sort of woman you find yourself confiding in, and I admit to her that halfway through my first pregnancy, my overriding preoccupation is with weight gain. To my dismay, what I’m really thinking about most of the time is how I’m ever going to lose it. And right there, according to Orbach, is the source of our troubled relationship with food. Mothers transmit their own anxieties to their babies; it all begins in the family.

“The only way to solve the problem is to provide very different help to new mums,” she says briskly. “Because every mother wants to do right by their kid. It would mean training health visitors and midwives; you’d raise a mother’s awareness of her own body. This is an opportunity for both of you to find the rhythm in terms of relation to appetite. I don’t think it would be difficult to design. And it would be very cheap. And new mums would really benefit from it. But instead, they are being told to do sit-ups straightaway, and why not even consider having a C-section, so you don’t have to get that last month’s weight gain? All of that nonsense. It’s completely counter to what a baby’s mental health requires – and what the mother needs as well, actually.”

What can parents say, I ask, to a 16-year-old girl who is convinced that a regime of dieting and beautification is not self-punishing but empowering? “Well, it’s awfully late at 16. But I’d be saying to the mums: ‘Watch your own behaviour – how often do you criticise your own body in front of your daughter?’ Stop making the body the cause of the problem, or the solution to the problem. The problem isn’t how she looks.”

But surely a teenage girl would say that how she looks is precisely the problem? “But what she’d be picking out aren’t imperfections, they’re just what makes her her, right?” What if she says she’s overweight? “Well, they all feel overweight. Even when they’re tiny, tiny, tiny. But where are they getting that idea? That’s why I think the mums are doing something.”

If Orbach were just another voice in the cacophony of finger-pointing that surrounds most discussion about weight, I would be feeling unpleasantly guilty by now. But her analysis of what she calls “disordered eating” extends beyond mothers and the family, to encompass everything from the diet industry – “which relies upon a 95% recidivism rate” – to the media, which produces glossy magazines in which “not a single image is not digitally retouched, up to hundreds of times” – and globalisation, in which a culture of “aspirational bodies is the mark of entry”.

One of the things that strikes me is the statement that “movie-star” looks were not always an aspiration or expectation. Each semester my students conduct an oral history and time and time again, women over 60 respond to questions about beauty standards and beauty norms that existed when they were girls and teenagers with the same sentiment. There was a time, before the all out media assault, when standards of beauty existed that weren’t as relentless or unrealistic as they are today.  Girls and women recognized a celebrity figure as exactly that.  A celebrity. A star.  Someone unlike themselves.

Girls and women today are inundated with relentless messages that proclaim that they CAN look like the celebrity du-jour and that they SHOULD and if they don’t attain that image they have failed, they are without value and should try harder.

It is little wonder that girls and women see these “failures” as personal rather than recognizing the failure on the part of the mass media machine to portray “ordinary” girls and women.

Sitcoms and films from my childhood portrayed more “average-looking” individuals.  Not everyone was primped and polished with the intention of looking “natural.” “Natural” beauty these days is nowhere near natural or easy and breezy.  It is an all out organized campaign with a low success rate.

April 24, 2009

Say it ain't so…

I guess I should have figured.  Susan Boyle, the overnight singing sensation, who has been mocked for her comment about never beuing kissed and discussed not just for her singing talent but her “frumpy” “ordinariness” has begun a make-over. The breath of fresh air she gave many people by being authentic did not last long.  Afterall, she has just passed trhough the filter of the popular culture and, most things, don’t remain the same.

Some say the overnight singing sensation who rocketed to fame after a phenomenal performance on “Britain’s Got Talent” has every right to upgrade her dowdy appearance. Others fear she may lose her authenticity _ and her amazing connection with the TV audience _ if she goes too far in the image makeover department.

The change is startling. Gone is the fusty woman with graying, frizzy hair and a jowly face who joked on air that she had never been kissed, replaced by a stylish, freshly-coiffed lady in fashionable leather jacket and what looks to be a Burberry scarf. The dark, unkempt eyebrows have been shaped and colored.

Fashion experts say she’s taken years off her looks, but should think twice about making more improvements, particularly if they go beyond styling and involve artificial enhancements.

“She looks 10 years younger,” said Toni Jones, assistant fashion editor at The Sun tabloid newspaper, which featured the new look Boyle on its cover Friday.

“Compared to what she had, it’s a 200 percent improvement. But our readers think this is as far as she should go. We want her to stay one of us.”

Jones said Boyle’s decision to dye her hair brown was causing some consternation among the powers-that-be at “Britain’s Got Talent” by stoking fears that she may no longer seem real.

April 17, 2009

Oh, no…Kegels, trimming and rejuvenation…and?

Yes, it is true! There is a spa for your vag!  As reported in the New York Times, this spa is dedicated to the woman that seeks to “get in shape from the inside out.” “Pelvic fitness” was an idea inspired by teeth whitening. Uh, yeah.

First came the “medical spa,” or medi spa, offering dermatology services in a retail setting. The medi spa begat the dental spa, bringing tooth bleaching to storefronts nationwide. The dental spa begat the podiatry spa.

And now comes the first medi spa in Manhattan wholly dedicated to strengthening and grooming a woman’s genital area. Phit — short for pelvic health integrated techniques — is to open this month on East 58th Street.

Dr. Lauri Romanzi, a gynecologist who performs pelvic reconstruction surgery, said she came up with the idea for the spa one day while walking by an outlet of BriteSmile, the tooth-whitening chain. She liked that the stores cater to people with healthy teeth.

This makes vaginal plastic surgery seem tame. There’s just nothing off limits from the hands of the beauty industry.  They’ll make you feel insecure about anything and everything to make money.

With the ubiquity of pornography, the pelvis had already become a marketable area for modification, ranging from the Brazilian bikini wax to genital surgery referred to as vaginal “rejuvenation.” Doctors have even coined a term for such genital “beautification”: cosmetogynecology or cosmogynecology.

The advent of the pelvic spa, however, takes body fixation to a new level, furthering the idea that there is no female body part that cannot be tightened, plumped, trimmed or pruned.

“Whether the marketing is pushing the women or women are pushing the marketing, I don’t think anybody knows,” Dr. Berenson said.

I say, “Leave my pussy alone!” They are not suppossed to look the same, smell the same or feel the same, damn it. With the vag spa, or PHIT (Pelvic Health Integrated Services), the aim is clearly NOT about pelvic “health” when you consider their web address: perfectphit.com. Perfect fit, huh? It’s about making all our vags the same and, I ask, who determines this sameness?

There are no medical standards for determining what constitutes normal “fitness” or how to evaluate it, said Dr. Abbey B. Berenson, a gynecologist who directs the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women’s Health at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

“If this is being recommended to women who have no symptoms, then there are no medical organizations or literature that support that that is necessary,” Dr. Berenson said.

It’s time to reclaim our bodies for ourselves and resisting imposed beauty standards that make our heads spin, our self-esteem shrink and our pussys look like they were manufactured on an assembly line.

March 19, 2009

Go,Meghan!

Laura Ingraham slams Meghan McCain for her weight and Meghan McCain fires back on The View. I am digging Meghan McCain.  Focus on what she has to say, not her ass.

See below.
Laura Ingraham to Meghan McCain:

Meghan fires back:

January 6, 2009

Your ass as a social indicator

Beauty norms come and go.  As a byproduct of the cultural atmosphere, standards of beauty are bound to change as the culture changes.

Yesterday, Myra Mendible posted an interesting article on racial and sexual stereotypes and how the culture’s changing attitude and affinity for the backside is indicative of diversity and acceptance.

It may well be that America’s butt fling signals a growing acceptance of difference—a desire to broaden the repertoire of acceptable body types and beauty myths. If this celebration of fulsome booty helps women move beyond the self-hatred and anxiety attached to body fat or encourages ethnic pride in women whose bodies have historically been pathologized and denigrated—then power to the butt, indeed. But then again, in a consumer society, fashion trends are short-lived and the demand for novelty fuels profit. Will the buttocks be relegated to the margins of culture once more, disavowed and disowned by a fickle mainstream culture? Either way, I’ll still be dreaming of a time when (to loosely paraphrase Martin Luther King), women will be judged by the content of their character and not the size of their butts. Now that would be truly bootyful.

September 12, 2008

Feminism is acceptable as long as it wears a skirt

Filed under: Body Image,Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Melanie @ 11:38 am

Nina passed along a post from the folks at JezebelDonny Deutsch reiterates  what I posted in an earlier post from September 11, “America the Beautiful,” that feminism can be tolerated and embraced as long as that feminist is attractive and is showing off her gams in a skirt.

I guess people forget that feminism sought and continues to seek new areas of expression, leadership and opportunity beyond the narrow confines of a dictated and oppressive beauty standard.  I celebrate women’s beauty in all forms.  I am not oppossed to wearing lipstick.  I DON’T feel that our physical appearance should be the sole measure of our worth or our capabilities as aleader, a mother or a lover.

This is just another ludicrous example of the watered down “feminism” the right is trying to offer women.