July 4, 2011

You’re So Perfect…Except for Your Boobs

“Look! I married you a certain way! I like women who look a certain way! It’s my right to like women who look a certain way and I shouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life not being happy,” Brad exclaimed.

The retort from my friend Jasmine’s husband was a reaction to her staunch refusal to get ‘another set’ less than two months after removing the implants that nearly cost her her life.  For nearly a decade Jasmine endured numerous health complications that Western doctors claimed had nothing to do with her silicone breast implants.

Brad seemed different from her last fiance, which is why Jasmine married him. He seemed open-minded, kind, forgiving, gentle, nurturing, and accepting. When she sprouted a few stray gray hairs in her late twenties he urged her not to pluck them saying he loved her “wisdom hairs.”

Tim, her boyfriend a decade earlier, told her she was perfect and the “girl of his dreams.” Well, almost. She was the girl of his dreams except her breasts were too small and she’d be perfect if they were bigger. In fact he’d marry her if she’d consider breast enlargement surgery. Within a week Jasmine, then 18 years old in 1990, found herself under the knife. When she woke up the static and lifeless silicone orbs on her chest were much larger than what she had agreed to during the initial consultation. The consultation that came within days of her halfheartedly agreeing to consider them.

Jasmine was genetically tiny and naturally beautiful by today’s standard. Now she embodied the girl on the back of a trucker’s mudflap. Tim’s version of the perfect wife. As promised, they were quickly engaged and twenty-five-year-old Tim, the ‘hot guy’ in town, paraded her around like a trophy–until she had the courage to leave him for being emotionally abusive and controlling.

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June 26, 2011

Happy Graduation, Honey–Europe or Lipo?

“Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss

Graduation gifts used to include things like jewelry, a hi-tech gadget, a trip abroad, or maybe even a new car if that’s in the budget.  These days, the question is, new breasts or a nose job, and which one is more appropriate as a graduation gift. When I was growing up, I was relentlessly teased, called every anti-Semitic name imaginable and even dreamed of having my nose reshaped into something less Jewish and more American. At the time, “Ethnic Rhinoplasty” wasn’t in vogue, and my delusional dream quickly lost its luster. A lot has changed over the years—these days it’s common to surgically refine or remove one’s ethnicity with plastic surgery. In some cultures, it’s even considered a rite of passage. The desire for teens to alter their looks isn’t new, though: In 2005, the NY Times wrote about the surge in Botox treatments among young adults. At that time, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS),

People from ages 19 to 34 had 427,368 botox procedures; 100,793 laser resurfacing treatments; 128,779 injections of hyaluronic acid (Restylane or Hylaform); 29,160 eyelid surgeries; and 1,094 face-lifts.

Though recent studies show a drop in procedures, there is a still a desire to be wrinkle-free in an effort to defy the inevitability of aging. In fact, a new survey by ASAPS shows “more than half of all Americans regardless of income approve of plastic surgery.” As disturbing as it is, this trend of parents giving their grads the gift of surgical “enhancement,” is really part and parcel to this growing shift toward homogenization.

Certainly, for some teens, plastic surgery can be positively life-changing. For example: a child who’s subject to excessive teasing because of an severely misshapen ears may positively benefit from otoplasty; a burn victim can return to relative normalcy with appropriate plastic surgery; a breast reduction can allow a young girl to exercise without neck and back pain. On the other hand, what lies beyond what’s necessary for some is the skewed perceptions of beauty and perceived normalcy inadvertently thrust upon teens through social and mainstream media.  The innate dissatisfaction with how we look contributes to how we meet the world. To really illustrate this, we can look at the recent uproar that came about when a mother defended her decision to give her 8-year-old daughter Botox injections. Makes you wonder: What 8-year-old has wrinkles? Better yet, what 8-year-old is even aware of wrinkles?

Now, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS):

Statistics gathered over the last several years indicate a decrease in the overall number of cosmetic (aesthetic) surgeries of teenagers (those 18 and younger) having cosmetic surgery, with nonsurgical procedures including laser hair removal and chemical peels being the most popular in 2010.

These statistics are both good and bad. I mean, the fact that less invasive surgeries are on the decline is certainly positive, but I am concerned about the remaining high numbers of girls seeking these procedures.  We know teens are up against extraordinary pressure to look and be a certain way–some of it is normal adolescence–but when parents start giving their kids gift certificates for a new nose or new breasts, the lesson becomes less about self-esteem and more about trying to attain the pop-culture paradigm of perfection.

If we start by parenting our children with this idea that they aren’t enough, we end up sowing the seeds of self-hatred and dissatisfaction. Instead of laying a foundation of confidence and positive self-esteem, we end up paving a rocky road to negative behaviors, which inevitably contribute to disordered eating and eating disorders alike. This is a wonderful opportunity to look at what messages we are trying to give our kids. Growing up is tough; let’s not contribute to the social tyranny by fanning the fires of social awkwardness.

Bottom line? There are far more appropriate gifts for your teen than going under anesthesia and accumulating scars, no matter how small they are.

Originally posted at Visions Teen and revised for Feminist Fatale.

Image courtesy of Sarit Photography


January 30, 2011

How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part I

Originally posted at Elephant Journal.

The Wisdom of Bryan Kest and The Beauty Myth

This post is the first post in an ongoing series, The Wisdom of Bryan Kest. This series seeks to chronicle what I have learned in my yoga practice with Bryan Kest since 1997.

We’ve been told that “pretty” is the magical elixir for everything that ails us. If we’re pretty we’re bound to be happier than people who aren’t pretty. If we’re pretty, we’ll never be lonely; we’ll have more Facebook friend requests; we’ll go on more dates; we’ll find true love (or just get laid more often);  we’ll be popular. If we’re pretty, we’ll be successful; we’ll get a better job; we’ll get rewarded with countless promotions; our paychecks will be bigger.  In short, “pretty,” something Naomi Wolf refers to as a form of cultural currency in the feminist classic The Beauty Myth, will buy us love, power and influence. And, in the end, “pretty” will make us feel good.

And who doesn’t want to feel good?

The media juggernaut that actively shapes our 21st century cultural environment sells us this promise and perpetuates this myth beginning in childhood. The assault continues as we move through adolescence and adulthood, meeting our gaze at every turn through fashion, television, film, music,  and advertising. These images and messages are practically inescapable, even in yoga publications, and the peddled products entice us using sleek, sculpted models and celebrities in computer retouched photos.  Advertising is specifically designed to appeal to our emotions and shape desire thereby constructing cultural values, identities and lifestyles in order to sell a gamut of products and services from beer, luxury cars and designer shoes to yoga mats, DVDs and diet pills. Ultimately, we’re spoon fed streams of unrealistic images in a virtual onslaught that tells women, and increasingly men, that the most valuable thing we can aspire to be is, well, pretty.

And the tantalizing promises of a better, prettier, you are absolutely everywhere. The idea that we can simply “turn off” or “ignore” these messages is narrow in scope and short sighted. Unless you’re living under a rock-wait, make that a hermetically sealed bubble- you are affected in one way or another and so are those around you. Unfortunately, we’re being sold a superficial bill of goods that doesn’t give us the complete picture.

As my teacher of 15 years, Bryan Kest of Santa Monica Power Yoga, says time and time again in his jam-packed yoga classes:

“Everybody wants to be pretty because that’s what they’ve been told will make them feel good even though there’s no proof that people who are prettier are healthier and happier. So why don’t we just cut to the chase and go straight to what makes us feel good?”

Kest circumvents the chatter and speaks truth in simple terms accessible to virtually everyone. He is consistently “prodding and poking” his students by exposing the absolute lunacy of our increasingly and ubiquitous media culture . He challenges students, including myself, to confront the demands of our egos. He challenges us to do the work of doing raising our consciousness.  Ultimately, Kest assists us in untangling our psychic, emotional and physical knots.

When we practice yoga, we feel good even if the journey through a particular practice is emotionally and physically arduous  and confronting, as it usually is.  As Kest, who has been practicing yoga for over three decades, says, ” I don’t like yoga. Who likes yoga? But I appreciate yoga and the way it makes me feel.”

There is no denying the sense of mental and physical lightness, openness and freedom one feels after after quieting the mind, gazing inward and moving through the body in a sensitive, conscious and loving way. Yoga is a moving meditation and, as many studies have revealed time and time again, meditation makes you feel good. Competition, a fundamental national value,  that characterizes most of our encounters in the workplace, within our families, among our peers and ourselves is not a part of mature and healthy yoga practice. Essentially, you’re bound to cultivate inner peace and feel fantastic practicing yoga if you’re able to let go.

The only time you probably won’t feel good is if you carry your baggage into your practice, strengthening and honing  external stressors. As Kest says, in his usual elegant Kest fashion, “If you bring your shit into yoga, you turn your yoga into shit.” As with anything else, how you use a tool makes all the difference. After all, you can use a knife to butter your toast or stab someone.

Yoga is a pathway to cultivate self-love allowing us to shift our sense of validation inward, as opposed to the standard practice of measuring one’s worth based on external definitions.  In fact the cultural validation we are encouraged to seek often fans the flames of further discontent since we can never be thin enough, muscular enough, wealthy enough or pretty enough by mainstream standards. Even if we are a waify size-zero, a bulked up mass of muscles, a millionaire or a picture-perfect model, happiness isn’t a guarantee. There are plenty of depressed, disgruntled, unsatisfied “pretty people”  with low self-esteem and we know that a slim body with a pretty face isn’t necessarily a healthy body, mentally or physically. In fact, in my own work as a body image activist, many of the most “beautiful” women I’ve met have had some of the most dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships with their body. Too often this has been marked by eating disorders, disordered eating and dangerous beauty rituals to maintain the outward facade. In the end, there isn’t a direct correlation between being pretty and being happy and/or healthy. Pretty hasn’t delivered and what has been defined as pretty isn’t even real or sustainable.

Remember, Naomi Wolf called it the beauty myth for a reason.

Barbie mural photograph taken by the author at Fred Segal Salon in Santa Monica, CA.

July 23, 2010

Mad Beauty

Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 3:12 pm

I found Meghan Daum‘s latest article, ‘Mad Men’ shares a lesson on beauty, in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times fascinating.

The women of the 1960s and their ‘period bodies’ with normal proportions are rare today, and something to be envied.

The fourth season of “Mad Men” starts Sunday, and with it another round of opportunities to both marvel and gasp at how much things have changed since the early 1960s. Much of the genius of the show, of course, lies in its ferocious attention to period details. From the entrenched womanizing and nonstop drinking and smoking (even while pregnant!) to children who play with plastic dry-cleaning bags and family picnics that end with a flourish of litter shaken insouciantly onto the grass, “Mad Men” leaves no antediluvian stone unturned.

That includes body types. Watch some of the commentary features on the DVD editions and you’ll hear the show’s creator, Matt Weiner, refer to “period bodies.” What he means is that just as the show applies painstaking care to finding sofas and kitchen appliances exactly like those you would have seen in that era, it also seeks bodies — particularly female ones — quintessentially of the time. That means no ripped abs or fake breasts, no preternaturally white teeth. (A lot of people wear eyeglasses too — the horror!)

Read the complete article here. Thanks to Diahann for sending this my way.

July 22, 2010

Let her eat cake!

Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 6:34 pm

over it by Liz Acosta

Artist statement:

An ephemeral drawing is one that is created to be destroyed. It addresses the relationships between medium, subject, and significance.

over it is the documentation of an ephemeral art piece that talks about overcoming disordered eating through the creation and consumption of a cake with a scale drawn on it with icing. Though its narrative is deeply personal, the experience is nearly universal in our image-obsessed culture with its narrow standards of feminine beauty.

Liz Acosta is a photographer, writer, artist, cyclist, and activist in Los Angeles. With a degree from the University of Southern California, her work is primarily focused on questions of the body and its relationship to gender, sexuality, and performance. She blogs at www.happyland2007.com and will be joining the Feminist Fatale family as a blogger in the near future.

June 20, 2010

Doll parts: Barbie, beauty and resistance

Barbie is a cultural icon. With her long, silky, blonde hair, perky breasts, cinched waist and mile-high legs Barbie represents mainstream definitions of physical perfection, the paragon of beauty and ideal femininity. Her shiny pink corvette, swanky townhouse, and oodles and oodles of perfectly accessorized outfits indicate her success within the consumer culture machine. Collectively, her physical and material assets (Eurocentric beauty, white-skin and class privilege rolled up into one statuesque doll), represent the collective dream spun by post-WWII advertisers and reinforced by the culture at large.

For more than 50 years, she has not waned in popularity (gained a pound, developed a wrinkle or gray hair) even in the face of mounting criticism.

Despite some of the negative headlines Barbie is still a hit with girls across America and the world.

More than one billion dolls have been sold since her inception, and according to the dolls makers, Mattel, 90% of American girls aged between three and 10 own at least one.

While Barbie is a manufactured fantasy, she remains an emblem of idealized femininity and a key element of gender socialization.

Barbie fan Danielle Scott, 16, said: “Playing with the hair, the brushes, switching outfits. It really just made girls be girls.

“All the characteristics of what to look forward to and what girls really could do…” she said.

While it is true that Barbie has had approximately 125 jobs over the last half-century (jobs that presumably allowed her to purchase her multiple homes, extensive wardrobe etc. etc)., Barbie is not famous for her resume. She is most well-known for her flawless figure and coveted beauty.

She is a beauty icon.

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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 19, 2010

Five Feminist Criticisms of Beauty: Is It Worth the Fight?

In light of Britney Spears’ recent unaltered photos, a recent guest post at Jezebel proclaimed feminism’s battle with the beauty myth as bourgeois and not worth the fight. Author, Helen Razer, claims that the efforts to expose the gruesome reality behind the beauty myth is a tiresome and unworthy battle that detracts focus from issues of  “real gender equality.”

I recall an era when feminism’s purview was not limited to banging on about the need for more fat chicks in glossy magazines. While others fight for the right to force-feed Kate Moss, I continue antique fretting over equal pay, domestic violence and federal representation. At 40, I am old and clearly out of step with a movement that demands Size 14 representation.

She continues:

Yes. This just in: heat is hot, water is wet and teenagers are obsessed with their appearance. As such, let’s spend money on developing an industry code of conduct so that we can all enjoy the spectacle of more cottage cheese on Britney’s thighs.

Is it as simple as “teenagers are obsessed with their appearance?” I don’t think so. While the obsession with beauty has long been considered a narcissistic rite of passage among teens, beauty and body image issues are not limited to this demographic. Research shows that eating disorders and the preoccupation with beauty is found younger and younger girls as well as increasingly older women. Disordered eating, eating disorders and an overall obsession with the physical form is not limited to teens as part of a passing trend.

Not only are the consequences of the beauty myth not limited to a specific age group, it is not limited to rich (“bourgeois”), white girls. In fact, the Eurocentric beauty ideal is exported the globe over via the mass media and continues to erase our physical diversity. The global reach of these manufactured and altered images result in more and more  individuals conforming to homogeneous definitions of beauty.

As Brumberg traces in The Body Project: An Intimate History of Young Girls, physical beauty has become the sole measure of the worth of girls and women. This reduction of value and self-identification to the numbers on the scale and shape of one’s figure signals a  sociohistorical shift in the ways in which girls and women are valued. It doesn’t matter if you’re intelligent, independent, competent, charismatic, artistic, or successful unless you’re thin, toned and flawless. In other words, you’ve got to be hot, too.

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May 10, 2010

Exploring Beauty

We believe beauty is not always thin, and beauty is not always young. In Exploring Beauty, women are invited to explore their thoughts about the nature of beauty. The paring of their ideas and images expands the definition of what beautiful is.Exploring Beauty

Exploring Beauty is the work of artist Erik Hagen, a US citizen currently transplanted in The Netherlands, an attempt to explore the nature of beauty and expand its cultural definitions. In a collaborative effort with each volunteer model, Hagen pairs the image with the interview in order to bring the essence of each woman to the reader.

In an image-based culture that proliferates streams of homogeneous images reinforcing unrealistic and dangerous images of beauty, these unaltered photos of women are a breath of fresh air, rich and full of life. Not only do Hagen’s images offer diversity and authenticity, the accompanying stories provide depth and character, reminding us that women are not solely defined by their physical appearance.  Hagen’s work allows us to fully experience a woman’s beauty; her mind, body and spirit.

Like many men, in Hagen’s youth, he preferred a beauty standard that reflected the dominant beauty norm, young and thin. As he grew and matured, he came to recognize and appreciate a woman’s character and story as a primary component of holistic beauty. In addition to his growth as a man, his move to Europe continued to expand his boundaries of beauty. Unlike many parts of the United States, Holland’s beauty definitions are broader and fuller.

Engaging in this intimate exploration of beauty, both Hagen and his models have emerged changed, moved by the collaborative experience and their contribution to change prevailing attitudes that have created epidemic levels of low self-esteem and body hate.

Projects that allow us to see what a real woman looks like, are important efforts in combating the manufactured images that tell us that we are defined and valued in narrow, one-dimensional ways.

May 7, 2010

Windows 7: No Fat Chicks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 8:27 pm

A few years ago, Apple released a brand new ad campaign.  “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” was an instant hit, starring hipster movie star Justin Long and John Hodgman, and ran for years, generating lots of revenue for Apple.  Microsoft‘s rebuttals to this fell flat for quite some time, but their new ad campaign for Windows 7 proved successful.  Instead of focusing on mocking Apple, they highlighted the features of the new operating system, as told by “real people”, stating “Windows 7 was my idea.”  The first two ads I saw featured overweight, older men who are shown imagining idealized versions of themselves (as male models) when they “get the idea” for Windows 7.

I laughed, I loved it, and then I watched a commercial break a couple months back – same campaign, one major difference.  This ad utilized the same concept, except the latest ads featured women, all of whom are pretty enough that they could be the “ideal” person, the model that someone imagines themselves as.  Their “ideals” are women who are heavily made-up, and appear to be digitally enhanced.

I think those pictures speak for themselves, yes?

There are two theories that I hold about where Microsoft is coming from with this approach.  Either they are completely unwilling to show an “unattractive,”  overweight woman in their ad because, ew, that’s grossOr they deem these women “not worthy enough” and think they’re on the same level of attractiveness as the “regular” men in their ads.  One of the criticisms of the “beauty norm” is the double standard – men are allowed to be unattractive, women aren’t – I’d say that applies here.  The YouTube upload dates on the Windows 7 official page shows they set a precedent with the original ads – Steve, Jack, and Widmark were uploaded late last year, followed by Charline and Crystal in more recent months.  I would have deemed this a successful and funny campaign if they had been equal in their treatment of both genders.  Instead, they just cemented the fact that I’m a Mac.

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