April 18, 2010

I’m Pregnant But I Just Feel Fat

Updated version of this post at Elephant Journal, February 8, 2011.

I felt that way at the beginning of my first trimester and I’ve heard it among too many other pregnant women. Instead of equating the swelling belly and increased adipose tissue (fat) with hormonal changes and additional weight designed to support the pregnancy, too many women just feel fat (and hate it).

I always found the pregnant form immeasurably beautiful. Radiant women with full curves and a new life growing inside. I looked forward to the day I would become pregnant and join this league of life-giving, glowing goddess women. I took the home test, it confirmed my pregnancy and one of the first things that went off in my head was, “uh-oh, what about my body?” I am embarrassed to admit that the fat fear was present almost from conception.

I had moments where I felt beautiful but I didn’t embrace my fecundity and fullness in the same way I had imagined. Those “beautiful” moments were sprinkled in among terror over my ever-expanding body. I remember coming home and crying at the end of the first trimester because I felt ugly and fat. My partner would remind me that I had a long way to go and I was not big (at that time).

Reflecting on those feelings of self-rejection and body hatred makes me sad, sad because my beautiful son was growing inside of me. I’ve written about this subject a lot lately because it is maddening that women seem destined to carry their culturally induced body anxieties into what should be an incredible life experience. The tabloids ridiculous obsession with the baby-bump and the post-baby body has not helped pregnant women feel any better about the changes their body goes through. In fact, it’s just “another way to make a woman feel fat.”

To help women cope with body pressures before and after pregnancy, author Claire Mysko wrote Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby.

If you’re like most expectant women, you’re worried about what pregnancy and motherhood will do to your body, your sexuality, and your self-esteem (even if you don’t want to admit it out loud for fear of the Bad Mommy Police). While the journey to motherhood is truly miraculous and brings forth life, it can also bring forth a myriad of legitimate concerns.

Enter beauty activists Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei, who offer a much-needed forewarning on what to expect from your changing body, as well as a reality check for each stage of your pregnancy, exposing the myths, challenges, and insecurities you’ll face throughout pregnancy and beyond—and what to do about them.

Unfortunately, I did not find this book until well after my son was born and deep into the throes of my body loathing. I hope all pregnant women (or soon-to-be-pregnant) will find this book and that it will assist them.

While I think this information can be incredibly helpful, it’s not enough because we’re in a mediated cultural environment that continues to throw jabs from every angle. We need to employ active tools of media literacy to deconstruct these images as well as create and expose ourselves to new images, realistic images. That’s why I love the website, The Shape of A Mother, a website that demystifies the pregnant and postnatal form with images and stories from real mothers without computer retouching or plastic surgery.

As a first-time mother, I admit that I was clueless and surprised at the physical changes I encountered. I felt alone and disappointed that most of the physical and emotional changes I experienced were not discussed honestly and openly by other mothers. I felt like I was thrown into the jungle without the adequate provisions and tools to emerge successfully. We need less stories about women like Ellen Pompeo (who went up to-gasp-size 26  jeans during pregnancy), Gisele Bundchen (kudos on the home birth, though) or Nicole Richie (“svelte after one week!”)  and more stories about average women who are pregnant but just feel fat. Maybe if we have more people discussing these issues candidly we can avoid more women spending their pregnancy obsessing over their inevitable expansion and being present to the miraculous process they are engaging in.

Now that would be beautiful.

Me during my first trimester, feeling gigantic (not gigantic at all). Me during the last few weeks.

April 15, 2010

Marc Jacobs is a Mysogynist

Filed under: Media,Media Gallery — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 10:06 pm

What other explanation is there for a company that continues to create ad campaigns that depict women as 1. disposable 2. victims, sometimes disposable victims.

If you saw the ad round-up posted recently, you have seen the patterns, image after image reinforcing narrow and limiting themes of women in advertising.  To see the images lined up next to one another takes on a remarkable quality and produces a powerful impact. I know it did for me when I saw all of the ads put together, even after 15 years of conscious and critical analysis.

With that said, I’ve seen scores and scores of ads as a consumer and even more through the lens of a media critic and, unsurprisingly, in that process I have become a bit desensitized. Oh, another super skinny model, another model posed passively, and on it goes. I’ve seen such awful ads that many have become less shocking because there are others that are so much worse.

Marc Jacobs continues to strike me with the blatant devaluing of women and the often brutal or degrading circumstances in which they are depicted. The two below are no expection.

Top: Marc Jacobs ad from the March 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar (Kate Moss is on the cover)

Bottom: Marc Jacobs ad from the March 2010 issue of W (Megan Fox on the cover).

They’re both disturbing (and entirely unnecessary to sell whatever they’re trying to sell: the bag? the shoes?) but the bottom is one is what really made me cringe. Do we need to draw on rape scenes of women assaulted in back alleys? It reminds me of the Marc Jacobs ad campaign circa 2005 when shoes were being sold by placing them on models whose feet would be attached to a lifeless body on the ground, legs poking out from behind a bush. Yup, more images of disposabe, victimized women. I’ll be rummaging through my collection of ads to post them if you’re in the least bit skeptical or doubt me.

So, not much has changed in 5 years. In fact, not much has changed in over 30 years. Check out the vintage ad for shoes from 1974 that Ms.Blog posted yesterday. The fact that these images have not changed drastically in several decades solidifies my commitment to remaining vigilant and using my media literacy skills to call out the misogynistic companies that use victimized, brutalized and disposable women as ways to make a profit. Shame on you.

April 14, 2010

Robert Jensen goes off…

Filed under: Sexuality — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 8:49 pm

…on the power and influence of the mass media, pornography and pop culture, misogyny, racism, and the cultivation of normative images of heterosexual sexuality.

I’ve read his book, Getting Off, I’m using it as part of my curriculum this semester in WS 30: Women and Pop Culture but hearing him critically examine these issues articulately and intelligently in this 2007 interview took the issue to a whole new level. Thanks to Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency for sending the link my way.

You MUST listen here.

April 12, 2010

Ellen Page on Feminism, Abortion, Hollywood, and the Media

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Melanie @ 5:14 pm

Guest post by Rachel O (yeah, she’ll be a regular contributor very, very soon):

Despite the fact that’s she been acting since the age of 10, Ellen Page’s career didn’t take off until 2007, when she starred in Juno. Juno was an indie film that got huge, and Ellen Page became a well-known name.  Her roles both pre- and post- Juno, have proven good women’s roles aren’t just as “hookers, victims, and doormats” as Shirley McClaine once said.  She’s played everything from a young girl who turns the tables on an online perv in Hard Candy, to a kick-ass high school roller derby girl in Whip It.

While Juno raised some questions about its message, and inspired a lot of pro-choice/pro-life debates, I found the film undeniably Pro-Choice.  It showed pro-choice isn’t just about having abortions – it’s about having options – whether it’s to have a baby, give it up for adoption, or get an abortion.  When asked about the two opposing interpretations of the film, Ellen said in an interview just a week ago,

“I am a feminist and I am totally pro-choice, but what’s funny is when you say that people assume that you are pro-abortion. I don’t love abortion but I want women to be able to choose and I don’t want white dudes in an office being able to make laws on things like this. I mean what are we going to do – go back to clothes hangers?”

Page doesn’t just speak about women’s issues in terms of politics, she addresses the way women are handled in her business – Hollywood.  It made headlines last year when the head of Warner Bros. announced they would no longer allow women to be the lead of their films, because women couldn’t bring in box office bucks.  Whenever a woman-dominated cast does less-than-stellar at the box office, it is usually dissectedWhat happened?  What went wrong?  What does this mean for women in Hollywood and the roles actresses will get? Page has experienced this first hand.  Whip It was a huge hit with critics, but only managed to bring in $4 million opening weekend.  As if the above quote isn’t enough to make you love her instantly, when asked about what Hollywood is like for women,

“I think it’s a total drag. I’ve been lucky to get interesting parts but there are still not that many out there for women. And everybody is so critical of women. If there’s a movie starring a man that tanks, then I don’t see an article about the fact that the movie starred a man and that must be why it bombed. Then a film comes out where a woman is in the lead, or a movie comes out where a bunch of girls are roller derbying, and it doesn’t make much money and you see articles about how women can’t carry a film.”

As if that’s not bad enough, women in the media business are expected to look a certain way, and shamed, ridiculed, denigrated when they don’t.  Even women who promise to be beyond the pressure give in and sell out.  Personally, I think Page is gorgeous, but tabloids and gossip blogs aren’t about embracing beauty and making women feel good about themselves.  Page admits she’s not beyond this pressure herself.

“I hate to admit it but, yeah. I definitely feel more of a sense of personal insecurity. I really try and smarten up when I feel that way but sometimes it does get to me. The fact is, young girls are bombarded by advertisements and magazines full of delusional expectations that encourage people to like themselves less and then they want to buy more things. It is really sad and it encourages the consumerist cycle. Boys used to have it slightly easier but I think they are now getting more of the same kind of pressure. Look at all the guys in junior high who think they should have a six-pack.”

It’s a little sad that reading an interview like this is such a big deal, because so few people in Hollywood are willing to express themselves in this way, and say these things in a public forum.  Having just recently become media literate myself, it’s awesome to hear an actress I admire speak about such widespread but underreported issues.  This summer, Ellen will be starring in Christopher Nolan’s new film, Inception.  I feel confident the film, and her role in it, will be nothing short of amazing.

Ellen Page: ‘I’m totally pro-choice.  I mean what are we going to do – go back to clothes hangers?’ (Guardian UK) via Jezebel

April 8, 2010

Reel Grrls are really awesome!

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 9:46 pm

Haven’t checked out Reel Grrls yet? Now is a great time to see what they’re up to. They’ve just launched their first video blog (or vlog) taking on Bristol Palin’s anti-teen pregnancy public service announcement


Reel Grrls on Youtube.

WAM! Los Angeles presenter Anita Sarkeesian recently conducted a workshop for Reel Grrls in Seattle and WAM! Los Angeles presenter, Carla Ohrendorff, featured a Reel Grrl video in her segment on March 25, 2010.

March 18, 2010

Ad round-up: Advertising as mainstream porn

Jean Kilbourne has had it right for years. She said that “advertisements are America’s real pornographer” and ads have made porn mainstream.

We owe her immense gratitude for shifting the lens on advertising and making advertising a subject of inquiry to take seriously. I’ve been influenced, inspired and indebted to her since I saw Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising’s Image of Women in 2001. I mean, I’d been a feminist for nearly a decade at that point, studying the mass media for approximately 6 years and I knew advertisers weren’t exactly the most noble of folks. Advertisers have always been in existence to sell a product by any means necessary.

But to see  ad after ad, reinforcing the same images and themes over and over again was mind blowing. Her film was the final piece of the puzzle. I continued to examine and collect ads in the same way Kilbourne did at the beginning of her inquiry decades before.

Each semester my students collect and deconstruct ads. In my newly created class, Women and Popular Culture (my dream class if you will), Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency created a blog for the students and myself to share our observations, thoughts and create a collective resource base and solidify the community. It is in this incredible virtual space that my students posted 3 ads they chose to deconstruct. Kristin E. caught on to the intensity of these advertising messages after seeing one after the other posted, creating an eerie and pornified collage. She took it upon herself to take many of the images the class had posted and put them together. After all these years, to examine the ads in this way, is still shocking and disturbing.

Take a peek.

NOTE: Edited April 16, 2010 after several people emailed me about the spoof ad in the round-up. I’m glad some people are paying attention and are already familiar with ad spoofs and culture jamming. Can *you* spot the spoof ad? Do you know who created it? Answer below in the comments.

advertising-collage-pg11-791x1024

advertising-collage-pg31-791x1024advertising-collage-pg41-791x1024

advertising-collage-pg21-791x1024


February 26, 2010

Spike TV Takes Advertising Cues From Hustler

A few months ago, I was driving down a busy street when I whizzed past a poster featuring a helmet with a pair of shapely legs sticking out the top. I whipped my head around but couldn’t make out the source of the ad. A few weeks later, I saw the same ad and was able to make out the tag line “College football’s never been dirtier.”

Eye roll. Cringing.

I couldn’t shake the image of that girl stuffed into the helmet with her legs popping out from of my mind. I guess the advertisers did their job. They created a reaction, an unforgettable one at that. But, ewww. That poster is the epitome of Jean Kilbourne‘s themes of objectification and dismemberment as prominent themes depicting women. Sadly, this ad proves that things aren’t necessarily getting better and that a feminist analysis of sexist media content is imperative.

Unfortunately, I was never able to find the producer of this ad until…

I’m currently teaching my dream course, Women and Popular Culture, that features a class blog. My repeat student, Rachel, posted on that same poster I had seen but was unable to source. I was so pleased with her post that I am featuring it below (the title of this post is hers.):

I’m typically not one to generalize this badly – but writing a post about sexism on Spike TV is a little bit like being shocked that cooking is featured on the Food Network.

I really shouldn’t expect more from the network that features such greats as “Bikini Poll of the Week” on their website, as well as “The Top 7 Butterbodies” (I wish I was joking), which has since mysteriously been removed from their website (likely following a widespread backlash across various celebrity and feminist blogs).  Luckily, a celebrity blog/community I frequently read posted the article in its entirety when it was originally put up on the Spike site.  However, I have noticed some bus stop ads for their new original series lately, and I felt inspired to write about it.

“Hmmm….that looks familiar” I thought looking at the poster with the girls legs sticking upside down out of football helmet.  It didn’t take long to place the reference, to one of the (if not the) most famous covers of Hustler Magazine:

bluemountainstate-199x3001

hustler-216x3001

Blue Mountain State is just the latest in the successful networks testosterone, breast fueled programming.  The sexism of the network runs rampant, featuring such shows as “Faster Harder Manswers” and “The Search For the Ultimate Spike Girl.”  (Unrelated – I found their website to be almost unbearable, every page click results in the loud auto-play of a commercial.)  While Spike TV, (and even Larry Flynt) are and were perfectly within their rights to publish these images, it’s important to look at the larger sociological context we live in, the pop culture messages, that allows for such images to be made.  It’s disappointing to think of this new Blue Mountain State ad in terms of how many hands it had to pass through – at ad agencies, through the network.

I know about Larry Flynt, I’ve even seen the “People Vs.” movie starring Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton, and Courtney Love.  I understand both sides of the argument, although it can sometimes be a difficult distinction to make – to be a feminist, and to believe in Larry Flynt having the right to publish the image.  Thirty years after the highly controversial (June 1978) cover appeared on newsstands, the network shows that they have no problem portraying women as objects, as “pieces of meat.”

A teaser trailer that was released in anticipation for the shows premiere shows women in various states of undress, (in some cases completely naked), a lot of macho attitude, and some that’s so gay jokes thrown in for good measure.  If I had the patience, I would watch an episode to critique, but I found it difficult enough to make it through the 2 minute long trailer.

May 20, 2009

Advertisers have sunk to a new low

I’ve been scrutinizing and collecting advertisements for over a decade thanks to the work of Jean Kilbourne and my studies in media literacy.  I’ve seen some terrible ones over the years.

But, this one…Via Feministing.com, this one is one of the most revolting advertisements I have ever seen.

April 30, 2009

Sex and 17

Elizabeth Banks posted a great article on the Huffington Post yesterday.  She drools over Zac Efron while simultaneously acknowledging the awesome power of the mass media and teen icons to influence public consciousness and the construction of norms. Zac Efron is hugely popular with teens (and, apparently 3?-something women, according to Banks). In the same way that Rihanna and Chris Brown are role models, so is Zac Efron. 

I had a huge problem with Knocked Up! even though I had a few chuckles and, overall, I like Seth Rogen. That film basically presents the possibility of a pregnancy as the result of a one-night stand with a loser working out and the couple falling in love.  Yeah, right. 17 Again makes teen parenting seem Ok. It doesn’t take the opportunity to send a realistic message about teen parenting albeit a brief comment from Margaret Cho. Shit, I’m 36, I have a career and an incredible man that is committed to our relationship and our child and parenting is STILL hard for both of us. I can’t even imagine being a teenager in high school. Holy smokes.

I can ( and do, quite often, thanks) enjoy the (eye) candy that the popular culture churns out in the same way Banks can while acknowledging the fact that too much of it can make you sick.

Here’s the thing though — the message of the movie seemed to be (and again, I may just be reading too much into the twirling fingers thing): knocking up your high school sweetheart is A-OK! Especially if you give up that Syracuse scholarship to marry her! F College!

Now, I am all for taking responsibility. I am. Which is why I wish this flick had dealt more directly with this little situation that served as the jumping off point for a PG-13 movie (attended by lots of kids not yet in the double digits). It tries to make up for it with a scene in which Margaret Cho tells us that “abstinence is best but let’s get real: just use condoms when you’re screwing around with each other.” Now, that statement at least gets close to something: if you are going to have sex, be safe. (Question: Why didn’t Hunter Parrish also take his shirt off in this flick?)

Unfortunately, this scene would have had a lot more impact if Zac Efron’s character not only acknowledged that sex can lead to babies but also that having a kid when you’re 18 is hard, hard, hard. (Spoiler alert: he should know, see, ‘cuz that’s what got him into this crazy mess!) Also, he doesn’t want his daughter (again, born when he was 18) to have sex with her high-school sweetheart yet his most powerful argument against it — HAVING A KID WHEN YOU ARE JUST GRADUATING HIGH SCHOOL IS HARD — I KNOW, I’M REALLY YOUR DAD! — never comes up. He’s just like, “fingers crossed!” Now, of course, the daughter does not have sex (totally unrealistically) and ends up lusting after Mr. Efron (totally realistically, who wouldn’t) and it’s creepy and weird.

My point here (sorry, I was looking up “image Hunter Parrish” on Google and got off-track) is that this movie pretty much glamorizes teenage parenting. It basically says: Go for it! Have a kid when you’re 18. Throw another one in for good measure right after and you’ll get a nice house, deck and hammock included, your baby mama apparently won’t need to work, your kids will eventually have iPods and get into Georgetown and the person you picked (when you were 17) is actually your soulmate! Don’t worry if the condom breaks — it’s cool! It’s totally worked out for Bristol, ya’ll! (Is it me or is Levi cute?)

The problem with this message is that, according to unreliable online sources and my own anecdotal evidence collected over my 3?-something years: this is crap. It’s a great Hollywood story (I really enjoyed this movie, did I say that?) but in reality, teenage parents (mothers, especially) face increased levels of poverty, lower education rates, and higher chances that their daughters will also end up teenage moms and their sons will end up in jail. (I would like to see Zac Efron and Hunter Parrish fight Channing Tatum in a jail flick).

In many ways, popular culture is seen as superficial, silly, stupid, “just entertainment,” and, if you critique it, you’re “too serious” and you need “to lighten up.”  Well, considering the amount of romantic comedies I have ingested and ridiculous sitcoms I have thoroughly enjoyed, I’m not trying to be a stick in the mud or take away anyone’s viewing pleasure. I love romantic comedies.  I’m a freakin’ sucker for them.  But, I also know that these romantic comedies have had and continue to have an influence  my own expectations and desires. Shit, who wouldn’t want some hot guy like Ryan Gosling wait for you for 8 years, build you a house and then make love to you in the rain. No wonder I have complained about the men in my past.  That really set the bar high.  A house?!

But, considering the level of mediation we are exposed to, we are foolish to dismiss the content of popular culture as irrelevant.  The mass media does shape and actively construct culture.  With that said, it’s irresponsible to make teen parenting seem fun considering the adverse side effects of teen parenting in 2009.

April 17, 2009

Again?

Another ad featuring a naked woman and a fully clothed male. This time it’s rapper Kanye West and his model girlfriend, Amber Rose. This is a tired, boring, played out theme in advertising that objectifies women and consistently portrays the female form in a state of undress or near undress.  Rarely, do we see ads in which the men are nude, with or without a dressed female in the picture.  It just doesn’t happen.

What are young girls and women learning about the culture’s view of the female body when all around them images of teen girls and women are scantily clad if dressed at all. Viewing this phenomenon through George Gerbner‘s lens of cultivation, the building and maintenance of a stable set of images that reinforce one another and collectively construct reality, girls grow up  in a  culture in which it is not uncommon and is actually expected that girls and women will be highly sexualized objects.

This doesn’t even take into account the body language in this photo that reinforces stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity.  The strong, active and in-charge male with the passive female.  In fact, Amber Rose doesn’t even appear human.  She’s more of an accessory.

We see these themes in advertising time and time again.  So, it’s not this one ad.  It’s the countless ads that reinforce these themes over and over and over and over….

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