“I can’t enjoy how pretty I look if I don’t feel good.” – Bryan Kest
I’d spent almost two decades trying to have the reality of my body conform to the image that had been created in my head. The women in my family, boyfriends, my peer group and, most importantly, the prolific realm of pop culture, had influenced this image of physical perfection, and its correlating value. The joy of living in my body as a child had been replaced by disappointment.
The women in my family were consumed by their weight and their desire to measure up to mainstream standards of beauty; lamenting weight gain with bouts of depression and self-loathing, celebrating weight loss with great fanfare and sizing other women up. An unhealthy preoccupation with my body and food was set in motion before I hit puberty and manifested in all sorts of dangerous methods to obtain thinness: diet pills, colon hydrotherapy, fasting, legal and illegal stimulants, calorie restriction, self-induced vomiting and excessive exercise. And all along the way, the images around me assured me that the pursuit of pretty by any means necessary would be pay off. After all, baby, you’re worth it.
The routes to freedom presented themselves at about the same time: feminism and then yoga. After wandering around fairly aimlessly for over a year, running away and living in Maui for a period of that time, I had landed in “Sociology 22: Sociology of Women” in the fall of 1994at Los Angeles Valley College. I didn’t know what Sociology was or what it might have to say about women, but it sparked my curiosity. “I’m a woman,” I thought and, “this should be more interesting than meeting my general requirements for a major I’m not too committed to.”
“It’s not you. You’re not an isolated case. It’s systematic and it’s called patriarchy,” said the radical 60-something woman at the front of the room with the “War is not good for children and other living creatures” medallion swinging from her neck. She wore a turtleneck encased in a neat blazer and put one leg up on the seat of the chair for leverage as she lectured with more gusto, authority and confidence than any woman I had ever encountered. I was utterly smitten and completely enthralled, all the while having my mind blown during each and every class. The world was transformed. My paradigm shifted from one that viewed my body image issues as seemingly personal troubles to understanding them as public issues that were (and are) systemic in nature. In short, my soon-to-be mentor, in all her fierce fabulousness, had ignited my “sociological imagination.” And it was distinctly feminist.
My sociological and feminist education included a healthy dose of media literacy, a field of study that was just beginning to blossom at the time. I was offered the ideological tools and skill set to deconstruct mediated images and understand the role of the advertising industry in the creation and manufacture of these endless streams of images and messages that flood the cultural landscape. This allowed me examine my tortured relationship with my body in a systematic and structured way, lifting the clouds of shame and guilt that followed my every move.
Maybe there wasn’t something wrong with my body. Maybe there was something wrong with the messages the mainstream medic culture proliferated, contorted and unrealistic messages that were raking in profits from my insecurity and from the body image issues of girls and women around me. (The mainstream media’s targeting of male body image issues didn’t begin in earnest until several years later.) The realization that I wasn’t the problem was a relief and ultimately liberating. It also left me utterly pissed off.
Yoga provided the practice that rooted the things feminist sociology had taught me. It is one thing to intellectualize self-love and acceptance; it’s another to embody and practice it, especially after spending decades learning, practicing and perfecting self-loathing.
My friend, Marla, led me to a spacious dance loft in downtown Santa Monica, a space large enough for over 120 sweaty bodies to get their downward facing dog on by donation. The room was bursting at the seams with a sea of bodies and their body heat warmed the cavernous room. A hard-talking high-school dropout from Detroit was leading the practice in the most conscious and loving way amidst his occasional farts, burps and f-bombs. It was 1997, and I had landed in the company of an eclectic group of yogis led by the sometimes delightfully inappropriate and absolutely authentic Bryan Kest.
I knew I had stumbled upon something utterly delicious and profoundly nurturing for me. It had taken me a lifetime to find yoga and over a year of active searching to find a teacher that fit my needs. His street-wise attitude and working-class background meshed with my own and I felt comfortable. I was finally home.
To read the rest of this essay, purchase the book HERE.
This article is an excerpt of my chapter in the newly published anthology, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice, edited by Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey. In the complete essay, I detail my budding relationship to feminist ideology and my yoga practice. I examine media culture at large and reconcile my experience of yoga as a practice of self-love with an increasingly commercialized yoga “industry.” I invite you to read the rest my chapter, as well as the eleven other phenomenal essays in this book, which discuss contemporary North American yoga and its relationship to issues including recovery, body image, and spirituality. You can learn more about 21st Century Yoga by visiting the website, and purchase a copy either in print or Kindle edition.
By Melanie Klein–My students and I talked back to mainstream media by creating our own messages. We let them know that we’re fed up with what we’re being given and told them what we want.
Sometimes anger can spark real change, especially when it gets us to move away from thinking “What’s wrong with me?” and start questioning what’s wrong with a culture that makes us feel so bad about ourselves so much of the time. Margaret Cho knows a little something about that. She went off in a much-publicized and justified Twitter tirade last week. After being on the receiving end of some snarky comments about her body, Cho lost it. As she eloquently put it, “I blew a f****ing gasket. I screamed out loud and tracked the perps down and blocked them, but not before really ramming it to them in the strongest language I could use.” For years she’s been told she needed to lose more weight, she wasn’t pretty enough, and worse. Cho reacted to this latest criticism in a massive, over-the-top rant, during which she basically told the haters to shove it.
When you’re repeatedly told you don’t meet the ridiculously narrow and unrealistic expectations of beauty, that negativity can mess with your head for a long time until you eventually just get sick of it…and then get totally pissed off. And the way I see it, getting pissed off is a whole lot healthier than retreating into self-hatred.
While not all of us have our anger at this body-hating injustice shared across the internet, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that it isn’t valid. As I quoted in an earlier post:
It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject – the liberated voice.” –bell hooks
How many times have you looked at a model in a magazine or an actress on TV and thought, “Hey, that doesn’t look like me or anyone I know”? This group of students decided to talk back about the difference between media fantasy and their reality.
It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject – the liberated voice.
Let’s face it, we’re plugged into an awful lot of media. Sometimes we’re aware of what we’re consuming, like when we turn on the television, go to a movie or download a new song off iTunes. But much of the time it isn’t an active choice. Think about all the billboards and ads we’re subjected to without our consent. Add up the images from the voluntary and involuntary sources and you’ve got a tidal wave of images —and most don’t look anything like us or the girls we know. Several of the students in my Women and Pop Culture class decided they’d had enough-they were going to talk back to the media and tell them what “real” women look like.
It’s garnered a bigger and more hateful response than anything I’ve written previously or since. There would be even more comments on the post if the threats of violence and classic anti-feminist name calling remarks hadn’t been deleted before they ever saw the light of day.
In fact, it garnered enough attention that Gearbox CEO, Randy Pitchford himself, stopped by the blog to respond. And despite the fact that I called his companys creation “misogynistic crap”, he managed to leave one of the most mature comments of them all.
Rather than respond to every comment individually (not to mention the waste of time it would be – I receive a new comment notification every day that spews the same bullshit) I decided to make a post. Something to sum up my feelings towards the response in a (sort of) brief summary.
So here goes:
Let’s start with the whole “I’m friends with a woman, therefore that makes me an expert on the matter/a feminist scholar/the decider on what constitutes misogyny”. Similar to the argument “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black” a response such as this just makes you sound like you failed sociology 101. I challenge any commenter who claimed to know more than me about feminism and women’s studies to name a book title of Bell Hooks, quote Gloria Steinem, or even tell me who Kathleen Hanna is, without googling it.
Also – if your defense consists of calling me a: bitch, lesbian, cunt, whiny feminist, or tells me to shut the fuck up, congratulations, you just supported my argument, and failed at making your point by resorting to misogynistic name-calling.
If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, obviously you don’t read this blog very often. I’ve been a gamer for over twenty years, and occasionally write posts defending games. I’m not calling for censorship, never have, never plan on doing so. Gearbox Software has the right to make these games, and I have the right to call them on their bullshit. So, no…not like Jack Thompson.
And as for women having all the rights, getting free rides to college, and being treated so much better than men – women’s lives are so easy. Well, I could list hundreds of links here proving you wrong, or you could spend a whole 30 seconds of your time on google.
So, feel free to continue to comment, even though not one of you has managed to make a compelling argument. In fact, thanks for the continued inspiration to write. You all make me realize how important my voice is in the echo chamber of gamers who’s philosophy tends to be something along the lines of “STFU BITCH”
With the game now on sale, and gamers uploading videos to YouTube, it turns out, I was right in my assertion that it was “misogynistic crap” all along.
The sweet J. Crew ad I celebrated last week has ignited a “pink scare,” with socially conservative commentators outrageously upset. The ad features a mother– J.Crew’s creative director, Jenna Lyons–and her son delighting in one another’s company on a Saturday afternoon by painting their toenails hot pink (and thereby selling J. Crew’s Essie nail polish). The ad doesn’t make much fanfare of the nail painting and is fairly inconspicuous. As Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals- Redfine Girly, comments on Good Morning America‘s coverage of the gendered hoopla:
The camera has to zoom in SO much on the toes to make the news story, you completely lose sight of the delightful moment between loving, doting mother and happy, beautiful son.
In, what Nikita Blue calls, “ominous paranoid ramblings,” Dr. Keith Ablow goes off in a “conspiracy-theorist tangent,” claiming this ad contributes to “psychological sterilization,” erases gender differences and homogenizes males and females by propagandizing them to choose a gender identity that is not the “natural” one they were born with:
Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts?
Media Research Center’s Erin Brown claims the ad exploits Lyons’ son, Beckett, through the “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” According to Brown, ads like these and irresponsible mothers such as Lyons will create more confused boys, much like the controversial “Princess boy.”
Sexist and homophobic concerns like the ones expressed by Ablow and Brown raise several important points worth exploring. First and foremost, the notion that there is a direct correlation between color, gender and sexual identity is ludicrous. Color codes are recent social inventions, constructs originally inverse. Phyllis Burke’s Gender Shock and Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter trace the sociohistorical origins of pink and blue segregation–gendered coding that wasn’t instilled until the early 20th century. Prior to that, glancing at a babies clothing didn’t reveal any trace of gendered identity: They all wore white gowns. Photographs of my great-grandparents, both born circa 1902, are identical and indistinguishable. Check out this photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1884!
Once color coding got underway in earnest, the colors were reversed. Pink, a color close to red, was equated with strength and masculinity. Light blue was a “natural” sign of femininity and, according to Orenstein’s reasearch, equated with “intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy, and faithfulness.” Given that history, it becomes clear that color codes are arbitrary, socially constructed and have no bearing or impact on one’s “natural” gender or sexual identity. As Dr. Logan Levkoff explains:
Dear Fox, colors don’t have genders. Colors are just colors. Liking certain colors [doesn't] mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.
Secondly, there’s nothing “natural” about gender. Gender is a social construct reflecting cultural dictates within a specific historical context and those gendered prescriptions change as the culture changes. Just as culture is dynamic and fluid, so are gendered expectations. Obviously, Ablow and Brown aren’t familiar with the difference between the biological concept of sex, referring to maleness and femaleness and the continuum between the two, and gender, the socially constructed definitions and expectations of masculinity and femininity. Their critiques of J. Crew’s ad demonstrates rampant essentialism–the idea that one’s biological sex is destiny while ignoring historical and contemporary contradictions to that idea. If having a penis “naturally” led boys and men to embody “masculinity” and a vagina “naturally” equated with all things “feminine,” we’d see much more historical and cultural uniformity.
Third, not only is the idea that the J. Crew ad squelches “naturally” assigned gender identity ridiculous given the difference between biological sex and socially constructed gender, but Ablow’s quote doesn’t address the real culprit in stifling natural and healthy explorations: the color-coded assault by marketers on children’s play. It seems to me that the hyper-segmented pink world of the princess and the blue world of the boy warrior is much more responsible for shaping gender identity than an ad featuring hot-pink toenails on a boy. In that way, J. Crew is a small sign of opening up gendered possibilities–possibilities that represent authentic personal choice.
In Brown’s opinion piece, she goes on to say that mothers such as Lyons or Sarah Manley are setting up their sons for a hard time in the future. There she’s right, and this gets to the crux of the issue. The system of patriarchy values masculinity and devalues femininity. In fact, within patriarchy, masculinity is a fundamental mainstream cultural value. In the Good Morning America segment, Manley rightly points out that if the ad featured a girl playing with trucks in the mud there wouldn’t have been this type of outcry. While girls are awash in a sea of pink, they are more likely to be encouraged and celebrated for exploring and developing “masculine” characteristics, while boys are discouraged and shamed for developing “feminine” characteristics precisely because of masculinity’s cultural capital. What Ablow or Fox don’t acknowledge is that these are simply human characteristics, gendered one way or the other and thereby differently valued. As I wrote on my Feminist Fatale blog last week:
J. Crew’s ad doesn’t depict misguided and dangerous decisions made by J. Crew or parents like Jenna Lyons. The reactions and social outcry against it depict the dangerous world of gender policing within the system of patriarchy.
Dr. Robyn Silverman was featured on a segment of the Today Show on MSN this morning in response to the controversy over Abercrombie + Fitch’s “push-up” kiddie bikini. She makes a point similar to the one I made last night about The Gap’s “always skinny” jeans ad campaign: it’s not just this one padded bikini top marketed to children that contributes to the early sexualization of pre-pubescent girls, but the cavalcade of products that sex-up our kids. It’s a point I mentioned in a post last year when I highlighted the countless products targeting our children. Listen to the full conversation below.
Guest speaker Melanie Klein, spoke about eating disorders and how pop culture has influenced men and women. Photo Credit: Mariela Molina / Staff Photographer
CSUN adjunct sociology professor Melanie Klein advocated the understanding of media images and their effect on the self-esteem during a lecture held by CSUN’s Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating (JADE) Wednesday for national eating disorders awareness week.
“By being constantly plugged in and mediated to, our culture has lost the connection between mind and body,” said Klein, who also teaches women’s studies and sociology at Santa Monica College (SMC).
JADE’s theme for this year’s eating disorder awareness week focused on internal and external beauty, said Grace Wiesmann, JADE graduate coordinator.
“We wanted to promote a positive body image that wasn’t only based on what the media shows us,” Wiesmann said. “We want to enjoy who we are and recognize what we enjoy about ourselves.”
Klein said students need to become aware of how much media they consume, whether it be through television, advertisements, internet or via smart phones, and learn how to deconstruct those images to cultivate and maintain a positive self-image.
Klein, who has personally experienced disordered eating and poor self-image, said reducing media consumption could help individuals feel better about themselves because they remove the temptation to compare themselves to others.
“Body images have fundamentally changed in the past 20 years,” Klein said.
Klein emphasized that the images with which people are inundated daily do not reflect reality although the ideals they represent are expected to be emulated.
Beauty icons from the 1950s and 60s were just that, icons, not images to replicate, she said. Today, women are told they can and should look like modern beauty icons and are shamed when they cannot fit that mold.
For the past ten years, Klein assigned her students an exercise: they are to stand still, clothed, in front of a mirror for fifteen minutes followed by another fifteen minutes without clothes. Klein said she receives similar feedback every semester.
“Students tell me that they noticed they started picking apart their entire bodies and identifying flaws,” she said. “So I ask, how did you come up with the idea that these things were wrong?”
Klein said there is a correlation between the increasingly provocative images distributed through media and the rise in body loathing. She cited Facebook as a portal through which people are seeing and scrutinizing themselves, in addition to films that emphasize beauty as the fundamental reflection of a person’s worth.
Relationships with the opposite sex have also been affected by this media influence. Klein said studies show that young men have difficulty achieving and maintaining erections because they are more aroused by altered images of women.
“When (men) get women’s clothes off, they’re not as turned on,” she said. “Real women have stretch marks, moles and dimples.”
Klein said men and women must shift these perceptions to maintain perspective.
“Instead of complaining that my legs are jiggly, why am I not grateful that I have two legs? Some people don’t have two legs,” she said. “But that’s not enough, we’re pissed that the legs that allow us to walk do not look like those on the magazine.”
This creation of an unattainable reality has permeated modern society. Klein said no demographic has been spared from this criticism, including pregnant women, men and children.
Junior Dinia Sepulveda, 21, said she attended the lecture to educate herself in order to help family members who have eating disorders, one of whom started dieting at 4-years-old.
“It opened my eyes to the (importance) of not staying quiet,” the sociology major said. “(My cousin) is a teenager now and I want to take the responsibility to say something.”
When a friend or loved one asks the dreaded question, ‘Does this make me look fat?’ rather than assume they are seeking validation, Klein said to consider they may be unaware of what they look like.
An impulse to compare bodies and engage in self-deprecating behavior may alter the way people physically see themselves.
“You do not go from pretty to ugly or from thin to fat in five minutes,” she said. “There has been no change in your actual body but a shift in your body image.”
Although the mental reflex to compare oneself to others is natural due to the way modern media socializes its audience, Klein said a daily exercise could change that habit.
“Rather than pick out what is wrong with you, find what you like about yourself or what you are grateful for,” she said. “The way we are treating ourselves now is a waste of time.”
Klein said that taking two minutes to have a positive conversation with oneself could effectively shift negative body images and bridge the gap between mind and body.
“It’s a waste of energy to put ourselves down,” she said. “We’ve lost the magic and miracle of our bodies.”
With the advent (and subsequent global takeover) of the Twilight Saga and Team Edward/Jacob – I feel like we were left longing for a time when Team BELLA might have meant something. Or, maybe we were longing for a Bella that merited having a team to begin with….I don’t know. But, the extreme popularity of Bella and every terrible stereotype she represents (as well as shows like 16 and Pregnant) have made my desire to find a worthy role model for teenage girls & young women that much stronger.
So, when I heard about The Hunger Games Trilogy & its heroine, Katniss Everdeen, I was excited….and also a little cautious & skeptical. I finished all three books in 10 days. Moving through each chapter, getting more attached to the characters, I kept expecting some egregious misstep by author Suzanne Collins. The more I appreciated her obvious attempts to create such a worthy role model as I sought – I just kept expecting the whole thing to result in disappointment. Well, much to my utter delight, surprise, relief & joy – that moment never came.
In Katniss, Collins created a young heroine who truly deserves the respect and adoration that – up ‘til now – has been given to the likes of Twilight’s Bella. Katniss is a 17 year-old girl living in a place called District 12 (a dead ringer for the poverty stricken Appalachian region of the U.S.), a division of Panem, the remnants of the United States post global warming & civil war and about a hundred years after the latter. Without giving away too much of the story – The Capitol (which is at once a metaphor for a dystopian United States, its excesses and imperialism) has created The Hunger Games to keep the Districts (an obvious metaphor for the developing world, as well as working class America) in check after an uprising 74 years earlier. For the Hunger Games, The Capitol chooses two “tributes”, who are children between the ages of 12 and 18, from each one of the Districts, they lock them in an arena, and have them fight to the death. The one left alive is the victor. Obviously, you can assume Katniss becomes one of the tributes from District 12.
Collins’ portrayal of Katniss is that of a strong, capable young woman-hunter who is left to provide for her mother and little sister after her father passes away. Collins allows her this strength & will without the cliché of her also being emotionally distant and/or a bitch. Katniss is simultaneously self-effacing, humble and amazingly confidant. She is wise and capable of making her own decisions (and always does – unlike Bella), but also faces doubt and is sometimes haunted by the consequences of her decisions. Katniss refuses to marry or have children in a world where they are certain to face the ominous threat of The Capitol and the Hunger Games. She is the most holistic, responsible and deserving role model the media has created in recent memory.
Dead women, clad in lingerie, hang by chains around their necks
West makes sexual moves toward dead or drugged women propped up in a bed
A naked dead or drugged woman lays sprawled on a sofa
Rick Ross sits in view of a dead/drugged woman & a plate of raw meat
If that’s not enough, a behind-the-scenes clip of the video includes a semi-naked dead woman laying spread eagled on a table in front of Rick Ross as he eats a plate of raw meat. It is likely we can expect more brutal images in the full-length video.
The victims in this video are clearly women. Only women. And the men, Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z are far from bothered by the female corpses. They seem to enjoy being surrounded by lifeless female bodies, apparent victims of a serial killing.
The official release date of the full-length video has not yet been announced. Let’s make it clear to Universal Music Group, the controlling company of West’s record label, Roc-A-Fella Records, and MTV that the music industry’s portrayals of women’s pain, suffering, abuse, objectification, and victimization as valid forms of entertainment are not acceptable.
Dead women hang by chains
We call on Universal Music Group and MTV to combat violence against women by refusing to support, promote, and/or give airtime to West’s “Monster” video.