Tag Archives: beauty

Wrong Direction: Shonda Rhimes and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Shonda Rhimes is a powerhouse, and a force for good in the world. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” is one of the first things we blogged about, more than twelve years ago (yes, really) and we’ve always had mixed feelings about it.

Now, twelve years later, Ashley Nguyen writes at The Lily about how Shonda Rhimes is teaming up with Dove to take the Campaign one step further. Terrific, you say? Well, kind of. They are doing a lot that’s right:

After announcing the project in March, Dove and Rhimes created a call-out for women to submit their stories. They looked at more than 4,500 submissions before deciding on the women featured in their first two films … Real Beauty Productions uses a 100 percent female crew to produce the films because, as Rhimes told The Lily, “If you can, why not?”

On one level, reminding women people that beauty isn’t a narrow box is always useful; in 1994, when we released Women En Large: Images of Fat Women, we certainly put a great deal of time and energy into doing just that.

But …

It’s not 1994, or 2005. It’s 2017. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to activists in all fields–from police terror to mass incarceration to gentrification to body image–that the personal story is simultaneously incredibly important and disastrously insufficient. We need personal stories to humanize people, to interest bystanders, and to galvanize change.

We also need to look at the systemic issues, the things the personal stories don’t address and can’t change. In the case of body image, self-worth, and “real beauty,” here’s a short list:

  • The systemic story that a woman must be beautiful to be important, valuable, interesting, or even to like herself is bullshit.  When Rhimes says:

I think my definition of beauty is me at my most. Feeling my best, as confident as I can be, doing my best work. Being at my happiest. I also think it’s the moments where I’ve decided to just be me, despite what anybody else thinks, despite what anybody else might judge, despite what anyone else has been thinking about. It’s just me being me without even noticing anybody else or their judgment.

Why does that have to have anything to do with beauty? We would never say that a man doing his best work, or at his happiest, is at his most beautiful.

  • By any real definition of beauty, everyone can’t be beautiful. For one thing, beauty is cultural and not all of it travels. For another, some people don’t want to be looked at; others don’t care. Focusing on “real beauty” as something for everyone ignores the option of “I don’t want to be/I don’t care about being” beautiful. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness.
  • If everyone was in fact beautiful, wouldn’t that erase beauty? One thing we use our eyes for is to find things and people that please us: some of them are beautiful, some are attractive, some are interesting, or cleverly decked out, or surprising. And many things and people that we see are not particularly visually memorable. In the case of women, why should that one characteristic define them?
  • We should never forget that when we’re talking about women “beauty” is at least partially code for “sexual availability,” and lots of women, including many who might want to be beautiful in other contexts, have extremely good reasons not to want to be lumped into “sexually available” or even judged on our sexual availability.

Yes, Shonda Rhimes and Dove are doing a kind of good work together. If they make one woman feel better about herself, we can cheer that success. What we’d really like to see, however, is Rhimes (probably without Dove, which would lose its vested interest) take on the bigger question of why being at our most, feeling our best, as confident as we can be, doing our best work, being at our happiest is not enough.

Growing Up in Body Image Hell, And How to Fight Back

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Debbie says:

Little African Asian girl drawing, lying down on the floor

In the past week or so, I’ve run across a whole spate of articles about how our obsession with perfect bodies affects young people.

Gabby C at fBomb writes about the effect of social media imagery on young girls:

… the addition of these body positive images has done little to eliminate the longstanding, media-created image of the “perfect” female body. This “perfect” body is essentially a skeleton covered in thin, fair skin and is an image that has transitioned from traditional media to social media. Tumblr blogs, harassing comments, and glamorized mental illness posts — like those on “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) and “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia) websites — that bolster this image have existed for years.

I experienced this firsthand.

I started to post my own half-naked pictures and the swift approval (and disapproval) of online strangers began to fuel a dangerous disorder. The power of manipulation, misinformed comments, and a stream of  “perfect” body images acted as triggers and I began to calculate my 900-calorie, low-fat daily food intake. Over the course of a few months, I gained approval from other bloggers — I, too, became “enviable,” and traveled down a dangerous road to an eating disorder.

Gabby goes on to talk about “pro-mia” sites and the ways some platforms (like Instagram) are starting to make active choices to combat the dangers of anorexia and bulimia, as encouraged by peers and others on the net.

Seth Matlins at TakePart is more concerned with advertising imagery than social media per se.  Writing from his split viewpoint as a parent and a marketing professional, he says:

The truth is, we don’t parent our children alone. …

Children can’t help but absorb and internalize the images of beauty and “perfection”—often altered so significantly that even the models and actors no longer resemble or recognize themselves—screaming at them from store windows, magazine covers, and billboards. An innocuous drive to school, a walk in the park, a playdate, a trip to the mall for socks—these all become exercises in media literacy, as their tender minds are prodded and poked by images, ideas, and so-called ideals that parent alongside mothers and fathers, with no regard for what we want and think.

They see what’s false, think it’s true, compare themselves to fiction, and take to dieting, hating, and hurting themselves when they fall inevitably short of the manufactured fantasy.

Matlins also quotes a fantastic 2014 speech by Lupita Nyong’o which I somehow missed:

I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened. 

Just as I was putting this post together in my head, the Women’s Media Center pointed me at a newer Gabby C post, also at fBomb:

I was 10 years old the first time someone commented on my appearance in public. I was walking with a boy in my class down the narrow, dark street of East 86th street in New York City. As we reached the end of the street, the boy looked at me and said, “You’re going to be sexy when you’re older.” …

I had only paid a tiny amount of attention to my appearance up until that point — only enough to replicate the hairstyles and fashion trends of celebrities dancing in MTV music videos. I was aware that “sexy” was a good thing, however, so when this boy validated that I had potential, it felt mollifying.

By 12, my looks were the first thing on my mind each day.

All three authors offer ways forward: Seth Matlins is putting his energy behind the Truth in Advertising Act, cosponsored by The Representation Project and I Am That Girl.  This act would limit Photoshopped and manipulated images, so what children see would be more like what they might actually grow up to become. I feel certain Gabby C and Lupita Nyong’o would support him, since both are concerned with the role of the media, whom Nyong’o calls “the far away gatekeepers of beauty.”

Gabby urges taking care with every single social media comment and post: “I speak from experience when I say even just a simple comment, a single post, can make all the difference.” Thanks to this advice, I chose a positive image for the top of this post, rather than one of the hundreds of sexualized choices open to me. (Most of the positive images I found came from political/nonprofit/feminist sites, while the vast majority are from advertising sites.)

Lupita Nyong’o offers her own success as one model for struggling black girls.

In the end, it’s simple: either we honor our children as they are, and teach them to be themselves, or we continue to worship at the altar of commercialized, sexualized, unreal and unattainable beauty, and destroy countless lives in the process. I wish I didn’t live in a world where anyone thinks that’s a difficult choice.