Tag Archives: Darryl Roberts

What Kind of Film Do You Want to Be In? Combatting Media Brainwashing

Lynne Murray says:

Sometimes I feel like I’m in one of those horror films where the entire population is increasingly infected by an incurable Body Hating Zombie Virus. Only instead of eating other people’s brains this sickness forces one to eat one’s own and pay for the privilege.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s film,Miss Representation, and the website/movement that goes with it, aim at a different goal for women: not purchasing power, but real power. The goal is to bring women together in dialogue, action and mentoring to break the advertising trance and redirect women’s energy away from buying the message and the products–and into running the store, and running for public office.

Miss Representation … exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself.

In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades,, the site points out, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

On getting to the website, a visitor is immediately offered the opportunity to sign a pledge “to challenge the media’s limiting portrayal of women and girls.” I did this, got on their mailing list, and begin to receive weekly ideas of “actions you can take immediately to make a difference…” For example:

…Remember your actions influence others. Mothers, aunts and loved ones- don’t downgrade or judge yourself by your looks. Fathers, uncles and loved ones—treat women around you with respect. Remember children in your life are watching and learning from you.

…Use your consumer power. Stop buying tabloid magazines and watching shows that degrade women. Go see movies that are written and directed by women (especially on opening weekend to boost the box office ratings). Avoid products that resort to sexism in their advertising.
…Mentor others! It’s as easy as taking a young woman to lunch. Start by having open and honest conversations with a young person in your life.

When I first planned to write about Miss Representation , someone pointed out that it seemed similar to Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly so I checked that out. It’s available in segments on YouTube

Miss Representation, as a film and as a nudge toward collective action, stands on the shoulders of Kilbourne’s pioneering work on media brainwashing. These films have some equally activist siblings, all of them addressing the insidious invisibility of the advertisers’ message. Kilbourne points it out clearly in the fourth revision of Killing Us Softly:

Advertising is more sophisticated and more influential than ever before but still just about everyone feels personally exempt from the influence of advertising.

I asked the first four people I spoke to after hearing this, and all of them confirmed her observation, saying they were not much influenced by ads because they seldom or never watch television.

Kilborne counters this mindset by listing some of the innumerable, half-invisible entry points through which ads can infect your mind:

The average American is exposed to over 3,000 ads every single day…. The ads, as you know, are everywhere. Our schools, the sides of buildings, sports stadiums, billboards, bus stops, busses themselves, cars, elevators, doctors’ offices, airplanes, even on food items like eggs. Almost every aspect of popular culture is really about marketing. (Killing Us Softly 4, part 1 of 2 on YouTube)

Watching Kilbourne’s YouTube slide show, I suddenly realized I had bought and read her paperback book a few years earlier. Seeing the ads in video format brought home to me how much more intense the film medium can be.

Images from film versions of books stick in our mind even when we reread the books. Harry Potter will always resemble Daniel Radcliffe in our minds. Even a documentary film is simplified and streamlined compared to a book; the visual nature of images and movies bypasses the forebrain and goes directly for the gut.

Advertisers know this better than anyone. The cultural goals that have been carved out for women in particular have sneaked into our brains and become an abnormal “normal” that needs to constantly be questioned.

Author Amy Ahlers expresses frustration at how advertising’s toxic self-assessments creep into our minds and color our self-worth in her essay “Big Fat Lies Women Tell Themselves: Ditch Your Inner Critic and Wake Up Your Inner Superstar”:

Studies show that only 8 percent of the images we consume are registered by our conscious mind. That means that 92 percent of the airbrushed, stick-thin, perfectly proportioned images infiltrate our subconscious minds, influencing the way we feel about ourselves. It’s an onslaught of insanity: all these unattainable bodies put before us as an ideal to strive for. As the supermodel Cindy Crawford once said when looking at her airbrushed, Photoshopped pictures, “I don’t even look like Cindy Crawford.”

We need to consciously work to win back our thoughts about how we are supposed to look. We need to overcome the Big Fat Lies about our bodies and our self-care. We need to tune in to our Inner Wisdom on a deep level and to practice, practice, practice, so that we can model a healthy relationship with ourselves.

It is refreshing to see independent and dedicated filmmakers fighting back.

One such is Darryl Roberts, whose America the Beautiful, targeting the unwholesome “beauty” standards Debbie reviewed in Body Impolitic in 2009.

Roberts aimed his cameras at the now $65 billion weight loss industry in a follow-up America the Beautiful 2, The Thin Commandments,

The Australian feminist group Collective Shout, which I wrote about here last year, is also aiming to raise awareness of the toxic and dangerous definitions being forced down our throats, and of course there are dozens (if not hundreds) of others.

Each group’s focus is slightly different, but they are all trying to help us shake free of the hypnotic media-induced trance and each invites to examine the advertising industry’s vision of womanhood:

Kilbourne remarks,

The ads decrees that women should be polished, perfect indeed flawless. She has no blemishes, indeed, she has no pores.” Such a woman also need not concern herself with ideas, as she is made to be seen and not heard. Her mission is to devote most of her energy into the quest for an unnatural, truly impossible beauty standard, which will supposedly result in the heavens opening up and showering her with all that she desires.

Sadly, the hook that the advertisers are setting is baited with an almost real, physiologically based experience of power that many people have, briefly, during their prime reproductive years, when nature heightens every hormone in humans to ensure the continuation of the species. The myth advertisers are selling is that this attractiveness can be captured, distilled and sold as a product and used to help the consumer stay young, powerful and vital.

Also highly disturbing is the advertisers’ use of shocking images to grab attention in this morass of advertising, particularly of shocking violence toward women. The advertiser’s “normal” world, where “all the women are flawless and men are Alpha” is also one where battering, gang rape and stalking are presented as appealing courtship modes.

Newsom, Kilbourne, Roberts, Collective Shout, and their allies are engaged in a fight to wake all of us up from the consumer ad dream/nightmare and energize our lives for real. It can benefit every one of us.

Sometimes I wake up from the Body Hating Zombie Virus film and get the much more positive feeling that I’m in one of those sci-fi movies where we’ve managed to contact The Resistance and there is still hope to save the planet. May the Force for Self-Empowerment be with you!

Health at Every Size®: Now a Registered Trademark

Lynne Murray says:

An August 1st press release from The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) started me thinking how often the diet industry has stolen body-positive ideas and used them to sell body-damaging products and programs. The press release announced that ASDAH has claimed Announces Health At Every Size® as a registered trademark.

To my mind this is a socially healthy move. The best way to keep someone from stealing “Health At Every Size” (ASDAH politely calls it borrowing, but I prefer the stronger word) is to let them know a nonprofit, body-positive organization owns it and won’t allow it to be co-opted and used to market “love your body into a smaller size” delusions.

“This is not about keeping the Health At Every Size approach exclusive to ASDAH,” said ASDAH President, Deb Lemire. “Through the diligent work of many people both within and allied with our organization, the Health At Every Size principles have come to mean something very important to people of all sizes who want access to compassionate, relevant and rational health care. We simply want to protect this phrase from individuals or large corporations who would seek to co-opt the phrase to hawk their latest diet or weight-loss program.”

Kate Harding nailed this phenomenon in a 2007 post:

“Diets don’t work, but…” Fill in the blank with any of the following–or make up your own!
• Diets don’t work, but Weight Watchers, which is not a diet, works.
• Diets don’t work, but “lifestyle changes,” which are not diets, work.
• Diets don’t work, but restricting calories for the rest of your life, which is not a diet, works.
• Diets don’t work, but cutting out carbs, which is not a diet, works.
• Diets don’t work, but eating only whole foods, which is not a diet, works.
• Diets don’t work, but reducing fat intake, which is not a diet, works.
• Diets don’t work, but “portion control,” which is not a diet, works.
• Diets don’t work, but eating right and exercising, which is not a diet (and clearly not something anyone’s ever thought of before!), works.

Gosh, there’s so much conflicting information here! However to synthesize it? Do you suppose there’s, like, a single element common to all those statements?

Ooh! Ooh! I see it! DIETS DON’T WORK.

What do I win?

The thing that causes so much confusion (to put it charitably) here is that diets do work, actually–in the short term. All diets, from cabbage soup to Weight Watchers, will cause people to lose weight. At first. But after five years, all diets have the same result: the vast majority of people who lost weight at first gained it back.

Read the rest of Kate’s post too; don’t stop with what I quoted.

Incidentally the “Diets Don’t Work” phrase has been trademarked by a “lifestyle change” organization. I’m glad to see that ASDAH has made sure that won’t happen to Health at Every Size.

ASDAH is getting involved in a number of what I think of as truly noble efforts:

… a series of proactive responses to the continued misguided public and political approach to health and weight. In June, ASDAH launched healthateverysizeblog.com featuring outspoken advocates for the Health At Every Size® paradigm. ASDAH also recently responded to a commentary in JAMA suggesting the removal of higher weight children from their homes. While the removal was proposed as a last resort, “the option should not even have been on the table,” says Lemire “when the Health At Every Size® approach is a viable and compassionate alternative.” ASDAH has drafted a policy response which can be downloaded from its website.

Many of the guiding lights of ASDAH will be attending its annual conference August 12-14 in San Francisco:“No BODY Left Behind – The HAES® Model: Ensuring an Inclusive Approach to Health and Wellness.” Also at the conference, the SF Bay Area Film Premiere of America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments, directed by Darryl Roberts, a look at our unhealthy obsession with dieting and other weighty matters. Debbie reviewed the previous America the Beautiful film here.

Full memberships and Saturday-only memberships are sold out, which says to me that our movement is gaining strength and popularity.