Author Archives: Ms. Mettle

About Ms. Mettle

I am many things. Runner, yoga enthusiast, nonconformist, bookworm, lover of learning, blogger & self-proclaimed writer, traveling fool & body image, media literacy and feminist issues advocate. I have a penchant for philosophical musings, cultural commentary and white wines. I enjoy stand-up comedy and profanity-laced television series. I enjoy watching said series by season in rapid succession. Committed to personal growth, unabashed authenticity and empowerment, I encourage critical thinking of mainstream media messages and popular culture and believe in questioning our society’s definitions of gender, sexuality and power. I eschew stereotypes, rail against the limited notions/definitions of beauty, the destructive idealization of thinness and the marketing of packaged perfectionism that leave women feeling inadequate and shameful about their bodies and themselves. I believe in empowering and educating our youth on harmful media messages that call them to equate their self-worth with appearance and body size and equipping them with the tools that support healthy self esteem, positive body image and confidence. I enjoy cocktails and quality conversation, spending time with my soulmates, pithy proclamations, positive precepts and witty wisdom. Additionally, I adore alliteration (as if not already evident). I have an affinity for gutsy gals & guys, brazen broads and sanguine strangers. I work to encourage my insatiable aptitude for education. I am a feminist, word nerd, reading addict and prefer my literature like my coffee, dark and rich. I have indescribable gratitude for all of the unwavering support and incredible individuals that make my life a resplendent one. These relationships are my currency. Reformed pessimist/chronic cynic, perpetually pursuing positivity, encouraging self acceptance, supersizing my dreams and learning to love life.

The Cast of 90210 – Then vs. Now

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The original 1990s American teen TV soap, Aaron Spelling’s seminal hit Beverley Hills 90210 saw a prosperous 10 years on air. It was (successfully?) revived in 2008, touted as a “spinoff” and not a remake and is currently into its fifth season.  

Admittedly, I have never seen the newest extension, but I do remember the world of the Walshes: the climatic Dylan/Kelly/Brandon drama, Brenda absconding to London in a feeble attempt to write her off the show and loving the brainy and bow-bedecked Andrea Zuckerman for her academic commitment, feminist inclinations and writerly ambitions. The original show, although highly problematic in many areas, actually conveyed development in the main characters to some degree over its arc of ten seasons, that I appreciate in retrospect.

But, more importantly I recently came across a blog post that highlighted the differences in female body types from the early 90s cast to the latest and greatest of today. Even though there is a starring cast member of color and another character is dealing with questions of his sexual orientation (one of the topics the old series never touched; in truth it addressed social issues methodically – broadly and softly), the revival disproportionately focuses around straight white teens,

Check out the side-by-side cast comparison below and how the thin ideal has gotten smaller and more sexualized over the past decade.

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Don’t get me wrong – the female cast members were thin THEN, but it’s clearly evident that not only are the females thinner collectively in the current cast, they are also significantly more sexualized. This supports the idea that in recent years what women and girls are seeing reflected in popular culture among Hollywood starlets and celebrities is a body ideal that has gotten increasingly/excessively thinner and considerably less diverse. Even the men featured in the latest spinoff have displayed, chiseled bodies (in the beach scenes) versus the cast of yesteryear where Steve is the only one sans shirt.

Visually I also find it interesting that the 90s clan take photos where they are physically closer in many of the shots, their bodies are seemingly less on display for consumption.

Easy Bake Oven for Everyone

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The Easy Bake oven is no longer the girlhood marker of Domestic Divahood.

Easybake Oven

This is all thanks to 13 year old McKenna Pope who petitioned toy conglomerate, Hasbro to create a gender neutral oven to appeal to both boys and girls. Since it’s her little, 4 year old brother, Gavyn’s toy of choice – why should he be excluded from a product, largely packaged in pink, that encourages cooking and culinary pursuits? Up until now the Easy Bake has catered to little girls, the product itself bedecked in all its bubblegum colored glory and packaging and ads featuring only little girls. To McKenna it was simple: her little brother’s favorite toy was the Easy Bake. She wanted to buy him one, but all she could find was those made for girls.

With a change.org petition, garnering 40,000 signatures and the attention of celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, McKenna was invited to  headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to meet with Hasbro Vice President, Julie Duffy. Here, her and Gavyn were shown a gender neutral oven with blue, black and silver designs and asked for their opinion. The oven was positively received by both and is set to be unveiled at the Toy Fair in February 2013.
While I applaud corporations being receptive to child criticism and public petitions, I still a

m disheartened that there isn’t more movement on the front of breaking down the overall gendering of toys and the reinforcement of the blue/pink dichotomy that leaves many boys in fear of social reprisal from playing with “pink toys”. It’s refreshing to see a toy tour de force such as Hasbro listen to the feedback of young voices, the very mini-consumers of the demographic their products target, and responding with meaningful action.

Changing the Conversation: Gendered Product Offerings & the Sexualization of Youth, Outrage is NOT enough

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A blogger and Mom I deeply admire, Melissa Wardy from Pigtail Pals and Ball cap Buddies had an amazing blog post a few weeks ago that I wanted to highlight and write about. If you aren’t already aware, PPBB is an amazing company that sells alternatives to the highly gendered and sexualized selections available for children in mainstream retail purchasing outlets.

 You know the products – you’ve probably seen them in passing and thought nothing of them. Clothing that attempt sto be edgy and toes the line of inappropriate. I have seen them take two forms, the first being sexually implicit to egregiously young age groups, as evidenced by the Abercrombie and Fitch controversy a few years ago where they were marketing thongs to 10 year old girls with  dangerous innuendos inked on the front (“Eye Candy” and “Wink Wink”; need I say more?)

Add in a push-up bikini top offering for the same age group and I am left equal parts disgusted and awed at the total lack of irresponsibility on the parts of th decision-making heads at these companies that is wholly absent from bare bones ethics and concern for the protection of the safety of our children. A&F in particular is a serial offender, touting tees with onerous and objectifying slogans: “Who needs brains when you have these?“ and “Do I make you look fat”?

I feel a burn of anger blowing through me just typing this. A&F is one of the worse corporate criminals with ads featuring erotic scenes that promote group sex and barely clothed models. This company exploits the burgeoning sexual curiosity in youth and demeans young people by selling a specific brand of sexuality.  It introduces and blatantly enforces the idea of normalizing sexualuation of youthful bodies.  It passes off objectification as something alluring and imposes the idea that one’s worth comes from their sexual appeal and physically attractiveness. The thong is over the top for sure, but the push-up bra disturbs me in a different way. Girls are extremely impressionable at that time in their lives when their bodies are changing and developing. It’s a time of inherent self consciousness and confusion. The first messages they receive should not be to boost their bust or sport undergarments with sassy sayings. This is irresponsible and insidious.  They need to receive empowering messages that encourage body acceptance and respect for this time in their life. The sexualization of children and the horrifying crimes that have become an epidemic are a very real and very dangerous reality and public health issue. We live in a world where child trafficking is rampant, boys and girls sold into sexual slavery. Our culture commodifies people to sell products, infantilizes our adult women, but at the same time hyper-sexualizes  products and services geared towards our young girls. 

This brings me to our second type of contagious cultural correspondence: products and attire that are soaked in gender stereotypes and many that spill into sexist territory. You’ve seen them, for sure. Ranging from: Future Supermodel emblazoned on a Toddler tee to onesies that bear superimposed bikini shots. (WHY you would want to put that on your baby and have it simulate a sex object boggles my mind!) Last August 2011, JC Penny was at the center of a controversy involving a T-shirt they were marketing that read: “Too Pretty to do Homework. So my brother has to do it for me.”

 

Que?! The shirt was being marketed to 7-16 year old girls. The caption next to the shirt, even worse, read: “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.” Eventually the shirt was discontinued and JCP agreed it did not convey appropriate messaging, but they are not the only one with these sexist sayings that reduce GIRLS to objects for consumption and imply if they are attractive enough (conventionally of course!), then who cares about brains, because looking good is where your REAL worth comes from (drenched in sarcasm). This is the message young women grow up with and adult women are subject to hearing on repeat, droning in the cultural backdrop of the media for the entirety of our time on this planet. Technology is so advanced and widespread that advertising and media are available on so many platforms, with increased accessibility to consumers.

What about this other offering from JCP:

 

Not only does this reinforce pathetic paradigms about girls’ focus at that age it demeans the intelligence of our female youth, it assumes that their pursuits are less intellectual than their male counterparts.

This is a sensationalized and historical myth about the quantitative competency of girls vs. boys. Recent studies have patently dispelled this fiction that females are inherently less adept at mathematics than males. In fact, recent research indicated that it was the reinforcement of gender stereotypes that had the greatest impact on performance. Girls who were told that females were biologically inferior to males in their mathematical skills, performed poorly on tests versus those who were not specifically saddled with that stereotype prior to the exam. Need I say more? Yet still T-shirts like this persist because they are somehow cheeky and many render them innocuous. In reality, they do a horrific disservice to basic humanity. Here’s another lovely one this time courtesy of Forever 21 who is no stranger to advertising atrocities (a la no knee capped models!):

 

Melissa Wardy thinks it is time to reroute the conversation and I couldn’t agree more. Instead of demanding corporate monoliths to change their standards, which is often hugely problematic, (because for profit companies only particularly care about the bottom line and the definition of social responsibility seems to be a nebulous term) we need to spread awareness to parents, educate them on the damaging effects. Early sexualization and the promotion of the thin ideal and a specific brand of beauty and propagated by the media is scientifically shown to cause depression, poor body image and be a precursor to eating disorder behavior in young girls.  It causes them to adopt the dangerous equivocation of appearance with worth, believing that our truest value lies in our level of attractiveness and physical appeal to others.

Our boys are given a specific brand of masculinity to subscribe to and sporting any sort of traditionally feminine interests or personality traits are demonized. They are told how to be “real boys” and “real girls”.  Gender roles that support the social construct of our culture are imposed upon them, and consumerism in our country wholly supports this.

We are in a tender space for our youth at this point in history. With the proliferation of the Internet and global digitalization the messages are coming faster and more frequently. Marketplace competition forces companies to be edgy in ways that require shock value to stand out, but ultimately provide roadblocks to equality. Our children receive millions of messages from their infancy about gender and few parents think anything about how the cute catch phrases may have a larger impact and contribute to stereotypes that reinforce sexism. Endless nuances in products push stereotypical implications of  gender roles that are every present since the inception of our personhood and subconsciously internalized, adopted and reinforced for the rest of our lives. until they are deeply woven, often undetected, into our identity. 

We need to do more than just pointing, gawking and instigating Internet outrage. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should stop protesting these products or passing along their offensiveness to our cohorts. But, I do think that we need a more proactive approach that doesn’t stop with forwarding along an iPhone shot of insulting innuendo or an offensive product offering. We need to help promote products, like Pigtal Pals and Ball Cap Buddies that combat this crap.

As indicated by the subversive subtexts underlying the above clothing and products offerings for our children, these companies perpetuate harmful stereotypes and make money off of tired gender folklore that demean both girls and boys in their formative years. These corporate monoliths embed these messages so deeply into their product offerings that they appear innocent, when they are really insidious. They make money on contributing to social norms that oppress and devalue the range of talent and unique abilities in our youth.

But anger is not always enough. We need action. We need more parental education on how to raise a media literate child and although I do not have children myself I can said with utmost certainty that it is nearly impossible to school your child on ideals that you yourself do not adopt or are unaware of

We need to foster open dialogue with our youth about these messages. Girls are unequivocally told that what matters is how “hot” they look and this is where their primary worth stems from. It devalues the more important attributes, talents and uniqueness- the core things that make them individuals.

Boys are revered for how well they perform on the masculinity report card and ostracized for exhibiting any “female” branded characteristics. We need to teach our young boys to honor and accept themselves for all that they are beyond these limiting notions of gender and in turn, also educate them on the harms that girls undergo and the mendacious messages they are receiving. We need to help shape BOTH moving pieces- the way boys are taught to relate to and view women, as humans and not pieces for consumption or viewing pleasure AND how girls learn to own and honor their own bodies, getting their power from something deeper than appearance or male attention.

                                                             

At the end of the day all education and activism begins with the adults who can help to convey these powerful antidotes to the public pollutants. The more aware we become to the effects of the pervasiveness of advertising in our own lives, the more equipped we are to pick up on it in the subtleties of products and services that are marketed to our youth.

What is generally portrayed as girl power is often duplicitous and stealthy marketing at its best. Girls need to own their power not from their ability to look pretty and cute, but from simply being WHO they are and honoring their diversity and beautiful human differences. When we believe our only worth comes from our appearance, we are buying into the larger social scheme where we constantly seek out products and services to enhance our appearance, thus fueling the cycle of consumerism and our own successive self-doubt.

It has taken me nearly all the years of my life to understand that I don’t need to DO anything to be good enough. I already am.  Cultural communication leads us to believe otherwise. Our girls and women deserve to be self possessed, not oppressed by self uncertainty and the insecurity the advertising industry thrives upon.  They capitalize on our self consciousness. Let’s use our dollars to support empowering clothiers like PPBB who have tees that truly empower, “Full of Awesome” reads my favorite offering.

 I don’t think this means to eschew every piece of pop culture we enjoy that presents even a hint of conflict or question to our values, as that is sometimes the BEST place to utilize as a jumping off point for conversations, giving fertile space to question the inherent messaging and larger social themes.  Harmful elements and detrimental social standards will continue to exist, but we can be better empowered to use them as stepping-stones and not as roadblocks. By thinking critically and making insights about the media we ingest and the messages it is conveying, we open up our own awareness. Then we are able to take action and truly contribute to the solution by fostering meaningful dialogues that empower the malleable minds of our youth.

Ways to Keep It Real in a Faux-toshop Media Landscape

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As promised, here is my full piece originally publisehd at About-Face for the Keep It Real Challenge.

Somebody needs to go on a diet and it’s not us. It’s the media. Their  current regimen?  High in digitally deceptive additives (ahem, photoshop), low in nutrient rich reality and diversity.  The cure?

 We want real. Not retouched. That is why About-Face is honored to join the frontline of the three-day social media KeepItRealChallenge alongside powerful forces like SPARK Summit and Miss Representation.org. The collaborative initiative began June 27th and runs through the 29th and targets mainstream magazines, asking them to publish one unaltered image per issue. Whether it’s trimming tummies, lightening skin, or removing kneecaps, these images are harmful.

Here are my favorite ways to “Keep It Real” amid a world of pixelated perfection.

1. Educate To Empower: Our media reflects our society and influences it and what we see is rarely reality. Corporations are profit-driven powerhouses complicit in fostering unattainable ideals. If we are striving towards the unattainable (because it doesn’t exist) we will never cease purchasing their products, or services or reading their often counterfeit content. The success of these industries is entirely contingent upon believing that it is possible to attain physical perfection. Magazines have a vested, financial interest in producing articles that support the ads paying for  production.  Everyday, the 20 billion dollar beauty industry exploits our insecurities for profit. We fight back when we learn how to consume media responsibly and bring critical media literacy skills to our daily lives. This begins with awareness. Notice all the brand name booty given out at talk shows or featured on reality TV like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? Surprise! They are all corporate sponsors that make this programming possible. We take back our power when we expose the industry’s motives. About-face is already doing this in the San Francisco Bay area where they hold media-literacy workshops around body image and self-esteem.

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Same model, same time (2009), same body, two different ads. The horrifying wonders of Photoshop!

2. Know Thy Value: We are subjected to millions of messages growing up, tireless programming that teaches us to equate our with our worth with our appearance and compare ourselves to what we see in the media. We become desensitized to these images and accept impossible ideals of beauty as real and attainable. We buy into a culture that discards us as people with unique talents, gifts, and personalities. Our appearance is not our value. We know that advertisers make money off of deceiving us. This can empower us. I don’t know about you, but I take pride in knowing that I’m on to the media’s motives. We need change our thoughts, not our bodies and find real role models that embody what strong and empowered means to us. Set goals that have nothing to do with body modification. Listen closely to  your internal dialogue. Curiously question where any demeaning messages originate from, but don’t judge yourself for them. Chances are internalized messages from society and past experiences and not a part of you. Talk to yourself from a place of loving self-acceptance, not appearance driven evaluation. Our worth is immeasurable and we deserve deeper lives that stretch beyond face value.

3. Ask Questions: Ask questions about the media you ingest. Photoshop and the ubiquity of advertising have changed our standards of comparison. My formal education is in marketing, and I am here to tafirm that marketers and advertisers exploit our insecurities when they market products and services. They sell lifestyles, ideals, dreams, etc. that are driven by culturally concocted fantasies.They actually use psychological methods  to lure consumers to make purchases. The Proctor and Gamble brand Pantene showcases their hair products with models tossing impossibly shiny manes. Subtext: Want this shiny hair? Buy this shampoo. Ask questions! Think critically about what is being depicted. What is it saying about this person/group of people in society? What idea is being sold beyond the actual product?

4. Be part of the solution, not the problem:  Personal Responsibility is key.We already know the images we see in magazines are not real, but we need to begin with developing healthy relationships with our own bodies.  Are we contributing to fat talk, conversations that disparage our bodies  Are we complimenting others solely on their appearance? How many times have you heard or been involved in connecting with others over body size/shape? How is our relationship with our bodies affecting  our siblings, children or loved ones? Our own attitudes are powerful and potent and can have a great effect on others. We have to harness this to help, not hurt.  Use social media to call out companies and read up on the tools of persuasion and target audiences as related to advertising. Change conversations that contribute to body shame and stay alert for the wolves in sheeps clothing, the promise of confidence/empowerment if we do x, y or z.  We must respect the bodies we have and not resort to unhealthy or punishing behaviors to look a certain way.  We cultivate meaningful relationships with others when we’re not connecting over negative body image. We are best able to serve the world in this fight if we are at peace with ourselves and embracing our own imperfect, human beauty.

 

Taking back our power from the perilous hands of the media means pushing back against problematic portrayals and alienating beauty ideolology. We need more diverse depictions that celebrate all bodies, races, and ethnicities. We deserve accurate and honest representations, redefined standards of beauty and real reole models. Will these powerful media outlets heed the requests of real women? This remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: we have tools to do our part in keeping it real.

Help us fight back by tweeting this article, sharing it on Facebook, capturing your own pictures of beauty and bidding adieu to photoshopped phoniness.

Keep It Real Challenge: Magazines it’s time YOU went on a diet (a Photoshop one!)

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I am coming late to the party, but am honored to have blogged for About-Face for the Keep It Real Challenge. They joined alongside powerful forces like Spark Summit and Miss Representation. The collaborative initiative began, June 27th and runs through the 29th and targets mainstream magazines, asking them to publish one unaltered image per issue.  Whether it’s trimming tummies, lightening skin or remove kneecaps, these images are harmful. The Keeping It Real toolkit has some scary stats on the effects of these images and how they make us feel about ourselves and our bodies.

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The first day of The Challenge involved utilizing Twitter to call out magazines with the hashtag #KeepItReal .The second involved

 blogging about which I did over at About-Face,

and where I will post my ways to “Keep It Real” full text later today. The last day, today, asks us to photographically capture what “real beauty” means and not those that have undergone the heavy hand of airbrushing.

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Until then, let’s get busy snapping “Real Beauty”!

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The Glamorization of Weight Loss in Celebrity Culture and Unattainable Ideals

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I am a horribly inefficient shopper. In my rush to gather the weekly staples and plow through the check-out line, imagine my dismay when I was forced to stand in a sizeable line to the register,  where my eyes met the ubiquitous and visually unavoidable magazine displays. I was horrified (but not surprised) by a trio of celebrity tabloid magazine covers showcasing and celebrating weight loss, as depicted in my picture above. Here is yet another indication of our society’s troubling weight-loss obsession: celebrity culture gives us constant reinforcement of stars (presumably those who embody success and fame) that are always in the business of shedding weight as an avenue to happiness. Total crap.

Most upsetting to me was the Kelly Clarkson spread that promised to house “her simple diet plan that will work for you” and “how a new boyfriend boosted her confidence.”

I actually subscribe to this magazine. It is a mindless, gauzy gem of nonsense that takes me all of fifteen minutes to leaf through. I use a lot of quotes and features as examples in my writing, revealing the appearance-driven focus of the mag, painting pictures of beautiful celebrities we hold in high regard and posh lifestyles we should aspire to. I enjoy examining the messages and implications in the interviews and general objectification and exploitative slants that many of the stories take.

So back to Kelly. In a September 2009 issue of Self magazine, Kelly was the featured cover girl. Unceremoniously dubbed the “Body Confidence Issue”, the singer’s frame was photoshopped to svelter proportions while they inappropriately ran quotes about how comfortable she was with her figure. She says, “Sometimes I eat more; sometimes I play more. I’ll be different sizes all the time. When people talk about my weight, I’m like, “You seem to have a problem with it; I don’t. I’m fine!’”

Yet, the US Weekly article paints a very different portrait of the American Idol alum. It lauds her for shedding 30 pounds and says she is “10 pounds away from her goal weight”. It goes on to say that she has someone to celebrate with when she hits that “magic number”. As per standard the elusive “insider” or “close pal” does the majority of speculating on Kelly’s reasons for slimming down (she wanted to look good for her man, duh!) and how happy she is now. Unsurprisingly, there are few actual quotes from Clarkson herself. The piece glamorizes weight loss and again reinforces the damaging message that happiness can be held in altering our appearance.  What’s so twisted about it is that in this warped world of bling and beauty, everyone’s currency is measured on their ability to conform the beauty ideal – being thin, conventionally attractive and in control of their lives and careers. Yes, there are certain worse celeb tabloids for sure, but they all contribute to the same larger problem. They offer up this glossy garbage that satisfies the voyeur in us that longs to glimpse into the private spaces of the posh and prosperous, to obtain their “secrets” so we, too, can attempt to mirror their lifestyles.

Additionally, the only mention of “healthy” is a quote that ends the piece from Clarkson herself who claims that she just wants to be happy and healthy, but then follows it up with her own affirmation of how good she looks. To the naked eye this seems to be empowering, but the truth is that it is confirmation that even those who purported to be at peace with their bodies in the past, are now, after a trimming transformation, finally happy. Was Clarkson lying in 2009 when she told Self that she was happy with her body and that the Hollywood’s horrific beauty and size pressures had no bearing on her self esteem? I don’t imagine that it was particularly affirming for Self to photoshop the hell out of her cover.  I snagged this pictorial comparison from Beauty Redefined who has an amazing article on photoshopping.

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The point is that this mag published quotes from Kelly that supported her positive body image, but then in a most unethical and disingenuous manner, went to town shaving and slimming her real bod. Is this not a very public slap in the face to the singer who has just been extremely open and vulnerable in bucking the trend of celebrities who succumb to idealization of thinness and depictions of  this narrow definition of “beauty” at any cost? In what turned out to be a very public admission of photoshopping, Self labeled their alterations an “industry standard.”

Herein lies the egregious problem with these alterations: this “industry standard” is erroneous and misleading. Even celebrities we see, and attempt to emulate are unrealistic representations of themselves. It encourages our young girls and even grown women that these pinnacles of perfection, (who are incidentally “just like us” because they – gasp- grocery shop, hold their children’s hands and walk dogs!! Can you believe that, and all along we thought they weren’t even human, but rather autobots!) are actually real and attainable. What is sad is that they attempt to align themselves with the reader by treating this body dissatisfaction and weight loss goals as a universal concern, ultimately normalizing it.

Males are not left unhindered by these polluting pretenses. It sends them the message that women should look like that. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from young girls that boy’s comment on the physical appeal of salacious spreads of celebrities in magazines and the pressure they feel to look that way. Our boys are growing up believing that those female depictions are what they should expect their female counterparts, mates and sexual partners to personify. The same can be said for the propagation of masculinity and what the physical manifestation of that is for men of various ages and in different stages of development. Young boys and men tie their worth to the level of attractiveness of their mate, regardless of gender identification or sex, which is a dangerous game of objectification and reducing individuals to their outward appearance. The media seemingly breeds misogynists with its inaccurate portrayals of women that lack respect and equality and are teeming with stereotypes and sexism. The porn industry is also notorious for contributing to an unrealistic representation of sexual behavior and bodies in both males and females. Another notable irritation for me was the emphasis on a new boyfriend being a key to motivation to her exterior transformation; she “wanted to look good for him”. This is really stark sexism at its best. This is a terrifying dual reinforcement: you should lose weight so that you can look good for your mate, who will in turn, be a motivation to stay subscribed to this thin ideal. Validation is achieved through being in a relationship and based on your body size and ability to fit a standard of sexy and attractiveness.

US Weekly is just another example of mainstream media pandering to the perceived allure and fascination the public has with fame, and those who possess it. Nearly all forms of media are supported by advertising dollars, so they have an incentive to continue to support images of celebs as idols we should aim to imitate giving us ways (and products!) by which we can attain Taylor Swift-esque waves, or replicate the couture clad looks from awards shows. Even the actresses and models plastered in ads and in our magazines are not accurate depictions of their real bodies. It all erroneously supports the illusion that we can be successful and fulfilled if we can fit a certain standard of beauty that is unrealistic and truly unattainable.  The damage is in splashing covers with these pictures, glamorizing weight loss and the refusal to acknowledge beauty in all shapes and sizes.

Media literacy educates adults and children alike on the fallacies of media message and their damaging effects on our psyches. We have been reared in a society in which we are inundated with these (often subconscious) forms of communication that reinforce societal standards and narrow definitions of beauty, success, gender, etc. The list goes on with regards to the cultural conveyance of attributes and the once loose links to these markers has been seared into and cemented cerebrally as we are socialized in our developmental stages. Awareness of these connections and the understanding that so very much of what we are fed through the media is skewed to the consumer, to prevent needs that products, services and unattainable ideals meet. The market for beauty products, cosmetic surgery and other appearance enhancing services would drastically decline if we were all actually educated on the motives of the advertising industry and how life sustaining it is for these companies.

Creating a need (ultimately awakening some brand of insecurity) is one of the tenets of marketing, the field in which my formal education is rooted. I have first hand knowledge of the mechanics these professionals’ minds operate when attempting to generate campaigns that will boost sales and profitability. There is a very fine line of ethical integrity in this business and so very much of their motives to raise revenue are rooted in capitalizing on a collective timidity and our endless quest for improvement.  We are sold images of what it looks like to be _____ (insert socially admirable attribute, typically genderized – men = strength, masculinity, women = sex appeal, attractiveness, in the past several decades – selective empowerment).

These impractical ideals bleed through the very fabric of our society and what it means to live and be human. Our media driven culture is saturated with so many inaccurate and limiting representations of beauty, success, masculinity, femininity, intelligence, etc. – the list goes on. They discourage acceptance and invite self-rejection, court insecurity and doubt about our levels of competency and worth as individuals.

We must advocate awareness of this mendacious marketing of unrealistic ideals and values, with the deceptive subtext of how much better our lives will be once we have attained _____ (insert socially sanctioned value that determines, or enhances one‘s worth), that ultimately exploit our self-consciousnesses and appetite for improvement. We must educate our children and neighbors (figuratively AND literally) on the dangers of this prepackaged perfection and advocate for more responsible and realistic portrayals of individuals in the media, demanding diversity across all boards. Media literacy programs must be brought to schools and children edified on the pervasive messages that left unexamined leave us attempting to embody an ideal that does not exist. For women (and men) we need to bond over more than bad body image and weight loss goals. Life is richer in a space of acceptance and self-honor for the unique bodies we possess. Constantly striving for the unattainable is a zero sum game and our society can be a more productive and empowering one if we are all armed with this knowledge. As Leah Wilson said at the Geek Girl Convention, “The most dangerous media is the unexamined.”

Manshowers? Bro Baths? Redefining or Reinforcing Masculinity?

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Originally Published on Gender Focus.

There are few customs more gender ritualized in Western society than those associated with the wedding planning process. The wedding industry, a money making monolith boasts 40 billion a year in revenue. It is a seemingly untouchable empire wrought with timeless tradition, cultural significance and deeply embedded gender stereotypes. The contemporary wedding has become a veritable commodity and multiple pre-nuptial parties are par for the course.

The usually hyper-feminized bridal shower in particular is one of the tried and true traditions that centers on the bride and typically precludes the groom. In recent years, men, ever the gender-busting pioneers, have expressed their desire to cash in on the fun. And thus was born the “man shower” or – in some crowds – “bro baths” or “man gatherings”.

These testosterone-infused affairs blend the gift giving of the bridal shower with the male merrymaking of a bachelor party. A closer examination of this crossbreed reveals a stale reproduction of restrictive gender roles and reinforcement of traditional definitions of masculinity. It lacks the gender convergence it suggests and continues to wholly ignore those who do not subscribe to a definitive male/female identity.

The bridal shower’s origin dates back to sixteenth century Western Europe. It was adopted in the late 1890s in the United States as an event that could help the bride supplement small dowries. From there it grew into a traditional gathering that primed the soon-to-be-bride for domesticity. It aided in providing her with the necessities that would equip her for her new life as a wife.

Expanding to later include lingerie, linens and trimmings to furnish the matrimonial abode, bridal showers typically conjure images of colorfully coiffed packages and fancy finger food. Showers are generally female-focused and despite modern movement in the direction of co-ed celebrations, prenuptial rituals are largely rooted in traditions that reinforce gender stereotypes.

Spreading technology and the rise of reality TV have aided in creating and glamorizing a consumer fantasy of the wedding process. Reality TV boasts a litany of inflated programming centering on wedding planning and prep work, many depicting excessive events, unaffordable venues, and costly couture. They characterize brides as hysterical, stressing over the conundrum of cake fondant and flower arrangements with hovering mothers and submissive grooms along for the ride.

Weddings themselves have become commercialized and mass marketing efforts gender skewed. They pander to the bride who is marked as the matrimonial decision maker and project planner. So we certainly should not be surprised that some grooms are piping up.

Wedding specialists speculate that the evolution of “man showers” and other male-centric celebrations as an organic outgrowth of grooms becoming more involved in the wedding planning process. One MSNBC article cited the Executive Director of the WeddingChannel.com claimed it to be driven by more material pursuits, believing the drive was the gift-receiving piece.

So what exactly goes on at these groom-geared soirees? Oh just some “manly” shenanigans: poker, pizza, Xbox tourneys and nail pounding competitions to name a few. Nearly every piece I read on man showers made some note of breaking out of sexist stereotypes but in actuality all evidence points to the contrary: an unwavering adherence to traditional symbols of masculinity.

All of the examples illustrated informal social gatherings that emphasized “male bonding” and clichéd gentlemen gift giving: home improvement tools, electronic gadgets, etc. One piece even highlighted a self-proclaimed “man shower” pioneer who had adopted these gatherings as part of a family tradition to welcome in new male members. This was an important rite of passage where attendees ate wings and sausage off of rustic license plates and participated in contests that judged how “manly” they dressed up.

There was a depiction of the men participating as casual, wedding role renegades, reaching in to claim their slice of the pre-nupital pie. But what about the Bachelor Party? Isn’t that essentially the same thing? Au contraire; manly men need gifts to aid in building their new life, literally and figuratively. Not all these gatherings channel convivial camaraderie, poker tourneys and chalking cue balls. I would be remiss if I did not mention the ridiculous relative of these “man gatherings”, the “Groom Roast”.

According to Urban Dictionary, multi-generational men in the groom’s life can celebrate him, at his expense of course, all for the noble purpose of fostering a sense of communal camaraderie prior to the wedding. This is done by collectively engaging in “public-appropriate comedic insults, praise, outlandish true stories and uplifting tributes.”  All things that men are supposed to enjoy and endure because they are purportedly emotionally immune to all things women are not: jocular jabs and crude commentary and supposedly relish and readily endure theatrical retellings of their most mortifying moments.

While these guy-geared gatherings are innocuous to many, there are larger problematic elements at play in lauding something that encourages gender conformity and is rooted in sexist stereotypes. In each article I read heterosexuality was a blind assumption. There was nary a mention of gender diversity or same sex unions, presumably because as a nation we have not legalized it.

Propagating the sexist underpinnings of traditional marriage can alienate those who are unjustly barred from participating in ritualized celebrations that honor their love and commitment because of their sexual orientation. Rather than helping to deconstruct marriage roles, these “man showers” simply reconstruct the traditional bridal shower, stripping it of its feminine stigma. They effectively sanction male participation without a threat to one’s masculinity.

They are a crafty redressing; trading bows for beers and billed to the heteronormative community as role reversal renegades. Unfortunately, this is far from any actual progression in dismantling the patriarchal formation of marriage. To me, the opposite is true, juxtaposing the male and female versions of a bridal shower merely serves to highlight the stodgy restrictions of gender stereotypes in pre-wedding preparations.

Yes, modern day bridal showers have certainly evolved from their antiquated archetype, but they wholly lack progression and remain embedded in narrow sexist stereotypes. I support the idea of an integrated bridal shower, but the gendering of gift giving and separation of sexes for this sort of celebration has got to go.

As our society expands its definitions of gender and identity, so must the wedding industry and the development of segregated showers is certainly not the answer. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a seemingly innocuous take on tradition. In reality, it is just another pernicious reinforcement of a social norm that supports traditional heterosexual marriage roles, lacks consideration of other gender identities and panders to an exclusionary social framework.

I love you Philly, but this Billboard sucks.

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Although it has been three years since I relocated to the sunnier space of South Florida, I consider myself a city girl and proud former Philadelphian. My passion for the City of Brotherly Love runs deep; I experienced many “firsts” and essentially entered adulthood in the quaint Center City neighborhoods amid looming brownstones, historic monuments and rustic BYOBs. It is and always will be a city teeming with heart and history. So imagine my concern when I found out that the urban dwelling I hold near and dear was running a deeply disturbing billboard campaign. Generated by the geniuses at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation one of its current citywide banners outwardly encourages sexism and street harassment.

                       

Unsolicited commentary in public spaces has always sparked a special brand of rage in me. Many a movie clip normalizes the off-handed “Hey baby” shouted into the wind from a passing car. Upon first seeing their prom partner donning formal wear, an affable whistle of approval is innocuous coming from a teenage date floating in a heady hybrid of hormones and hair gel. These conspicuous catcalls, non-verbal noises, evaluative sniggers, even objectifying remarks sheathed in good intentions somehow socially sanction us for acceptance of our bodies as products for consumption.

Long before I identified as a feminist, I was furious at the audacity of certain individuals who presumed they had some implicit right to remark upon my body and appearance while I was simply enroute to my place of employment, school or even my home. I was a human, not an item they were entitled to assess and objectify and then publicly comment upon. I felt silenced, small and scared. I took to mapping circuitous routes throughout the city that would bypass the areas I knew I would be subjected to this sexualized scrutiny. How was it that in a city that boasted being the birthplace of freedom, I was having my basic civil rights violated two steps from my front door on a regular basis?

Only years later after relocating did I hear about Hollaback!, an awe-inspiring initiative, Hollaback!, who currently has an impressive presence in 50 cities, 17 countries and nine different languages. Now a nonprofit, the movement seeks to empower citizens to essentially “hollaback” at open and objectifying commentary, dehumanizing behavior and gender-based harassment. Users are encouraged to share their stories through the organization’s website (or via their iPhone app), including uploading photographs and geographic locations of the perpetrators. Because street harassment is so often tacitly accepted and the offending parties rarely held accountable, Hollaback! serves to encourage women to use their voices in a non-violent manner.

Through Hollaback!’s Philadelphia site, I was alerted to the recent advertisement from the masterminds at VisitPhilly.com. A billboard prominently featured on the iconic Broad Street in downtown Philly (and strategically displayed during the Broad Street Run, when exposure was heightened) says: “Dear Walking this Way, I like the way you move it, move it”, while cheekily signing off “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO.”

If you could see me at this very moment, you would observe the plumes of steam shooting from my ears. I am so utterly disturbed that such an overtly offensive message was approved and placed in a public sphere. This billboard is dripping with disrespect and practically sanctions street harassment.

Hollaback!Philly in their diligent and amazing activism attempted to show GPTMC the error of their ways. In an email response, Meryl Levitz, the President and CEO weakly defended the ad, citing that it was meant to reference the song, “’I like to Move It, Move It” as “sung in the children’s film, Madagascar 2” and that the collection of letters were meant to be pieces of a larger conversation, the ‘With Love’ lines “meant to be catchy, playful and topical.”

Do I even need to mention that this claim is rendered null and void on two very obvious counts? The first being that they augmented the line “I like to move it, move it” to “I like the way you move it, move it.” Second, please note that anyone old enough to understand the implication of the billboard’s maligned message is much more inclined to associate the song with the 90s House duo, Reel 2 Real, rather than the DreamWorks’ designed Bronx brood. This completely misses the mark of being bold and brazen and instead results in something uninspired and embarrassingly offensive.

A 2010 billboard from the same campaign camp’s shamelessly solicited “fellas”: “The sun is out. So are the Ladies”; the ad then urges the reader to get a front row “spot“ dining al fresco and displays the website for booking. Not only is the ad highly genderized, (there is a prominent LBGQT presence in Philadelphia), but it is one of the most blatant forms of sexist and misogynistic advertising I have ever seen. Despite fervent pleas from HollabackPhilly to the GPTMC for removal, the billboard remained. Its message encouraged and promoted outright objectification in public places and openly sold street harassment and voyeurism as a form of realistic recreation.

What is even more unsettling is that these ads aim to foster tourism. Philadelphia is one of our nation’s richest resources; a city that is home to deep historical significance. These one-liners devalue its prominence and counteract its creative vitality. Surely these campaign managers cannot think that a cheap chuckle on one street corner is an effective selling point or furthermore, a true reflection of a city with so much heart and history?

HollbackPhilly continues to use their voice at Change.org, where it has started a petition to remove this atrocious ad. To date the GPTMC has acknowledged the outrage and say they are “looking into it”. I shudder when I think of what communication it conveys to our youth, not only about the roles of male and women, but of gender and identity and the limiting narratives we are all forced into. One of Philadelphia’s greatest strengths is its diversity, which this ad outwardly renounces in its alienating and restrictive language. These messages not only devalue the city that so many call home, but they commit silent crimes against their citizens, especially the vulnerable parties that it is exploiting in an attempt to be edgy.

We all deserve to exist in public spaces without harassment and to use our voices to speak up against perpetrators without fear of reprisal. This antiquated idea that ignoring unsolicited attention will lessen its influence is reflective of a larger problem. When we don’t speak up, we become complicit with a global power dynamic that attempts to silence women and other marginalized groups. We need to foster dialogues about how to effectively fight back against public harassment, hold companies accountable who contribute to the problem and build communities that thrive on mutual respect and safety for all citizens.

Pop Culture Paradox: Hunger Games’ Katniss as Barbie?

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A pop culture paradox: Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen as a Barbie

BarbieCollector.com has announced the arrival of the Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen clone, but replicating the character as a Barbie doll feels at odds with the very essence of the character’s power.

 Progressive or Regressive?

Joining the ever-growing pop culture collection, the Katniss emulation is sold alongside other blockbuster-inspired dolls: classic favorites like the belly-baring I Dream of Jeannie doll, royalty replicas of Wedding Will and Kate, and the ubiquitous Twilight duo. Part of this assortment also surprisingly included female versions of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

So of course the powers that be at mega toy giant Mattel know a good business decision when they see one and the Hunger Games is no exception. To be fair, the actual doll version has Katniss dressed in her Games attire, the pump braid trailing down her back, a mini Mockingjay pin affixed to her coat lapel. She even has her signature bevy of arrows slung in a collection across her back, bow and quiver in hand, combat boot clad and poised for action. With a purchasing limit of five and a price tag of $29.95, the doll isn’t the doe-eyed damsels typically associated with the traditional icon. But, I am still skeptical as to whether or not morphing Katniss into a brand of Barbie is reductive to all the empowerment and aspiration her character represents.

Barbie dolls historically have symbolized deeply embedded female stereotypes, the pinnacle of femininity and arguably a historical pop culture mark of objectification. Not to mention how they model unrealistic body proportions and reinforce specific standards of beauty and attractiveness. While the diversity in terms of race has expanded in years, it is still drastically unequal. The majority of Barbiecollector.com’s offerings pander to the classic collector and are not sold in stores, which is unfortunate. It is the non-traditional dolls that should be adorning shelves, not the countless, carbon copies of the same Malibu crew.

In comparison to the other characters that Mattel has modeled their dolls after, Katniss is ostensibly progressive. Sure, she isn’t a twin of Happy Birthday Barbie in a bejewled ball gown, or her Mermaid cousin clothed in swaths of iridescent shimmer and sporting a frilly fin.

But the aim of the doll isn’t to combat the inherent stereotype deeply embedded into the Barbie identity. But rather as creating designer, Bill Greening told Entertainment Weekly, he “chose to dress her in the outfit she wears during the games, since this is where all the non-stop action takes place and is instantly recognizable by fans.” So, the fact that she is not rivaling her Barbie cohorts in her Reaping dress has less to do with honoring the positive and empowering attributes of her character and more to do with character continuity.

Also what about the anti-corporate beliefs that the character in the film holds and her commitment to rebellion against the Capitol?
Barbie is famously a mark of mass merchandising efforts on so many fronts. Surely Katniss would be against becoming a product in the same way she frequently states that doesn’t want to be an object, a pawn in The Games. Isn’t making her character into a doll, doing the same thing?

Mattel’s aim is certainly more of a calculated business decision rather than any attempt to offer up a more realistic role models or combat traditional stereotypes about their dolls and what they mean for girls and women.

Furthermore, BarbieCollector.com indicates that this is a doll geared towards the adult collector, but the brand is inextricably linked to children. The entire plot of Hunger Games rests on youth death battles which is certainly not kid-friendly.

Sure, Katniss is a welcomed sight among the sparkly swimsuits and glittering garbs that adorn many of the other selections on the site, but isn’t reducing her to a Barbie to begin with problematic? Mattel has been complicit with culturally commodifying women for decades. Now when they appear to softly step outside the box to capitalize on Katniss and grab a slice of the prosperous pie that is the Hunger Games, they to be lauded? I don’t think so.

While the doll’s dress resembles Katniss, her proportions still remain ridiculously unrepresentative of reality. Little girls who play with Barbie’s are still subconsciously receiving the message of an ideal body type and definition of attractiveness. Under those cool clothes, Katniss is still a plastic product of unattainable perfection.


Do you think this doll reinforces stereotypes or combats them? Should we give credit to a company who unintentionally produces products that go against a stereotype they have spent decades creating and reinforcing? Is this is a zero sum game; same “Barbie”, different “cover”?

Don’t be fooled: beneath the warrior wear is the same manufactured mold.

It’s a “Yaeba” dabba DO: Cosmetic Trends in Japan

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Orthodontia and the pursuit of correcting crooked choppers is big business here in the US and Western cultures. While certainly used for reasons other than aesthetics, the primary purpose for seeing an orthodontist is to correct a misaligned mouth.

Yaeba: Another way to infantilize women and sexualize child-like appearances.

Historically, a straight smile was a status symbol, implying that those bearing braces or corrective devices came from families of financial means.The actual word “orthodontia” comes from the Greek word orthos, meaning “straight” or “proper” or “perfect” and odus from “tooth.”

In Japan, dental beauty trends are quite different, where a popular look called Yaeba is desirable. Yaeba means “double tooth” in Japanese and describes a sort of “fang effect” where teeth are crowded to the point of pushing the incisors into a prominent display in the mouth. A multitude of dental “salons” in Japan offer cosmetic procedures by which dentists actually implant artificial teeth to induce overcrowding, forcing the incisors into a more prominent place in the mouth or adhering plastic covers to the tooth to lengthen and sharpen it.

 

The process of crowding the teeth to create this desired look.

This vampire look is cited as attractive and desirable and celebrated by Japanese culture. Celebrities showcase this look and women endure pricey procedures to achieve it. Creating these intentional imperfections is meant to make a woman appear more endearing and approachable.

Naturally, Yaeba occurs in young children and babies whose teeth have not fully developed and who have small mouths. While Western trends eschew overcrowding and aim for picket-fence, pearly whites, our society also idealizes youthfulness. These intentional imperfections are really the same beast dressed in a different outfit: a way to infantilize women and sexualize child-like appearances.

I think it is important to draw the parallel that focuses on infantilizing women, idealizing innocence, and pushing procedures that aim for a more youthful appearance, but I also believe there is a bigger, more basic issue at hand.

I also acknowledge that my own cultural context puts me at a disadvantage in terms of being able to objectively evaluate this trend. It is easy to magnify differences in cultural definitions of beauty. While I appreciate and am fascinated by the measures of attractiveness and standards of beauty in other countries, one thing remains glaringly obvious: Everywhere, women are in the business of changing our bodies and appearance to fit some ideal. This is a transnational epidemic.

Cosmetic procedures that aim to create Yaeba are not too different from breast augmentation, plastic surgery, or liposuction. It is still attempts to alter one’s natural self, subjecting the body to risky and costly cosmetic procedures in the pursuit of perfection, or in this case, imperfection.

 ~ My post originally posted at About.Face.org: The “Yaeba” trend in Japan is not so different from American Cosmetic Trends