Tag Archives: About-face

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 Trouble With Pole-Dancing…Slight Clarification, Strong Reiteration

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I recently endured my first journalistic lambasting in response to the below piece I wrote for the About.face. It is par for the course in any opined endeavors and with the Internet everyone is a qualified critic. (Myself included!)

The comments section on About-face was awash with ardent aficionados and dedicated defenders, supporting the practice of pole-dancing, or what they would like me to refer to as “pole fitness”.

Many critics of the my piece dubbed my research “lazy” and ignorant, which incidentally, I did spent a large chunk of time researching various studios, course offerings and trends AND – gasp- received information from direct sources!

There were a handful of species rebuttals about the upper body strength and stamina of the exercise being a great energy expeller for kids, citing the climbing and bending beneficial.

While many opinions were expressed and alternate points raised, I feel that my point was largely misinterpreted. I was not attacking the pole-dancing practice. Nor was I was disputing the physical rigors or even the athletic merit of the activity. I was simply exposing the studios that were allowing egregiously underage youth to take part in their very adult-themed classes and calling into question the appropriate age for participation.

My argument is not that the practice itself is exclusively erotic – but that it could be. There is a sexual subtext and symbolism in pole dancing that is deeply embedded and often inextricably linked in the fabric of our society. I cannot be blamed or held responsible for giving voice to an unquestionable correlation. It is a fact. Whether we as members of a society continue to perpetuate the stimga is not up for discussion. The debate that is on the table is not whether or not this link is just. Right or wrong it exists.

Some commentator so aptly compared the issue to thong underwear. There is nothing inherently immoral (yes, undoubtedly some would refute this) about it; it simply is not suitable for young children. I would find few who could dispute that.

While performing my indolent investigation I discovered that these classes are in fact surprisingly progressive and lauded as a sport in many circles. My daily Groupon’s inform me of many local course offerings and I was hardly lacking in the a availability of studios or impressive websites that often courted women with tag lines promising to make one “feel sexy at any age”. Of course not all employed this approach, but a large majority did have this advertising approach. And I’m not surprised by this. The inference of pole-dancing is that in many forms it is sexually explicit. It would stand to reason that feeling sexy would be par for the course, and thus a marketable angle for these classes. Feeling sexy for a consenting adult is fine by me. But for children and even pre-teens, it’s criminal, let along egregiously inappropriate. Teenage participation, is at best, problematic.

I am neither in support or against this choice of a fitness regimen for adult men or women. I consider myself to be a sex positive feminist. I have no problem or issue with sex workers who choose to be employed in their industry. I DO think that poledancing/fitness is a legitimate, physically demanding endeavor. I think it does have credibility as an activity for age appropriate adults and am not questioning its efficacy. The legitimacy or fairness of the stigma is not the topic of this particular post or the inspiration for my article, so I feel it is best left of out of this debate.

Teaching young girls or boys moves that in our culture have sexually explicit messages and connotations inextricably tied to it is the issue at hand. This is never a good idea for youngsters who are trying to develop their individual sexuality and forming relationships with their bodies. I know at that age I was trying to make sense of the tangle of feelings that I had – a yearning to be desired and validated and loved and finding an appropriate way to do so that was aligned with what felt safe. Most young girls are not taught to love, honor or respect their bodies, but to objectify them. Too many don’t have the forethought, language or supportive environment to gain that awareness or have that perspective. The brain doesn’t really have those developed pathways that tell them such things are damaging, let alone dangerous.

A lot of individuals raised the objection that gymnastics and swimming were activities replete with less than conservative garb, as simple par for the course of participation. Obviously, this is not disputed that these are accepted attire for these sports. More of this seems to relate to tradition and necessity (in the sense that bathing suits are used for swimming) rather than actual attire making a statement.

The merits of gymnastics and dance were also raised, as being a point I missed. I could honestly pen a 300 page tome on the dangers of hyper-competitiveness and overemphasis on one’s physique in the crucial physical development years of young girls in boys. I am sure this subject alone would endow me with a tidal wave of angry critics, but it is a cultural point of contention that can be expanded upon in a later post.

Here I only wish to mention that those activities can breed their own brand of harmful and are not without fault. I have come into contact with many young girls and boys who were exposed in their most formative ages to the stressors of highly competitive and physically demanding sports that required an overemphasis on appearance and weight. This focus proved beyond damaging in terms of developing a healthy body image and many resulted in full blown eating disorders and dangerous behavior.

My point is that however mainstream, pole dancing/fitness (it’s really just semantics, folks) largely lends itself to a reflexive association with exotic dancing and provocative poses regardless of whether or not the intent to appear so is present. Society still holds certain aspects of pole dancing to be sexually associative. A child swirling on a pole in subway could garner unwanted attention from an onlooker or dancing (innocently taught in the privacy of a studio) could lead to attention, reinforcing a boy or girl’s experience that their body can provide them with validation or love they seek.

                                               Nope…No sexual implications here. Even with the empowering words, the graphic speaks for itself.
Lastly, I’d like to raise the matter of those who believed I was attacking their chosen fitness style or livelihood and how they responded with a fierce brand of fervor. Sadly, I felt that the responses inadvertently proved my point. My piece said nothing in the way of relating pole dancing to the likes of being promiscuous or as one person blatantly dubbed “slutty”. Even in their defending statements, they felt the need to distance themselves from any sort of sex worker correlation. They automatically offered a disclaimer to combat the stigma, yet at the same time felt attacked by my supposed implications. I feel that in their innocent defenses they proved my point and raised with it, an even more disturbing confirmation that this stigma is so deeply ingrained that those who take pleasure in it feel they need to separate themselves from some seedy stripper life that the practice may imply to the unknowledgeable.  
Unfortunately the good intentions of a professional instructor, an approach of decorum to the subject matter or the ascetic ambiance of a studio have little weight in terms of overriding cultural implications that are deeply woven into the fabric of our society.  Yes, society objectifies and marginalizes women in a myriad of ways and there is certainly a stigma surrounding sex workers and the inatimate objects related to that trade, but that is a separate feminist issue not up for debate in this piece. I’m not questioning the morality of pole dancing/fitness or the physical prowess required to perform it, nor am I stating that the association is a just one. Rather, I am acknowledging its existence and holding that it is an inappropriate offering for children and a questionable one at best for teens/pre-teens.

Trending with Toddlers (and Teens): Pole Dancing

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My newest piece for About-Face.org: Trending with toddlers: Pole Dancing, is already garnering some outspoken critics.

I hope to blog more on this later for further clarification and also encourage anyone to post their comments below.

 

Just when I thought parenting skills couldn’t become any more questionable, I come face-to-face with a new activity atrocity: pushing pole dancing for children, adolescents, and teens.

I almost choked on my morning cereal (Don’t worry, it wasn’t Cheerios – I still can’t get behind their marketing mishaps) when I read a June 2011 article from the British tabloid, The Daily Mirror, about a Northamptonshire dance studio offering a “kiddie pole dance” program, where 3-year-olds and up were schooled in the age-appropriate art of climbing and swirling on a stripper pole.

Dubbed “Little Spinners”, the class consisted of teaching girls how to lift and maneuver their bodies around the pole while “holding their legs in a V-shape.” Thankfully, a recent perusal of the studio’s web site shows that this class is no longer being offered.

While this is good news, the implications that there is a market for it are frightening.Comparable courses are being offered to an equally delicate age group: teens and preteens.

The Art of Dance, a Pole Dance and Burlesque School in Plymouth, Devon, England offers an “i-pole Pole Dancing Class” for 12- to 15-year-olds where this “exercise concept” is touted not only as a way to keep fit, but to socialize. While I was unable to find the course description on their actual web site, the school still offers the class, and a recent delve into their Facebook presence revealed a post from a women interested in having her 13-year-old niece attend an adult class with her.

Although the course offerings available for this age group require parental accompaniment for the initial visit and a signed and acknowledged consent and advice sheet, this posturing paperwork seems to only serve as liability padding.

The Internet is replete with indicators that this “activity” is readily available to youngsters. An entrepreneurial teen who taught herself pole dancing at the age of 16 with the assistance of web-purchased poles and DVDs, opened a controversial makeshift studio in her parents’ living room. Her business endeavor has since blossomed into two highly successful dance centers in England.

Many advocates believe this to be a physical regimen innocently on par with gymnastics. The UK has a lauded pole-dancing community complete with accreditation requirements for instructors and studios, as well as an explicit code of conduct. A British company is lobbying for pole dancing to become a test sport for the forthcoming Olympics, with dreams of it becoming an official part of the games by 2016.

The UK typically allows people ages 16 and older to participate in their classes (with parental consent), while the age cutoff in the U.S. is 18. But how young is too young to expose preteens and even teenagers to this “sport” almost inextricably linked to eroticism?Youth are being taught to contort their bodies into provocative poses: to not understand the sexually suggestive nature of these moves is dangerous.

What is showcased as innocent body bending in the comfort of a classroom sends alarming messages if performed in other environments. Many of the instructors and web sites boast such class offerings as ways to aid the development of self-esteem. This puts our youth at great risk and in some cases dangerously close to endorsing pedophilia. Many teens dealing with confusing feelings and the onset of puberty may see that such explicit dancing garners attention from their peers. It encourages the objectification of the body during a tender time of growth and transformation, when mentoring and a focus on overall healthy and body image are crucial.

The teacher is “helping to battle the stigma of pole dancing at an early age.”

I’m a huge supporter of the expressive arts and firmly believe in teaching kids to connect with their bodies when they are young. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this sort of activity aids in the fetishizing of youth and, in its extreme, could support the horrifying epidemic of child pornography.

To actively allow or encourage a child to be instructed on ways that sexually showcase her (or his) body borders on parental negligence. Undoubtedly, it puts a premium on certain body sizes and encourages conformity at a formative age when senses of self are blurry and bodies are burgeoning.

Plain and simple: Teens deserve the right to be raised in environments that support a healthy development of the self. As adults, our culture marginalizes and sexualizes women, which makes fostering and modeling positive body image for our youth all the more crucial.

Participation in such classes primes teens for the possibility of an antagonistic relationship with their bodies. Attempts to pass off pole dancing as physical fitness and “fun” further encourages the objectification of the body and can lead to lasting negative consequences. Does society have an obligation to limit the participation of teens in these adult-centric classes, or should this be a parent’s duty?