Category Archives: Body Image

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


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 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.


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!)



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.



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.


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


The Glamorization of Weight Loss in Celebrity Culture and Unattainable Ideals



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.


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.”

Disillusioned By Disney


Oh Disney, I am soooooooo deeply disappointed in you!

DisneyWorld/Land, dubbed the happiest place on earth… But only if you’re not an overweight child.


A recent exhibit at the Epcot Center misses the mark entirety in its shoddy attempt to jump on the bandwagon of “fighting childhood obesity”. Habitat Heroes opened in the beginning of February and incited a stir in the activism and education communities. The exhibit, working in tandem with an interactive online game was housed in a two-building “playspace” where fictional hosts Callie Stenics and Will Power orchestrate a litany of activities that destroy villains so aptly named Sweet Tooth, Lead Bottom, Glutton and The Snacker. As of February 23, the physical exhibit on site had been shutdown in response to the public outcry which speaks to the power of collective voices and activism. (Note: the physical Exhibit was shutdown on the 25th of February, while just yesterday on the 28th the online companion was eliminated and both are rumored to be in a “reworking” stage)

Some of the games within the exhibit include food fights where participants obliterate junk food (to defeat the “villain” by the same name) with healthy ammunition of broccoli and apples, junk food is obliterated. The tour ends with a spot light illuminated dance that induces heart rate and overthrow Lead Bottom.


Seriously Disney ?!

How can an international family icon create something that plays directly into the hands of harmful media messages and reinforces damaging stereotypes in society? This sort of approach sanctions fat shaming in the classrooms and continues to reinforce negative connotations and weight stigmatization. It straight up uses these insensitively crafted characters to vilify behaviors and basically blame kids for being overweight.

Shaming does not work in any capacity. I am doubly alarmed and disgusted by this irresponsible approach to such a sensitive subject.

What happened to being gentle with our children?

Where is the care and concern for the psychological well-being and overall mental health that is inevitably in jeopardy for adolescents struggling against society’s stigmas?

When did fat shaming become a veritable approach to activism?

The answer is that it is not. It hurts substantially more than it could ever help.

We need to give children and families the resources to reinforce healthy lifestyles, NOT shame them for the way they look.

There is increased likelihood that children struggling with low self esteem issues and size/appearance based bullying are MORE likely to engage in harmful behavior patterns, many of which include using food to cope and assuage that inner pain. This doesn’t lend itself singularly to overeating, but to myriad of other ways that children develop unhealthy relationships with food and demonizing their bodies. Telling children that they need to be most concerned with their size and not overall health is criminal. This encourages kids to do whatever is necessary to shrink their size, including the development of unhealthy behaviors that can very easily segue into full-blown, life threatening eating disorders. In the past several years children seeking treatment for eating disorders has risen 112%!!! That is no longer just a startling statistic, but a national epidemic and cause for concern. Society encourages a sort of pathology surrounding food and gaining weight, but to reinforce this into youngsters when their minds are so malleable and associations so poignant sets the stage for a life-long disconnection from their bodies.

Let’s not forget that 90% of a dependent’s food choices are on the shoulders of the parents. Not to mention the fact that the cheapest and most affordable foods are often the least healthy. Shouldn’t there be some sort of government sanctioned movement to make nutrient rich, whole foods less costly and available? How did the approach of shaming children become even a viable avenue for proposed change? Not that shaming is appropriate for any sort of behavior modification, but I’d put the parents on the chopping block before I even attempted to put the onus on a child.Image

Jennifer Fickley-Baker, the Social Media Manager at Disney holds that the aim is to help “children of all ages to learn healthy lifestyle habits and become more active.” Because the only reason a child is overweight is because they are lazy, right? And if you’re not fitting into society’s one-size-fits all standard of health then you certainly must be a slovenly glutton, right? There needs to be more of a social awareness raised about the fact that you CANNOT determine one’s physical, emotional or mental health strictly based on cursory, appearance based observations. Disney’s exhibits make NO mention of the myriad of complex issues and factors that scientists have elucidated as being at work in determining the weight of children AND adults that scientists have elucidated as being at work. Clearly, Walt’s predecessors did not put their unlimited financial resources to work in research, or they would have surely come across the revered HAES – Health At Every Size.

The online companion seems to have its own bundle of bad approaches. The cast of characters on the interwebs expands to include new names and faces like Drama Queen, Ice Cappuccino and Insecura. Their debuts intend on combating other harmful behaviors. I am probably most enraged by the fact that they have decided to portray insecurity as a “bad habit” rather than a sensitive response to an environment or, more specifically an incidental and natural part of being human. I certainly can tell you in all my years of battling with this demon, it has NEVER been helpful to have someone highlight it as a liability and then attempt to shame me into change.

When I thought there was not another marketing miss that could be as horrifying or brutally inhumane as the Georgia campaign ‘Strong4Life’, I had no idea I would stand corrected by the makers of Mickey Mouse and spectacular magical palace that I had always revered as the youngsters version of the Taj Mahal.

I was originally alerted to this atrocity via the blog Weighty Matters where founder/family doc, Yoni Freedhoff, sounded off about this unfortunate approach. He says: So thanks for being so helpful Disney — I mean if your kid’s not overweight or obese, here’s to Disney reinforcing society’s most hateful negative obesity stereotyping, and if they are overweight or obese — what kid doesn’t want to be made to feel like a personal failure while on a Disney family vacation?”

This is simply not an effective manner by which to encourage healthy lifestyle changes in families and children, by shaming them and reinforcing the stereotypes that contribute to a fat phobic society.

We don’t need the beloved and iconic powers-to-be at Disney sending this malicious message, telling kids that society reveres will power, self control and thinness. This method contributes to cruelty, emboldens bullies and almost encourages and endorses size shaming. It contributes to the humiliation of those who do not fit into the small box publicly painted as “health”. Yes, there are health complications and risks associated with being overweight, but shaming and blaming is not the way to beget change and is certainly no way to encourage healthy eating behaviors or contribute to positive body image. Our culture provides us limitless reasons to feel badly about ourselves and promotes size conformity as a default, without the help of any fat-shaming campaigns. All these things do is contribute to the problem, reinforce negative associations and further support a future relationship with food and one’s body that is rife with painful antagonism.

Children need positive role models and reinforcement in these crucial formative years, NOT another replica of a reason to feel shameful about their bodies or behaviors. These abhorrent avatars do not work.


Here is to hoping that Disney is revamping its approach to such a sensitive subject and recognizing it as a human rights issue. I remain optimistic that it will own its epic representation in the kidmmunity and realize that this endows it with the responsibility to protect and empower our children at any size and every age. There are enough harmful media message and stereotypes to contend with and the answer to health will never be achieved by blaming and shaming our youth. We need to empower them to love honor and respect themselves and combat these harmful media messages. We need to offer them real tools to make healthy lifestyle choices that foster the development of a positive relationship with their bodies, food and themselves.