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(Wo)Man in the Mirror

October 21, 2009
Probably photoshopped

Probably photoshopped

Lately it seems the jibber jabber about images of beauty in the media has really heated up.  And if you haven’t yet seen the Dove Film called “Evolution,” check it out here.  It’s a beautiful depiction of the transformation of normal-beautiful to cover girl-beautiful, and it’s designed to make you realize the witchcraft that is the media’s image of beauty.

And yet, 2009 is the boom year for plus-sized models.  Everything Lane Bryant is cool again, and Crystal Renn’s book, Hungry, about her anorexic and depressed years under-eating as a “normal” model is being pulled off the shelf at the library faster than [insert some snide pun about a fatty food] from the local Fairway. 

Plus-sized model Lizzie Miller “shocked” and delighted readers with a semi-nude tummy roll pic on page 194 of Glamour’s September issue.  People went so gaga for her that Glamour decided to feature a gaggle of plus-sized beauties in this month’s issue.  (This prompted a headline only as idiotic as the New York Post could make ’em: “GLAMOUR TO FEATURE PLUS-SIZED NUDE MODELS IN NOVEMBER ISSUE!”)

So with more plus-sized models getting more air time, all should be well, right?  Not entirely.  Jezebel reported last week that a new study shows that overweight women take a hit to their self esteem regardless of whether they’re gazing at sticky-y models or plus-sized ones.  The point is not really how the models look, but that they are everywhere we look.

The goal of the beauty or media industry is not to make us feel validated and good about ourselves.  They are industries, designed to sell us things, manipulate us to buy, feel, and do things.  We should call it what it is — unattainable, sometimes pernicious, fake, market-driven — and take the wind out of the sails completely.

Whether they are thin enough to wear a poster tube, or “heavy” enough to have a stomach roll (gasp!), they are beautiful and probably wearing nicer clothes than you, with softer hair and glowing skin and a perfect life.  So while I’m happy for some heavier models to get their time to shine, and I do hope it’s making more women feel OK about how they look, I don’t really think it’s doing us all that much of a favor.

Banning photo shopping of magazine covers is not really the way to address the harmful effects of media’s beauty images on young women either.  I mean, this sans-makeup French Elle issue caused quite the stir but if it was really going to rock my world to see Jessica Simpson (who, incidentally, is poised to break back onto the reality show scene with a travel show about…beauty) without makeup, I could page through some trashy gossip mag where she’s been hunted down on a Sunday morning getting coffee.

It’s not going to make young girls feel all that more validated about how they look and what they’re worth just to switch up the images we’re bombarding them with.

Instead, we need to make a decision to de-emphasize images of beauty in the media at all.  We should spend resources and time encouraging young women to read, learn, explore the world, attend job training, stay in school, and have other types of empowering experiences where they can develop their own, unshakable sense of self worth, mostly disconnected from what they’ll leaf by in a magazine.  (For instance, attend Willie Mae’s Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, NY.)

Perhaps one of my favorite sites is Photoshop Disasters, which just ridicules the whole uneven process of photo manipulation and makes you realize, in a very profound way, that when it comes to show business or advertising or really anything expensive and polished, nothing is ever as it seems.

And I actually think that’s OK, we just have to realize that.  There are a million other important ways to feel beautiful and get a sense of beauty and we need to focus more on those.

You don’t have to take it from me, but I got November’s Glamour, and I pored over the plus-sized pages, and I felt just as alienated from media’s vision of beauty as I ever have.  Instead of buying that issue, go out and buy the biography of the Buddha, who says, wisely, “things are not as they seem, nor are they otherwise.” Beautiful words to live by.

  1. Emma N. permalink
    October 21, 2009 10:01 am

    Great post. I almost used ‘evolution’ for my talk in June. Someday i hope to write about these issues as concise and poignantly as you have in this post.

  2. Lois permalink
    October 27, 2009 7:55 am

    I’ve always been a fan of plus-size models! There’s a great site with many images of plus-size models here:

    They’re all gorgeous.

    The site’s forum also has thought-provoking discussions about body image and the media.

  3. Brenda Gomez permalink
    October 31, 2009 12:38 am

    Are you the Jessica Mack that wrote a blog about her grandfather John Bertalon? If so, I left a comment there about some pictures and etc. if he is indeed the same man.

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