Tuesday, 13 April 2010

More on Airbrushing

Ok, so some of you might remember my post on airbrushing in magazines from back in February, which seems to be generating a lot of comments at the moment. Most of the comments I've been getting there and elsewhere seem to agree with me (though often for widely different reasons) that merely pointing out that a picture has been airbrushed is not going to do a lot for female body confidence as a whole.

The next question would then be, so what is going to make a difference? Well, how about this for a solution. It seems that, over in the States, they've just introduced a new bill, called " The Healthy Media for Youth Act". You can read a bit more about it and what it entails over at Feministing, or read the whole thing here, though like anything of that kind, it's a bit on the dense side.

I do just want to quote this big specifically, from the Feministing version, because I think it's a huge step forwards if it gets through:

In addition, the GSRI has put together a set of Healthy Media Images Standards, a set of guidelines that are essentially a blueprint for creating feminist media, including:

• Feature and value girls and women with varying body types and ethnicities
• Show girls in age-appropriate attire
• Do not sexualize female bodies to sell products or amuse male customers
• Include a diverse cast of female characters in active and ambitious roles
• Feature females in traditionally male roles, such as CEOs or action heroes
• Feature girls and women who have confidence in their abilities and appearances
• Show equality and mutual respect between female and male characters
• Feature positive relationships between girls and women, showing them cooperating with each other
• Feature male characters who value female characters in their talents, intelligence, and overall personalities, not just their appearances

That makes me very happy.


  1. Sorry, me again, but its an issue I'm fairly interested in...
    The problem is that we are living in a country, where, due to a lack of NEED to do hard physical labour every day, and relative wealth and surplus food, combined with high-achieving, high pressure environments to be happy, rich, attractive, successful etc there is an overall eating-diet-fitness-bodyshape epidemic, with high rates of both childhood obesity, and childhood anorexia/bullimia. Size 0 girls are demonised as much as size 14 girls.
    I think more familial and school-based teaching to young children from a younger age about nutrition and health could help with the situation. Talks about eating disorders need to be given to boys and girls at a younger age, by the time it was brought up in school, I was in upper 6th form and many of my classmates had already suffered from eating disorders.
    I was never very good at PE in school, and I think there was more emphasis on competition than fitness, which meant by the time I was 15 I resented the fact that sports teachers largely neglected those that struggled (in a way that academic teachers would never do, say, in a maths class) at competetive sports, and I ended up skipping most of my games lessons and shying away from physical exercise. I regret this now as it means my fitness is terrible for someone my age and its probably having adverse health effects, and its much harder to get into good habits now than it would have been at 11... I diagress.
    And magazines such as Time magazine already do most of the above, but a fashion magazine, by its nature, will tend to feature mostly models, and I don't think they should have to do it any other way. Too much control of creative media would stifle writers, editors and designers... imagine telling children's fantasy writers to make their stories more like real-life because their stories about dragons and magic gave children unrealistic expectations about what is normal or acceptable? I still maintain that fashion magazines are selling a fantasy, not a standard.

    I'll have to ponder on age-appropriate attire (I think a 60 year old should be allowed to wear boob tubes and hotpants if she wishes, I myself wear Disney and Hello Kitty clothes intended for 9 year olds...)

    Also, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the cattiness of women between each other, as I think that is still a major cause of lack of self esteem amongst young women especially - if, somehow, we could all vow to be nicer to each other, regardless of income, background, appearance, dress size, hair colour, race, etc, I think we'd all be a lot happier with ourselves.

  2. Ok, firstly, just to clarify, when they say "age appropriate" what they mean is: not sexualising pre-teens, and expecting them to conform to the same fashion standards as adults. I don't think they'd have any problems with grannies in hot pants per se, just seven year olds dressed up to look like she's seventeen.

    I had a similar experience of PE as a kid as you seem to have had, so I can totally empathise. Gym class at school for me was a nightmare of embarrasment which taught me less about netball and more about how to hate my body even more than I did already (puberty was not a fun time for me). It pretty much left me with a phobia of excersise, and my health in almost certainly suffering because of it. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I agree entirely about fixing the way people are educated about diet and excersise.

    I still wouldn't agree that size 0 is demonised half as much as the larger end of the spectrum - I have never heard of a pro-obesity movement (fat acceptance, yes, but that's not quite the same thing) and yet there are plenty of pro-ana and pro-mia sites out there, and their ubiquity is such that they're even on facebook. There are people out there who idolise thinness, in a way that just doesn't happen in reverse.
    I'm not saying that fashion magazines are the be-all and end-all of the body-size issue, but it's just yet another outlet that glorifies thin, to the exclusion of all other voices. That cannot possibly be healthy.

    Your comments about fantasy I think are a somewhat false analogy. You don't have to convince me of the merits of the genre - I'm doing a PhD in Speculative Fiction, I'm highly invested in it, and love it even if it weren't for the degree - but that is clearly marketed as fiction. Vogue is not. Fashion magazines are "lifestyle". They are full of purportedly factual information, there is no narrative, no element of fiction. These are magazines offering advice and things we are supposed to emulate, as evidenced by the frequent How-To articles in their pages. If the information contained in Vogue isn't factual - that's not fantasy, that's just lies. And it's lies that, unlike Lord of the Rings, we are being encouraged to copy. I'd actually quite like to see an edition of a popular fashion mag published as fantasy - I'd think it an interesting piece of satire - but that isn't the case now. I think in a way, that is what the "this picture has been airbrushed" sign is supposed to do - clearly point out that this picture is a fantasy, which is something they wouldn't have to do if it was taken as read that the whole magazine was fantastical.
    I still don't think it will work to improve body image, but there you go.

    Your comments about cattiness between women I have deliberately left alone for the moment - simply because I don't think I can do the subject justice in a space reserved for comments. It's a big issue, and one that I think deserves a whole post to itself. I will get around to that... I can't say when exactly, because I have a load of deadlines heading my way right about now, but soon.

    Also, please don't appologise for commenting. I like a good argument, and as long as you're not being offensive or trollish (which you're not, by a long way) then you're more than welcome to add your 2 cents.

  3. I think puberty is a pretty shit time for nearly everyone, world over, and at least most of us are blessed enough to have grown up with a roof over our heads and food on our plates during adolescence and by the fact things like body image are the main issues concerning teenagers in this country, that is at least a reflection on how good everything else is.

    By some strange stroke of luck and some strange vein of rebellion in me, everything that should have led to me "hating my body" etc, made me do the opposite. My main act of teenage rebellion was to be happy with my body, just because no one else seemed to be. I don't generally advocate being different for the sake of being different, but I do it a lot and this is one of the main ways in which I do it (much to my mother's dismay...).

    You're right about unhealthily thin being more idolised than unhealthily fat, and my views on this are somewhat mixed. If you took an average, healthy sized woman - she would be better off physically, being slightly underweight than slightly overweight. Too much of either is bad though, and psychologically, it is bad for her to be so concerned/upset with her figure that it becomes the focus of her life to try and change it.
    I think in western society in general there are more unhealthily overweight people than there are unhealtily underweight people.
    And the reverse is idolised, big boobs and curvy hips are just as "fashionable" as the skinny look, but yes, there is no pro-obesity like there is pro-ana. Pro-obesity would be just as stupid, and I don't think any balance would be restored if being overweight WAS idolised. BUT, I'm saying that if you took a healthy size 16 girl and an unhealthy size 0 girl and asked a mixed unbiased audience which was worse, they'd say the size 0. Friends of mine are so very quick to jump to a "urgh shes too thin" out-loud statement at a picture of a healthy girl than they are to say "urgh shes fat" at an equally healthy girl...

    On the age appropriate thing, essentially its a sliding spectrum right, I like many other chubbier girls had to wear a bra at the age of 9, yet some people think shops selling bras for 9 year olds are trying to sexualise them... and is a 5 year old wearing glittery nail polish and face paint for a party the same as an 11 year old wearing mascara for hers, where does play-time-dress-up-experiment end and sexualisation begin...?

    I know its a terrible thing to say, but I think that it is still largely the audience women's fault for being somewhat gullible, or too easy a target, or too hopeful for really beleiving that fantastical, airbrushed images are acheivable if they diet/buy product X/wear Y clothes. Pretty images sell products and we have to use a bit more common sense. I myself am a beauty ADDICT, but I rarely buy products purely based on an airbrushed image, I read ingredients and consumer reviews avidly before I purchase anything new, unknown or pricey. The airbrushed image will catch my eye to the initial advertising of the product, yes, but I'll use my common sense and intelligence in my choice to buy it.

    PhD in speculative fiction is amazing, you'll be glad hear I'm just starting Margaret Atwood's new novel, Year of the Flood :) I'm no where near literate or clever enough to do a PhD in that, or anything really and am struggling my arse off to even get a 3rd in my poxy degree... and hope to get a job in marketing beauty products - maybe I can make a change from the inside, in a similar ethos to marketing from people like Dove and Lush Ltd.

  4. Oh, I absolutely love companies like Lush and the Dove real beauty campaign (despite its apparent flaws) - it's such a step in the right direction.

    vis overweight vs underweight - there's been a few recent studies out that actually suggest that people who are just slightly overweight actually live longer on average. So the thin-is-healthier idea might have to be reassessed shortly. What I think just about everyone agrees though is that eating well and doing regular excersise is far far and away more important, and more indicative of general health than how much one weighs, or what dress size they take.

    The "uurgh she's too thin" comments... I think it's more complicated than that, and while not wishing to second guess your friends, in my experience people who say that are actually saying it out of a warped kind of jealousy. It's always the people who are trying to lose weight, or who are obsessed with the issue that point it out - and it's almost in a "why can't I be like that?" kind of way. Again, speaking only from my own experience here, the people who aren't concerned about their own weight, when confronted by a skinny picture of a model tend to say things like "She looks so unhealthy" or, quite tellingly "That photo's got to have been airbrushed".

    Vis gullibility - some people may not be media literate - and I think that's a big problem in and of itself - but even for the lucky few of us who are it's still very very hard to ignore the same message if it's pushed in your face enough from all corners. I've heard it compared to the drip drip of water on a stone. Every time I go out the door or turn on the internet or TV I get reminder after reminder of why my body isn't considered good enough by the rest of the world. And I can just ignore it, but it wont go away and after so much saturation in it you start to wonder - do they have a point? It may be aimed at getting us to buy a certain product, but what it's actually doing to the rest of us is chipping away bit by bit at our self confidence. This is why most women hate their bodies - because we are taught to.

    If you haven't read it, I would really really suggest you pick up a copy of "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters" by Courtney Martin. It's well worth a read.

    Finally, on the age appropriacy issue - there's a difference between a bra for a nine year old, and a bra for a nine year old with the playboy bunny on it, or pants with "Porn star" written accross the back. There's an interesting article on the subject, and detailing a few examples here: http://www.alternet.org/sex/145994/is_our_sexedup_society_creating_prostitots_?page=entire
    Even if the kids themselves aren't feeling the pressure so much, they can still end up being used to pile the pressure on some adults. Some magazines and catalogues regularly use teenagers instead of adult models for their womens' ranges - perpetuating, again, the prejudices against being old or fat.

  5. Gosh, there are so many points I want to make in response, which I will, when I can keep my eyes open. Working very hard.

    The one point I can make very quickly is that there is a pro-obesity movement: its followers call themselves Gainers. There was an article on the Guardian website about them a couple of weeks ago.

    As for whether slightly under or overweight is better, the results are completely inconclusive in my view. There are plenty of studies going in either direction, which indicates to me that the likeliest answer is that there's just a spectrum in which it's good to be in. Straying too far either side is dangerous, particularly if the weight is on the abdomen area.

    More and more studies are showing though that exercise is crucial to being well. If I were a politician, I'd invest in fitness schemes more than anything else to help people feel better. The results are not just physical, but mental too.

  6. On the sexualising of young women, I couldn't agree more - Ed Byrne has a bit about a girl he saw with her family who wore trousers with 'gorgeous' across the back of them. He pointed out that if people agreed with the sentiment, that would be seen as gross and disgusting, and yet retailers feel it is appropriate to print it on some trousers. I think one of the problems is that sexualisation has become such a part of our vocabulary and lifestyle that we don't even notice it anymore - people walking around with "I need to fcuk" on their t-shirts, Playboy becoming a lifestyle and a brand rather than a tawdry magazine - is it any surprise then that this spreads to children?

  7. @ Sandy: It's part of what I see as a growing trend - not just of sexualising young girls, but infantilising women. Calling us "girls", idealising the practically pre-pubescent body, the massive prejudice in media and elsewhere over any women who is showing her age... It's terrifying.