Response to MissRepresentation
by Douglas Radezky
I recall watching part of MissRepresentation in WST101. The documentary opens with a teen girl speaking on weight issues (amongst other sensitive topics relative to young girls and women). An enormous issue which is at the root of many others effecting young girls is the sexualization of children. I have seen adults of all ages speaking about children, not just referring to girls, but also to boys. “What a looker!”, “He’s going to be a lady-killer one day!”, “She’s so pretty!”, “I bet all the boys love her!”. This starts almost immediately after birth in our culture. This culture focuses so closely on looks as a determinate and that translates to teenagers as something they have to live up to. Boy’s seem not to focus on body image unless they’re overweight, which can carry into adulthood, but puberty is often the culprit of weight gain and goes away with age much like “baby fat”.
On the other side of the coin, girls struggle with body image from very early on. Whether they’re focusing on being pretty or being skinny, girls are told they MUST fit the mold and that this mold doesn’t include intelligence. I remember a few years ago there was a trend amongst teens and young women to have a thigh gap. These girls would starve themselves to wear skinny jeans but would risk their health and well-being as a result just for a blatantly unhealthy trend. The image I’ve attached is from a French ad. Because many ads have included photographs like this, France made a reform law (passed December 18, 2015) that could cost agencies that employ models who are dangerously thin (and sends them to jobs for photo shoots) upwards of $85,000 USD (75,000 euros) or even a short prison sentence—the latter being an extreme that may be necessary for repeated offenders. Whether this image is Photoshopped it still represents a reality for women in the modelling, film, television, and music industries (to name a few). There are a multitude of photographs available online that are absolutely not Photoshopped, but it’s certainly a topic to discuss.
When speaking about media and unrealistic body goals, it’s impossible not to think of Photoshop and its application in industries around the world that require models for photographs. This picture (which I believe was included in MissRepresentation!) shows the drastic difference Photoshop can make. To the left is an average woman, to the right is her Photoshopped-would-be-doppelganger. Her neck has been elongated, her hair extended, her cheek bones given height, her natural nose shape has been changed, even her skin has been given an otherworldly glow free of “imperfections”. Girls are expected to be the Photoshop, things like collagen aren’t just frowned upon but actively shamed by magazines and modelling agencies, and Hollywood—yet something as minute as collagen is literally a part of being human and is required for our skin to function normally, but it’s shamed! Women aren’t even allowed the same imperfections as men. For a man, a beer belly is an endearing quality, think Kevin James on King of Queens, and for women it’s a double standard that would lead to a woman being a side-kick-best-friend-who-makes-everyone-laugh a la Melissa McCarthy circa 2012. The double-standard is crushing the self-esteem and masking any beauty that a young girl might feel with impossible standards that lead to dangerous cosmetic surgeries for those who can afford it and a life of “ugly” for those who can’t. However, on a positive note, in the last year or so I have noticed the trend of women taking charge of their beauty. They’re using makeup for themselves and making the statement out loud that it’s not because they feel “ugly” but because they want to wear it. While this is a start, we have to target younger children. They’re literally our future, and if we have generations of girls without proper educations that are being rewarded for interest in STEM fields we will literally be behind as a species. Betty Harris, Stephanie Kwolek, Virginia Apgar, Yvonne Clark, Grace Hopper, Sarah Mather, Hedy Lamarr, Alice Augusta Ball, Elizabeth Coleman, Sinah Estelle Kelley—these are the names of a handful of women who if they had not pursued science, mathematics, engineering or technology, we wouldn’t be nearly half as advanced as we are today.