Hopefully it isn’t shocking news to you that images of women in the media are overwhelmingly edited. Thighs are slimmed. Muscles removed. Muscles added (depending on the publication). Cellulite taken away. It’s all very smoke and mirrors. Photoshop can do amazing things and it is used to not only enhance photos but to “enhance” the appearance of a woman.
As a result of this women (and men) come to have a distorted image of what a woman’s body really looks like. After being bombarded with images of women without “flaws” (though flaws here could mean anything from a beauty mark to a calf muscle) the image in a woman’s own mirror never seems to measure up. As “ideals” shift (think Kate Moss vs Kim Kardashian), images shift accordingly. And with the new onslaught of “fitspiration” photos all over the internet, you don’t have to go far to find an altered image in the likeness of your “goal.”
So some people are pissed at magazines. They are calling for images of women to be real images of women. They want for themselves and their daughters, and their sons to be able to look around them and see images of what women really look like. They are asking for less smoke and mirrors and more reality.
And I’m down with that.
Unsubscribe from magazines! Write them! Call them! Ask for better. Tell them we are beautiful the way we are.
You were waiting for a but… But don’t bash those women. There are some really great pages I follow that talk a lot about photoshop and unrealistic images of beauty. It’s bad ass. But I notice on my page and others, whenever there is a comment stream regarding photoshopped images of women, it isn’t the magazines we attack. Not the idea of the beauty myth. Not the societal pressures to measure up to impossible and ever changing standards. But other women. We attack women.
Rather than say “we want to see these women as they are” we say “we want to see “real” women.” We attack thin models for looking like “prepubescent boys,” muscular women for looking “masculine” and curvy women for being “fat.” And depending on who you are asking, ALL of them are unhealthy. It’s impossible to be incredibly thin and healthy, to obtain a low enough body fat % for those muscles to show is unhealthy, and to be a curvy woman is unhealthy as well. How the f*&$ can we possibly see an image, an often altered image at that, of an individual we don’t know and determine them unhealthy? How on earth does being curvacious make you more “real” than someone who is not? And how did we move from being angry at how publications show us images of women to picking apart those women?!!!
The way the media portrays women is an important issue. It’s one I address less because there are others who address it so well. And I believe the issue can be tackled on a few fronts. One being “F the magazines” and the other being “you’re awesome, too.” So if we are looking at this from a social work perspective (as I do everything), the macro issue is distorted images permeate our culture and the micro issue is- they have distorted our minds. And my focus is on the latter.
It may work better for you to look at those images and say “No!” that isn’t a real image and I don’t need to look like that. For me, I look at those images and say “Yes, what beautiful women.” I include myself in my personal vast definition of what beauty is. And I spend a lot of time building myself up. A lot.
But what if they are unhealthy? I’ve sort of addressed this before, but it’s important enough for me to address again. If you are looking at an image of a woman who you believe to have a serious disease (anorexia, bulimia etc) and you feel judgement and hatred as opposed to compassion, that’s a shame. But you cannot look at an image of a person and know those kinds of details about their lives. Anymore than you can look at a muscular woman or even a morbidly obese woman and know those things. Perhaps the thin woman is naturally that way (I know many), perhaps the muscular woman maintains a healthy lifestyle and her body type is predispositioned for that physique, and maybe the morbidly obese woman has recently lost 100lbs and is training for a marathon. Or maybe none of those things are true. But what those women mostly likely do have in common (unfortunately) is the idea that something about their bodies is not good enough. And it is my opinion that more powerful even than images in the media, are the messages we receive from our mothers, the women in the formative years of our lives and our peers that we aren’t good enough.
It’s an evil cycle. And every part of it matters. My focus is the tricky part. The part where we take accountability for the message WE send to others and ourselves. What we teach our daughters about their bodies through how we talk about and treat our own. How bashing other women does nothing to bring peace to ourselves and only serves to bring you further from loving and accepting your own body the way that it is.
This perspective has not been effortless on my part. I, too, have stared at images of models and hated myself for not looking like them. This isn’t my first time disclosing that I quit ballet and tried to cut myself at the age of 4 for being “fat.” I grew up surrounded by phenomenal, smart, beautiful women who didn’t know they were phenomenal, smart and beautiful. I have been intimately familiar with “dieting” for as long as I can remember. It has been my reality, my whole life, not simply that I don’t look like photographs in a magazine, but that none of the women I knew were “good enough” either. By their definition.
My primary motivation for getting healthy has always been my baby. I wanted her primary role model to be a woman who loves herself, as she is and sees beauty in all the women around her. I don’t body bash myself or others. Not even models.
It’s so interesting to me how anytime I post an image of a woman who isn’t me (I think people are kinder because you feel like you know me), regardless of where the photo is from, what she looks like, any factors at all… there are comments all about what’s wrong with her body. I’ve joked about how I should just post images of women with the caption “argue.” And though I’m doing better at taking comments less personally, it’s easy to as I know women who really look like just about any image you can find. I know beautiful curvy women, who really don’t have cellulite (or don’t yet, or whatever). I know beautiful thin women who may never be more than 100lbs, naturally. I know beautiful women with amazing muscles who do not abuse their bodies in any way. And the women who immediately come to mind in each of those categories would love to have someone else’s body. And loathe their curves, muscles and thinness.
So what’s the trouble with hating the media? There is none. Get totally pissed off. Get active. Unsubscribe. Sign petitions. Do that.
I don’t mean to undermine that effort or put it down in any way. It’s important. It matters. It’s a big part of how we got here.
But in that fight don’t forget who and what you are against. If you want to see images of “beauty” depicting more diversity of what that is, don’t slam the women who fit the current “mold.” If you want images to be unaltered, don’t attack the women in the altered images. If you want to see women who look more like you, don’t attack the women who don’t. I, for one, see beauty all around me. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s me. It’s you. It’s models. It’s teachers. It’s grocery store clerks. We are all beautiful, each with our own distinctive way. And I hope that when we are fighting to see images that are “real” that that doesn’t just give us a new “standard” with which to ban others.
We deserve better from magazines. And we deserve better from each other. Regardless of how you choose to fight the former, you have control over the latter today.