Recently Published

 

"I Went to a Summer Yoga Rave Dance Party," for xoJane.com

Plus check out my recent quotes on Canada.com about the new breed of clelebrity who's stealing the spotlight. And in the Associated Press and on Los Angeles' KPCC radio about Vogue magazine's vow to stop using underage and ultra thin models. Oh wait, and I was also quoted by the Associated Press regarding Seventeen Magazine's 'Body Peace Treaty.'  Finally, my name was (kinda) recently mentioned in The New York Times!

Categories
Tuesday
Nov112014

The Supermodels Were Fat

Mmm hmmm. You read that right.

And here’s how I know it's true:

See, I’m the author of a book on celebrity culture and how the beauty ideals it helped create impact girls and women. (It's called All Made Up: A Girl's Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty). And on November 20th, I’m speaking at an important forum called Children and Hypersexaulization, which is being hosted by the Canadian Federation of University Women. So I’m updating my presentation (which incidentally is called “Don’t Believe the Hype: The Impact of Celebrity Culture on Girls, Women...and Everybody”).

Part of my presentation delves into the history of contemporary beauty ideals—and to do that, I spend some time examining the heyday of the supermodels in the 1980s and 1990s. Because in my opinion, they represent the pop culture moment when we started celebrating and idolizing women who look good over women who do good. And newsflash: we've never recovered.

Okay sure, there have always been famously beautiful women. (And yes, of course, there are other women portrayed in the media besides actresses and models. And I'm psyched about the recent significant changes we're witnessing.) But until the supermodel era, famously beautiful women were also most often famous for something (acting, singing) other than just being. Then came Cindy, Claudia, Naomi, Linda, Christy and later Kate (See. No last names needed and you totally know whom I’m talking about) and our relationship to and expectations regarding women’s appearance totally changed.

Take for example these images of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington:No thigh gaps. Not even close...and yet these women defined beauty.The most striking thing about these shots is not the models' beauty. Nope. It's sheer size of their thighs. Not because they're too big to be attractive. I don’t think that at all. (<- That's important. So please take note.) But no top model today has thighs this big. (Except Beyoncé. But she's not a model, and even she might be using technology to slim down before posting selfies

In other words: I think these girls look great. In fact as a culture, we all thought they looked great. But since the supermodel heyday, a shift has happened. Over the last thirty years, the difference between models' weights and the weight of the average American woman has grown from 8 percent in 1975 to over 23 percent today.  

Yeah. Cause that's what women's waists should look like (and what we should *want* them to look like).Today, the women who are idolized are so thin, they make the original supermodels seem fat. And I guess they must have been since we now aim to be skinnier than any supermodel ever was. Today's idea of beauty is heavily influence by "Thinspiration" tumblrs (no links to those here now or ever), extreme photoshop and rib-baring models who fast before fashion shows (I’m giving you the evil eye right now, Victoria’s Secret Angels).

 

Today, models the size of Cindy, Naomi and Christy (at least as they're pictured above) would be laughed right out of their agents' offices and off the runways. Heck, they'd be laughed at--and most likely called fat--by all of us, too. And if images like those above actually ever made it to print, every extra ounce of flesh would be photoshopped away. And their thighs would be shaved down by half. At least.

#BeautyToday

 

So yeah, next week I'll be speaking to teen girls and their mothers about celebrity culture and how it impacts all of us. In part, I'll deliver good news. I'll tell them how Vogue magazine pleged to ban the use of overly thin models in its pages and how Seventeen actually had a sit-down with teens who protested the magazine's use of extreme photoshopping. I'll point the audience to great new resources like the book Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, From Birth to Tween by my colleague Melissa Wardy and the cool website called Beauty Redefined, which is fighting to change our culture's llimited definitions of beauty. None of those things existed when I wrote my book and started advocating for change...and I'm thrilled that young women today have such great resources to look to for inspiration.

But I'll also be talking about today's beauty ideals. And putting up pictures of the women who personified the ideal just 20 years ago. Those images and the impact they had were enough to inspire me to write a book and travel around the country to let teens know that despite the fact a bunch of women were recognized, celebrated, lusted after and had obscene amounts of money thrown at them for looking good...girls didn't have to look like supermodels to be beautiful. The problem, I told them at book signings and school presentations, was with our culture and its demands, not with their bodies.

Yet despite the amazing recent progress made on some fronts of the battle over beauty ideals, the takeway I'm going to be sharing with teen girls and their parents next week is isn't all that upbeat. Because there's still a problem with our culture's demands and expectations when it comes to girls' and women's appearance. Beauty ideals are more unrealistic and uttainable than ever (hat tip to media images and technology for that!), and our culture still celebrates and rewards women (both financially and with high social staus/desirabiltity) in professions that rely appearnce more than any others.  

So of course girls want all that for themselves. And it won't change until we--as a culture--get really excited about (and by that I mean celebrate and reward) other options for women.

And as for the supermodels: I never thought I'd say this but we sure do miss seeing you ladies (and your larger thighs) around these days...

Wednesday
Apr022014

Packed with Sexist Blunders, Snickers Really Objectifies

Did you know that more than 80% of women worldwide will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their lives? They—or rather we—will be approached (or accosted) on the street, subjected to unwanted whistles, cat calls, sexual comments and lewd gestures in which men “assert the right to intrude on women’s attention, defining her as a sexual object and forcing her to interact with them." Charming. 

The good news?  This week (March 30-April 5, 2014) is actually International Anti-Street Harassment Week, and activists all over the world will be participating in tweet chats, rallies and protests to raise awareness about the damage done by leering, stalking and sexually explicit comments.

Which makes it a particularly odd time for Snickers to have debuted a new ad that features construction workers heckling unsuspecting female passersby (who are apparently real women with authentic reactions, not actresses) with positive comments.

“Want to hear a filthy word?” one builder yells down from a ledge at a woman walking by, minding her own business. “Gender bias!”

“I appreciate that your appearance is just one aspect of who you are,” yells another.

Nice, huh?  Comments like these pretty much had me wanting to marry Snickers.  Because whoever thought that a chocolate bar company would be a major force in changing pop culture’s gender discourse?

But then (SPOILER ALERT) the end of the ad happens.  And right after all the guys whom I’d just fallen for start publicly calling for an end to misogyny, the words “You’re not you when you’re hungry” flash on to the screen.

Oh. So that’s how you’re going to play this. The builders were only being decent human beings because their tummies were empty.  And the minute they eat, they’re going to revert back to sexist, threatening, demeaning cads.  Talk about hitting it out of the Totally Offensive To Everybody ballpark.

But wait, here’s an idea: Hey Snickers, since you totally squandered an opportunity to alter the portrayals of masculinity in mass media, why not treat everyone working hard this week to change the gender stereotypes you reinforce to a candy bar? 

Because that would be sweet—and really satisfying. 

 

Friday
Jun082012

Can Vogue Really Stop What it Started?


THIS is the cultural beauty standard that Vogue claims it's out to change. Really? Okay then. GO!In In this month’s Letter from the Editor, Vogue’s Anna Wintour expounds on her magazine’s recent promise to stop using underage (meaning under 16 years old) and ultra thin models.  She calls Vogue’s partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America an example of their “renewed efforts to make our ideal of beauty a healthy one,”  and everyone’s on board from Tyra Banks to Sarah Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance a not-for-profit group that provides a platform for models in the American fashion industry to organize for better workplace standards.

Then there’s me.

When I spoke to the Associated Press about this, I argued that Vogue is grandstanding in order to make nice with a public that is ever more fatigued by fashion’s fantastical version of what women should look like.   Vogue and its industry colleagues know damn well that we’re upset about how couture’s extreme beauty ideals have trickled so far down that Abercrombie and Fitch was selling push up triangle bikinis to tweens this time last year.  Or how it’s driven women like Sarah Burge, the self proclaimed “Human Barbie,” to gift her daughter with vouchers for future breast implants and liposuction.  And as a result, I believe they’re just throwing us a bone to settle us down.  I mean really, what amazing and tangible improvements are suddenly going to materialize just because Vogue will only now feature models who are seventeen and up instead of sixteen and up?  Exactly zero, in my opinion, if the industry’s rampant use of photoshop and other methods of digitally altering just about every single image we see in the mainstream media doesn’t stop.   And Vogue mentions nothing about that in its new pledge, which is probably because it’s not going to stop that practice.

A few years ago, the New Yorker reported that at least 144 of the images in Vogue’s March 2008 issue were retouched by master photoshopper (yes, that’s an actual profession now) Pascal Dangin, including the cover shot of Drew Barrymore, thirty-six fashion photos, and advertisements by Estée Lauder, Gucci and Dior.   Sure, it’s an old stat—but my guess is that things have only gotten worse, not better, in subsequent years.  And did I mention that over thirty celebrities keep Dangin on retainer?  So that every single photo of them (nothwithstanding those pesky paparazzi shots) appears on his computer monitor before heading to the art department of a major magazine or advertising agency.  THAT’s the kind of fiction that fashion bibles like Vogue proffer its readers. 

In addition, as my colleague Susan Linn, Ed.D.,pointed out during our recent joint conversation with The Daily Circuit on Minnesota Public Radio, the very language of Anna Wintour’s Letter from the Editor belies what the fashion industry truly values:

“Fashion has often been (wrongly) held up as an active agent in making women want to be excruciatingly thin, ignoring the complex genetic and psychosocial factors that contribute to eating disorders. Knee-jerk condemnation of many of the girls working today who are naturally blessed with slim bodies and exercise and eat well to maintain them is to be scrupulously avoided.”

Naturally blessed with slim bodies?  Girls who do the right thing and exercise in order to maintain them?  So, um, what was that you were saying, Anna, about embracing all shapes and sizes? 

But it’s the bit where Wintour takes credit for providing an early forum for open discussion about beauty ideals that really gets me.

“…thanks to the CFDA initiative, and to the honesty of Natalia Vodianova, Lara Stone, and Coco Rocha speaking out in this magazine and elsewhere about their negative experiences in the industry, there has been some progress.”

When I read that, I wished I could sit her—or them.  The editors whom I’ve heard say to Ford and Elite “Send me a perfect model for the next shoot.”  The models who diet themselves down and then let it be printed that they just LOVE to order in greasy burgers while working on set.  The designers who never get tired of trotting out the ol’ “We need models who can fit our sample sizes” defense instead of just changing the size of the darn samples—down and have them read the thousands of letters and emails I received when working as an editor for teen magazines like YM and when I was researching my book All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real BeautyBecause that’s where I heard young women say over and over again in their own words that they’d given anything to be as thin as a model.  That they wanted nothing more than to be considered as “certifiably beautiful” –and therefore valuable—as the A list actresses who grace the cover of magazines like Vogue. One example that still sticks with me came from a reader who wrote in that she was quitting volleyball (her passion!) because she was worried that a ball could hit her face and ruin her chances of being discovered at the mall. She knew, she wrote, that Kate Moss had first been scouted at an airport and was hoping for similar good fortune.  Other girls confessed things like:

“I feel fat.  I know I’m not, but all the things I see in the media make me feel that way.”

and

I’ve always wanted to model even it it means risking my health.  When I turn eighteen, I’m going to starve myself and try modeling because it means that much to me!”

And why did they want that for themselves?  Because the messages they’ve been exposed to from every form of media in our pop culture have told them to.    Because the decision makers in fashion and entertainment’s stratosphere have decided it’s what’s beautiful and what we should all want for ourselves if we hope to have half a shot at being considered pretty, important and worthwhile.

So sure, I hope that Vogue’s public proclamation to foster change does just that, but I’m not optimistic.  Because the work that its images and ethos have done since the heyday of the supermodels in the 1980s and 1990s is so fractured and far reaching at this point that it’s going to take a lot more than upping models’ minimum age or promising scale back on the skeletal skinniness to change our cultural beauty ideals.  

If I’m wrong, though, I’ll be the first to toast Wintour and her ilk—with my non-fat, skinny, low cal, soy latte, of course.



Wednesday
May022012

Teen Girls (and Writers!) Take Manhattan

Last week, I was home in New York City attending the awesome annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Not only was it great to meet other ultra-talented writers like  Crai Bower (a most awesome travel expert.  Check out his stuff.  Seriously), Molly Blake, and Jen Reeder....I also got to meet a handful of inspiring girls from Raleigh, North Carolina who had come to New York to participate in a Model UN.  Which I think is great, because I loved me some Model Congress back when I was in high school, and I adore hearing about girls who are following their passions instead of getting caught up in celebrity hype.

So here's a snap of them, me and my book All Made Up: A Girl's Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty (playing the part of the little garden gnome in that French movie Amélie)

 

Kickin' in in Grand Central.

Tuesday
Jan102012

There's only one way to look like a real cover girl.

You must (must, I say!) watch this send-up that presents photoshop as a new beauty product.  (It's by Adobé ("a-do-bay," which makes it sound so euro and effective, no?).

Let's work hard to get this in front of young women who need to realize that the women we see in mainstream media images are not real, but rather digitized to perfection.

My favorite line: "Maybe she's born with it."  "Uh, no, I'm pretty sure it's Photoshop." 

If I could just get every single one of us to conjure up that thought when we have even a flicker of self-body snarking....

 

Enjoy!

Fotoshop by Adobé from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.