It is no secret that we are bombarded with messages about our bodies daily. There are pictures everywhere, advertisements promising a better life, and silent standards we feel the need to meet. And this is just talking about print- not about the discussions we overhear or the conversations surrounding body people engage in.
I decided to do an experiment. I bought a popular woman’s magazine. It isn’t geared towards a certain ‘kind’ of person, like an athlete or a model. It is a general magazine with feedback from women of all ages.
Just looking at the cover can be a trigger. “Flat Abs!” “The Diet Trick!” “Shares Her Beauty Secrets!” What more could we want? It seems that this magazine can solve all our problems in one month. Somehow, the REAL problems we struggle with, such as insecurity, relationship struggles, and figuring out life, are hidden behind these messages. If I had flat abs, things would be better. If I was skinnier, I would feel more loved.
I looked through the magazine, pulling out every ad, title, or statement that could promote negative body image. These pictures, titles, and captions showed beautiful women (almost certainly photo-shopped), disordered eating behaviors, or perfections that women should reach for.
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Needless to say, the magazine was pretty much gone by the time I ripped everything out of it. Between advertisements and the magazine’s features, there wasn’t much left that didn’t apply to the criteria I looked for. Honestly, I got tired of pulling out everything- there were SO many pictures and negative words littered on the floor.
What stuck me was that I read these types of magazines occasionally and I never notice how much negative body image promotion there is. It is easily internalized, especially by those unaware of the impacts. For example, I was able to notice disordered eating behaviors suggested. I saw examples of inappropriate exercise and diets from celebrities that would be incredibly unhealthy for me. I was able to see these messages and quickly label them as unhealthy instead of the ‘health’ they were believed to promote.
But what about the untrained eye? What about those who live on these types of magazines? They do not have the experience or the knowledge of what their subliminal mind picks up on and internalizes.
Some Tips for Body Positive Media Literacy:
1. First, it is important that we recognize these images and words for what they are – inaccurate representations of what being a human, specifically a woman, is all about.
2. Second, it is important we are able to fight against the statements we see with facts. For example: that beautiful model holding the watch in a provocative pose? Well, do I really like the watch she is holding and does it fit my style? How can we address the real issues of liking the watch when we are being pulled in by the ‘perfection’ of the model?
Or, recognizing that the diet they talk about isn’t necessarily what is best for us. It may be good for the celebrity, but we are not machines. We have to take our own needs into account.
3. Third, we need to help others see and understand these advertisements, articles, and pictures in this way. Speak out positively about our body, instead of listening to others berate their body. Point out ridiculous advertisement campaigns. As a teacher, I help students analyze advertisements and writing pieces, looking for facts vs. ploys.
I, personally, plan on not looking at these magazines again.
I have no desire to continue to beat myself up over negative body images that have been photoshopped or through advertisement slogans that just wish to make money off of our insecurities.
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