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Beauty is in the Eye of the…Media?

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By Guest Blogger Aimee Polimeno

 

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People Magazine’s Epic Photoshop Fail of Lupita Nyong’o

It’s no secret that our media-driven culture values an extremely narrow and stereotypical version of beauty, usually represented by a Size 2, photoshopped model. Most people know that judging and media photoshopping any girl larger than a size 4 has a detrimental impact on girls’ body image, and so it’s an issue fought by activists on many fronts. However, what many of us tend to overlook is that our culturally biased ideal of beauty does not encompass only body size, but also race.

The lack of models of various races and ethnicities in media, not to even mention the tendency to photoshop lighter skin tones on those few models and artists who do make the covers of magazines, is one thing. The association in movies and TV between violence and skin color is another. We teach children that when race is visible at all, light is right and everything else is…well, wrong. Consider seemingly harmless animated films like The Lion King, where our main man Mufasa and his family are a lighter fur color, while the evil and calculating Scar is a darker shade. Think about all those dark-skinned evil queens in Disney films.

Multiple studies have been done in psychology and sociology dealing with this early priming of children to favor light over dark, and the results are heartbreaking. A recent study conducted with young children in Mexico featuring a white doll and a black doll found the same results as a famous U.S. study conducted in the 1930’s by Kenneth and Mamie Clark. “Which doll is good?” the children were asked. “Which doll is bad?” “Which doll is ugly?” Almost all of the children associate positive words like “good” and “pretty” with the white doll and words like “bad” and “ugly” with the darker skinned doll. When asked why they like the white doll better, the children aren’t entirely sure; they just know that it’s the better doll. And here’s the heart-breaking part: when asked which doll looks most like them, the children struggle, knowing they have darker skin too, knowing that choosing the darker skin doll forces them to associate themselves with being bad and ugly.

These children are not born with a preference for lighter skin and the lighter dolls; this value has been forced on them unknowingly by the images they see and the stories they are told. This damaging set of values is deeply rooted in our culture and media and, as a result, we as consumers support and perpetuate the problem. There are entire shelves in drugstores dedicated to skin-lightening creams and hair relaxants, but these would not exist without significant demand. It’s difficult to be a critical consumer when we’re constantly barraged by images and ads telling us how we should look and what it means to be beautiful. But the fight has to begin with each one of us.

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Shirley sings “I Love My Hair!”

There are some positive signs of change. In 2010, Sesame Street featured Shirley, an African-American puppet girl singing about all the reasons “I Love My Hair.” With over 5 million views to date, it’s clear how important (and rare) it is for young African-American girls to see a character representing them who believes her untreated hair is fun and gorgeous on its own.

Shirley and her message of self-love and acceptance became a sensation and an inspiration for young Black girls. If one puppet can make such an impact, why can’t we as a collective group follow Shirley’s lead? It starts with challenging what we are sold in the media and then looking in the mirror and within ourselves to realize that we are beautiful. I am beautiful, and you are beautiful. Together we can push back against the cookie-cutter image portrayed in our media so young girls of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities can open a magazine and see a beautiful women who look like them. Like Shirley, love your hair, but also love your eyes, your curves, and your mind, and let the world hear it.

Let’s Hear It From The Boys: 1 is 2 Many

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Guest blog by Maggie Rooney

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Dulé Hill: “One sexual assault is one too many. My desire for this PSA is that it will heighten awareness and in turn be a catalyst for more prevention.”

 

The 1 is 2 Many Campaign reports three statistics:

  • 1 in 5 young women will be a victim of sexual assault while they are in college;
  • 1 in 9 teen girls will be forced to have sex;
  • 1 in 10 teens will be hurt on purpose by someone they are dating.

The Campaign argues rightly that we have to fix this problem and recently released a PSA in collaboration with the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault addressing the dire need to put an end to sexual abuse and assault. The PSA stars a number of famous men, including President Obama, Vice President Biden, Daniel Craig, Benicio Del Toro, Dulé Hill, Seth Meyers and Steve Carell. These men touch on the prevalence of the issue, the need to speak up when a tragedy is occurring, and the need for men to stop victimizing women.

I volunteer for the Family Violence Project in Maine as a hotline volunteer for victims and friends/families of victims of domestic violence. It is a 24-hour hotline where I am an advocate for anyone who needs assistance in almost all situations from a basic conversation about a worrisome issue, to creating a safety plan for immediate emergency help and shelter/legal information. After hearing from so many victims of domestic abuse and assault I know that this problem needs to be widely addressed, and I am so excited about this PSA.

The male voices and faces in this PSA are especially powerful. For years, abuse and sexual assault prevention workers have been trying to get men to speak out about the issue, as men are primarily responsible for this crime. Although only time will tell if this PSA makes a difference, the power of men speaking out is crucial for reaching out to other men. It matters that these men say publicly that they do not want to be part of the problem. It matters that they identify what’s wrong with this situation and these statistics and that they refuse to blame girls and women. This is a problem that cannot be taken lightly, and it is encouraging to know that men are now willing to commit publicly to be part of the solution.

 

 

 

 

The Ugly Reality About Beauty Standards

Author:

By Guest Blogger Maddie Wadington

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If you’ve been reading Time Magazine, The Guardian, Glamour, or just about any popular magazine or newspaper of late, you’ve seen reports of a new study that compares men and women’s perceptions of beauty. The researchers asked both men and women to judge which photo of a model, wearing various amounts of makeup, was the most attractive to them, which photo would be the most attractive to other men, and which photo would be the most attractive to other women. Both men and women believed that the models wearing more makeup would be judged as more attractive by men. Interestingly, that wasn’t the case. Results showed that more women than men preferred the model wearing more makeup.

So what’s going on here? The researchers conclude that women are holding themselves to a standard of beauty that does not exist. Well, yes, that sounds right. But in spite of their findings, these researchers assume this standard of beauty is created and maintained solely by men, reflecting their version of attractiveness. This doesn’t make sense to me. We’re bombarded 24-7 with photoshopped beauty ideals, so doesn’t media play an overwhelmingly large role, not only in the creation of this “make believe” version of beauty but also in maintaining this standard in girls’ and women’s everyday lives?

Sure, maybe there are more men making decisions about what images are created and sold, but are they doing this because of what they individually like or because they know what sells to women—what makes women anxious enough to say, “I want what she’s having?” Isn’t the bottom line all about marketing and money and grabbing women’s attention (and as we’ve seen from the likes of Veet’s recent ad campaign, anything goes). Isn’t the corporate bottom line and not individual male desire responsible for perpetuating these unrealistic beauty standards?

It is also interesting to note that the Time Magazine article that I read about this study was titled: “Science Shows Men Like Women With Less Makeup.” But I have to wonder, why is the emphasis placed on how men prefer women? What about considering how women view other women? From my experience, girls and women compare their own beauty to that of other girls and women (just like girls and women do in the media). Could the results of this study–women preferring the model with more makeup—simply be due to the pressures they feel to look like the models they see in magazines?

When we think about how males and females perceive beauty, it’s important to consider more than just the physical attractiveness between men and women. In our society, there are so many more factors affecting what we think of as attractive: like media, marketing, and the ways they impact our views of each other. This isn’t just about gender or even about biology. Only when we consider the larger forces at play here can we affect how these unrealistic beauty standards affect our relationships and how we feel about ourselves. Only then can our voices can be heard.

 

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