Women, Websites and Body Image
The pressure on women to look and behave in certain ways is so deeply ingrained in our psyches that it’s easy to overlook the impact mass culture has on how we feel about ourselves and our bodies. Watching TV, reading magazines and newspapers, surfing the Net, we are bombarded with airbrushed images of perfect beauty and thinness. Inevitably we absorb the relentless message that such beauty is the norm, and is achievable, if only we would … use this makeup, remove that hair, buy the right clothes, reshape that body part.
Many of us know that the unspoken promise -- use our product, and you will get the love, the happiness, or the success you want -- is a lie. Many of us have had long, ongoing struggles to accept our bodies as they are and to make our peace with, and possibly even celebrate, food. Still, there are times our insecurities and self-loathing outweigh our feminist sensibilities, and we need reinforcements to remind us that looks don’t make the woman.
A new breed of websites is striving to challenge culturally imposed standards of beauty and to provide an oasis for women sick of being told that somehow -- whether your eyelashes are too thin or your hair is the wrong texture or your thighs are too fat -- you are not okay the way you are. These sites counter the messages of mainstream media with information about the advertising industry, the risks of seeking physical perfection, and the profits made off women’s (man-made) insecurities. Using humor, sarcasm, anger, and insight, these sites challenge the tyranny of body obsession.
- The Body Positive is a great site committed to helping women feel good about the bodies we have. Their motto, Change Your Mind, Change Your Culture, and Let Your Body Be, informs their website, which suggests, among other things, “taking up occupancy inside your own skin, rather than living above the chin until you're thin.” One page asks the question, What will you miss out on if you fail to love your body and treat it as it truly deserves to be treated? The reader responses are powerful and often wrenching.
- About Face is a rebellious, witty site designed to encourage a healthy skepticism about media images and the messages of popular culture. By exposing the impact of mass media on the health and self-esteem of women and girls, the site hopes to empower young people to feel confident about their individuality, their abilities, and their bodies. Their Archive of Offenders highlights images depicting women as junkies, stick figures, mannequins, bimbos and inanimate objects, while their Making Changes section has activist-oriented tools to help hold advertisers responsible for the images they create.
- The Real Women Project was designed to counter the effects of negative imagery on women and to provide tools to help us “rebuild … society's view of outer beauty and inner wellness.” The heart of the project, which also includes poetry, video, music and storytelling, is a series of 13 sculptures of women of all ages, cultures, and ethnicities. The creators of the site hope the power of their art will inspire dialogue and self-awareness, broaden our definition of beauty, deepen our understanding of well-being, and inspire us to bring about positive change.
- The number 1 “magic wish” of girls 10-14 is to lose weight. In a recent study of nearly 10,000 girls aged 8-12, 17% induced vomiting or used laxatives or diet pills to lose weight. By the time girls reach adolescence, eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness afflicting them. The women and girls of New Moon Magazine, frustrated by these statistics and wafer-thin media images of women, are fighting to redefine beauty. Their magazine celebrate girls and women for who we are and what we do, not on our looks. Each spring New Moon challenges People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People” with its own special issue, "25 Beautiful Girls." The girls profiled shine in many different arenas, from athletics to academics to activism.
- The Dressing Room Project was begun by girls who were angry about mainstream media's portrayal of women and about how these unrealistic ideals contribute to the prevalence of negative self-image and eating disorders. They began creating cards that say things like "Beauty is Within" and "Worry about the size of your heart, not the size of your body" and posting them in girls' and women's dressing rooms. The project has spread to other communities; the website lets you download cards and provides resources and support for budding body image activists.
- Mind on the Media is a media literacy organization designed to inspire independent thinking and foster critical analysis of media messages. Their “Turn Beauty Inside Out” Campaign works to raise awareness of images of girls and women in the media and to counterbalance the damaging and unhealthy images that bombard us daily.
- "Slim Hopes: Advertising and the Obsession with Thinness" and “Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising's Image of Women" are two videos by Jean Kilbourne that dissect the impact advertising and its rigid cultural ideals of beauty have on the health and self-esteem of women. The website includes clips from the videos as well as study guides and other resources.
- AdiosBarbie.com bills itself as a “body image site for every body.” The satiric humor of this site extends to their interactive game, Feed the Model, where the arrows on your keyboard let you pitch food with varying caloric content into the mouth of the skeletal dancing model. Each successful throw causes her to gain weight and liberate herself from starvation.
- One Size Does Not Fit All. That’s the motto of Fat and Feminist: Large Women's Health Experiences. This article on the website of the Feminist Women’s Health Center has information about the risks of dieting and eating disorders and conveys these disturbing facts: Americans spend $40 billion on weight loss programs and products each year. Over 95% of people who diet regain the weight they lost within 5 years. Dieting is associated with an 8-fold increase in the probability of developing an eating disorder. Over 150,000 women in the Unites States die of anorexia each year. The site includes Ten Reasons to Give Up Dieting, 10 Steps for Loving Your Body Just As It Is, and links to online resources on fat women, fat acceptance, and fat activism.
- The Old Women's Project, a social justice advocacy organization, fights the ageism and ageist attitudes that ignore, trivialize or demean old women. Naked Old Women, a series of paintings by Alice Matzkin featured on the site, opens us up to the possibility of celebrating our bodies at whatever age we are.
To find out more about how the media portrays women and how this affects our lives, see the website of the Girls, Women and Media Project.
Written by: Our Bodies Ourselves
Last revised: January, 2005
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