Curvy in Hollywood

For generations, curvy people are seldom seen on the spotlight of the entertainment world. From the music industry to the movies that we see on weekends, there is often a bias that these celebrities must be thin in order to be taken seriously. Often times, young people look not only at the talents that these artists and performers have, but their bodies as well. It’s not difficult to look through a magazine or go to a music store and see Nick Jonas flashing his six-pack abs or Katy Perry’s toned, slim body laid out on a cloud. One thing you won’t find however, is a more curvy individual doing the exact same thing. In the eyes of many millennials, this is an example of how one should look to be not only famous, but to be liked. Unless the curviest parts of your body are your chest, muscles or rear end, you simply aren’t attractive. In a study conducted at the University of South Florida concerning the relationship between American media and the body satisfaction of Trinindadian adolescent females, the researchers note that previous research has shown that young women do in fact, usually have thin, tall female celebrities as role models, and even going as far as taking up strict dieting habits to achieve the same figure as the women on television, (Ferguson, 2011). This and previous research simply supports the notion that television and entertainment in general have a strong influence on body image.

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In recent years, many artists have spoken out against the misperceptions of body image such as Adele, Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Bell. Jennifer Lawrence states, “I mean, if we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?,(Dodge, 2013). What is important to note is that when celebrities talk about things that are seldom talked about despite their obvious presence, it causes reactions from young people. People are excited to hear that the actor who played their favorite movie character or their favorite band/artist is supporting not only a topic that the fan can support, but the individual can certainly relate to. But one thing about these celebrities still stands out – they aren’t what the media would describe as “curvy.” With all due respect to these people, few people struggle to think of these people as having that figure people would love to see in revealing clothing as though being thin is what is needed to be attractive. What is it like in the eyes of a curvy person, to be in the spotlight of entertainment?

The song All About that Bass is a critically acclaimed track released by artist, Meghan Trainor. The song makes the analogy of curvy people being “bass” and overall, is a message to people everywhere, curvy or not to accept their bodies and even goes as far as addressing the issue of doctored images in magazines. In an interview with the 20 year-old Trainor by Entertainment Tonight, she revealed stories about her younger years concerning eating disorders and being bullied for her body. Like many young men and women, being curvy is a subject of mockery amongst their peers. She states, “”I did have this one boy come up to me, who, like I loved him, I was so in love, And he told me, ‘You’d be like real hot if you were 10 pounds lighter,'” she said. “I was like, ‘Ugh, that’s it! I am going to cry all day and not eat for the rest of the day,” (Schillaci, 2014) While criticisms have in fact come towards her song, particularly the phrase, “skinny b******,(which she later states was never targeted to single anyone out) Trainor has become an icon of body acceptance in recent news.

Sources

Ferguson, C. (2011). The Relationship Between American Media Exposure and Trinidadian Female Adolescents Body     Image Satisfaction (Doctoral dissertation, Scholar Commons; University of South Florida). Retrieved November 20, 2014.

Schillaci, S. (2014, September 2). Meghan Trainor Bares All: Her Unexpected Big Break, Being Bullied and Embracing Her Body. In Entertainment Tonight. Retrieved November 20, 2014.

Dodge, S. (2013, December 17). ‘It should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV!’: Body confidence advocate Jennifer Lawrence speaks out against ‘fat shaming’ in Hollywood. In Mail Online. Retrieved November 22, 2014

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Educating the Media with Media

The media is a very powerful and influential part of Western society. It is so influential, it has been referred to in political  as “Fourth Branch of Government.” But in the view of the world of body image, it has taught our generation, the Millennials, that being curvy is abnormal. But what if we used the medium that is harming the self-concept of our generation to heal the wounds and empower today’s youth? Educating the populace through the media to shatter the misconceptions of body image has in fact, proven very effective. If people’s perception of what a male or female body should look like can be distorted through the media, perhaps we can fix that?

A study conducted in 2010 has shown support for the notion that media education can counter misrepresentations of body image, (Rens, 2010). In this study, the video Evolution, (a video created by the company Dove, to show how images of women are doctored and enhanced), was used to show that young girls who looked at pictures of “ultra-thin” models had a significantly lower negative effect on their body satisfaction and confidence, (Rens, 2010). With this in mind, perhaps greater numbers of people could be educated about the concept of body image.

 

In order to be effective however, media education should make the target audience think critically and ask questions. Above all, it should encourage active involvement in both education campaigns and daily life. With regards to other campaigns, even on unrelated issues, part of what has made them unsuccessful is that they do not encourage people to become actively involved, especially social media activism that simply encourages passing along a simple article that will most likely be forgotten later on.

One particular group of college students, a demographic that can be susceptible to negative body image perceptions, at Standford University has created a program known as The Body Positive, (Steakley, 2014). Established in 1996 by students, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott the group hopes to establish healthy eating and positive body image as the norm, (Steakley, 2014). One advantage of this groups approach is that it addresses the criticism raised by some, that body image programs do not encourage healthy exercise and eating habits and only focus on acceptance of one’s physical traits. Much of the programs events and activities revolve around the establishment of strategies and habits that combat self-destructive eating and unhealthy patterns of exercise. Starting with Stanford University, the group hopes to create a culture of positive body image and healthy lifestyle. One example of their events, held June 1st, 2014, featured a festival involving art, music and literary arts that promoted positive body image, shared stories of struggles that people faced and celebrated their personal beauty, (Steakley, 2014). Other projects include educational campaigns that reach out to parents, family members and friends of people with a negative perception of their bodies or something as extreme as an eating disorder, (Steakley, 2014). From leadership workshops to the development of core competencies, The Body Positive has become a successful organization on the Stanford University campus. Another important factor in this organization is that they conduct research on the effectiveness of their efforts, (Steakley, 2014).

The co-founder, Elizabeth Scott talks deeply about her reasons for starting her organization. She writes that her dear friend and co-founder of The Body Positive had survived and eating disorder and had lost a sister to malnutrition. All of this, in part, stemming from a negative perception of body image. Scott notes, “She was motivated to change the world so her daughter, and all children, could grow up loving themselves and seeing beauty in their unique bodies. I was overwhelmed by the suffering of the people I was seeing as a new therapist in my practice in Marin County.” All in all, the pair sought to change the culture of body image in their area, and hopefully influence others to do the same.

Sources:

Rens, D. V. (2010). Media Education and Body Image. In Media Smarts. Retrieved November 20, 2014.

Steakley, L. (2014, May 29). Promoting healthy eating and a positive body image on college campuses. Stanford Journal of Medicine: Scope. Retrieved November 13, 2014.

Ladies, it’s not enough for you to do great in a sport, you have to look “great” too.

Sports – one of the oldest forms of competition in human history. Through intense, physical training the human body becomes robust and hardened. Consequently, when we think of athlete, our society thinks of these slim bodies with well-toned muscles. It’s probably expected that we would picture an athlete to look such away because of the amount of conditioning needed for sport. More specifically, the female athlete is often thought of to be slender. With such expectations, is there a possibility of a curvy female athlete?

Leisel Jones is an Australian eight-time Olympic medalist in women’s swimming.  In 2012, a newspaper known as the Herald Sun pointed out that her figure was wider in contrast to her figure in 008. The organization then proceeded to create a poll asking if she was fit to swim in the 2012 London Olympics. Immediately however, many Olympians and health advocates had sided with Jones and demanded that the poll be taken down. What is interesting about this particular athlete is that despite what some had perceived as a body that was “unfit” she had won three gold medals, four silver medals and one bronze medal – clearly she was a superb athlete. It should also be noted that she was 16 when she first swam in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Such reactions pose the question of whether or not young women are not only expected to perform up to standard, but to look like a standard.

Another topic interest concerning curvy female athletes can be found in the sport of cheerleading. Cheerleading has been an American cultural icon since the latter half of the Twentieth Century; especially amongst high school-aged children and college students. But one stereotype has persisted throughout its history – cheerleaders are slim-figured. A 2010 study conducted at the University of South Carolina had found that female college cheerleaders are often self-conscious about their figure, partly because of how revealing their uniforms are. The participants were also asked about how they thought their parents and coaches viewed their bodies in relation to body image, and the study concluded that most felt they did not match their coaches’ ideal picture of body image. As a result, the study also notes that many of these young women were at risk for eating disorders, all in the pursuit of what they felt was an ideal body image.

With this in mind, one particular case worthy of examination is the Oklahoma City Thunderers cheerleader, Kelsey Williams. In April 2013, a blogger wrote a post about her titled, “Is this girl too Chunky to be an OKC Cheerleader?” The article was followed by a poll asking readers if Willimas “Had the perfect look,” “Could use some tightening up in her mid-section,” or even if “she has no business wearing that outfit in front of people.” The article received immediate backlash and the author of the blog was labeled a “bully” and a “mean girl.” What is interesting about this case is that despite not having the body image that some perceive fit to be a cheerleader, the young woman has made a successful career in the sport.

In the end, is it not enough for a woman to perform a sport, does she need to look a certain way too?

Sources

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/olympics-fourth-place-medal/public-pushes-back-against-fat-comments-aussie-swimmer-191640600–oly.html

http://www.livescience.com/9945-cheerleaders-risk-eating-disorders-study-finds.html

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/oklahoma-city-thunder-cheerleader-kelsey-williams-called-chunky-19064805

Be a man, man up!

The concept of body image is an ever-changing notion that a person must look a certain way, for society to call them beautiful. Today, the media is obsessed with displaying pictures and videos of women who are generally very skinny and often employ the use of image doctoring to get their point across. But what also seems to be under the radar for much of society’s attention, is the ideas and perceptions of male body image. While women are expected to be thin and have larger breasts or thicker hips, men are often expected to have a very athletic ability, preferably tall and muscular. In a sense, many females are usually trying to lose weight, while many young males are trying to gain weight through muscle mass. Even characteristics such as the size of a man’s genitals are taken into consideration when determining how much of a “man” someone is. It’s not uncommon that negative characteristics of personality in males, are sometimes attributed to having a small penis.

 A website called My Body Gallery for Men is a blog dedicated to sharing stories about body image from the perspective of men. While there are indeed submissions from overweight men, one striking difference from the women’s section is that more submissions in the men’s section are about looking older, bigger and being heavier. One submission titled, “Small Guy with a Big Heart,” is a brief window into the experiences of a 29 year-old man and his struggles with body image. I found that I was able to relate to a lot of his experiences such as being asked for a identification when purchasing items he was old enough to buy (such as alcohol at a bar). He later writes, “I joined this site so that smaller guys can understand that some of them won’t gain mass (like many advertisements say) and they should appreciate what they have and not be dissapointed.”

         Upon reading the nameless authors post, I found it striking how at a glance, he seemed physically large but in reality, he was very thin being 5’-8” and weighing only 119 lbs. I find that many males in my generation can relate to working out at the gym and taking lots of supplements and protein rich foods to gain muscle mass, or even to replace fat with muscle. But what really strikes me is that he, a third year nursing student reveals the fact that some men will just simply not be able to gain large amounts of muscle mass such as himself. He notes as well, that, “I also want the bigger people to understand that it’s equally difficult to become smaller.”

 In the past 20 years and beyond, the millennial generation of males will often see media that depicts males with chiseled abs and large muscles often times these images depict these men as essentially being dominant. As such, young men are often quick to boost the perception of their masculinity through boasting about how much they can bench-press. This begs the question, why are young boys so concerned about their not-yet fully developed bodies being so different from what they see in the media?

 Aside from the media, another source of perfectionist body-image ideas may come from a young man’s family and friends. The phrase, “man up” or “take it like a man” build upon the idea that a young man needs to not only be strong, but burry his emotion and mask pain with bluntness. Such pressure creates feelings of inadequacy and can lead to even extreme attempts at trying to fit society’s idea of manliness. A study conducted in 2012, published in the Journal of of the American Academy of Pediatrics has shown that 34.7% of middle—school and high-school aged children used protein supplements and 5.9% reported steroid use. Most behaviors were significantly more common among boys. The study later concluded that the sharp increase in recent years is a major cause for concern by pediatricians.

 While women have certainly been under a similar scrutiny for years, especially younger women, the point here is that everyone is a victim of the media. It is without question that women standing up to the media’s hypocrisies are indeed a victory, but why is it that the male audience remains silent? Growing up, I myself questioned if any male could have ever questioned what we saw. Do the expectations society holds have such a profound influence, that one cannot simply “man up” and talk about it?

 

Sources:

Eisenberg, M. E., Wall, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2012, November 19). Muscle-enhancing Behaviors Among Adolescent Girls and Boys. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

Blog – http://mybodygalleryformen.com/blog-248-Small-Guy-With-a-Big-Heart.htm