Monday, February 18, 2013

What Messages Are You Getting?

Janae over at Bring Joy wrote an excellent piece on her struggles with body image and accepting her curves that have come back. And more importantly, her vocal stance on the messages society gives about women's bodies. It's really an excellent read.

Someone in the comments shared an amazing site:, there is a quote that I can't find now about how women, on average, receive 600 messages a day about beauty and body image. Every single time you see a picture of a woman on a cover of a magazine, or in a magazine ad or on a television commercial or even in a TV show, you're getting at least one message, but likely more: they've photoshopped the wrinkles, so there's the message that wrinkles are bad. They've photoshopped the woman smaller in most cases, so there's the message that skinnier is better. They've picked an actress partially based on her physical appearance and/or they've had her workout to have a certain look. And so on and so forth.

One of the most appalling cases I read on the Beauty Redefined site was the cover photo of Self (the "Total Body Confidence" issue, ironically enough) with Kelly Clarkson. There is a picture right next to it of Kelly from around the same time and it is very clear that Self changed her size drastically. When challenged on it, at one point the editor wrote, "Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best..." 

*Jaw dropped to floor.* 

What is the message? That Kelly's natural shape isn't her "best." That an unnatural shape on her makes her look better. That her personal, natural shape wasn't good enough for Self's magazine cover. That's the message. And the overriding message to all other women:

You're not good enough if you don't look like this.
How much damage is this kind of message doing? Especially when it's over and over and over, everywhere you look? A teen or woman interested in fashion can't look through a fashion magazine without getting the almost subliminal message that she would be better if she looked like the ridiculously thin women who've had an inch of make up put on AND had all blemishes and imperfections (on their face or in their body shape) photoshopped out. Heck, even just looking at the covers of magazines at the grocery store checkout will give you gads of messages. Whether it's intended or not, the result is a form of brainwashing.

Over and over, girls and women are presented with unhealthy and unreal representations of women, shown in such a way to subtly affect how they see themselves. The problem is those individual, subtle messages are everywhere. And there are a lot of them:
  • How your hair should look.
  • How long it should be.
  • The colour it should be (cuz, you know, your natural colour is NEVER good enough! I saw an ad at the movie theatre last night with a blind woman who had coloured her hair. *Jaw dropped to floor again.* Even blind women are falling for the idea they need to look a certain way??? This is beyond sad.)
  • The thickness it should be.
  • Frizziness is never good.
  • How your eyebrows should be.
  • What colour your skin should be. 
  • How long and thick your eyelashes should be.
  • Blemishes aren't okay. Hide them under makeup and photoshop out all signs of them in pictures.
  • Teeth need to be a certain whiteness (there's one ad that drives me crazy--the woman's teeth are already a fake level of white and she thinks they aren't white enough, so whitens them even more with whatever amazing (sic) product they are selling).
  • How much you should weigh.
  • How big your butt and breasts should be. And what shape your butt should be.
  • How small your waist should be.
  • How thin and toned your legs and arms should be.
  • How tall you should be.
  • You should show a lot of skin.
  • You should be sexy (which really means you should have random men looking at you and find you sexually appealing, ie they should lust after you).
  • How smooth your face should be, or how big your cheeks and lips should be.
I'm sure I could go on. The problem with all of this is that it's all nonsense. Why these particular messages are being put out there, I'm not sure other than, for whatever reason, it sells. If it sells, then they'll keep doing it.

I have a challenge for you: Get some new messages. Get some true messages. Look at the women you come in contact with as you work or visit stores. Look at the women you walk by Are they all 5'10", skinny, physically fit, perfect shape, perfect skin and hair, wearing designer clothes? These are the real messages. These are real women who are valuable and lovable not because of how well they match up with some false, made-up ideal to try to get you to buy things (really, that's what the Self cover was about, wasn't it? fear that fewer people would buy the magazine if Kelly was looking too chunky or something?), but are valuable and lovable simply because they are. Value them, respect them, love them because of who they are, not because of what they look like. And then turn around and do the same for yourself.


  1. Honestly, I would be more likely to buy the magazine if the person on the cover is not Photoshopped. What's the point in reading the information inside, if it's not real anyway? I have to admit, that I am a girly girl, who is into beauty and fitness, but I also want to love me for me. I start with that as a foundation, and then I have fun accentuating what I already have. No one is perfect. It's our imperfections that make us beautifully special.

    1. There's one magazine that supposedly doesn't do any photoshopping. I can't remember which one it is though. lol.

      I never had any clue until fairly recently the extent to which things on magazines are photoshopped. I've now come to understand I ought to expect it ALL to be photoshopped!

    2. I wonder which magazine it is. I always assume everything is photoshopped these days, too, except for those spreads deemed newsworthy because they weren't.

    3. Seems to me it's a fitness magazine, but I tried doing some searching and can't seem to come up with the correct one!

    4. I have in mind some sort of women's fitness magazine said they didn't photoshop their covers, but can't find it. It could be that they do touch ups of skin but don't change body shape? That's harder to search...

      I could be confusing it with Seventeen Magazine, which says they've never altered body shapes or faces. (I'm guessing just blemish touch ups and such?)