I finally got to see Miss Representation last night, courtesy of a local event for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Released in late 2011, it’s a film exploring the role of women in our society and what we can do to change the disparities that exist.
It’s easy to hear about such a film and say, “But so much progress has been made!” While this is true, and yes, progress continue to be made, it’s slowed down more than you think. I’m not always one to tout statistics, but some of the figures they’ve researched are quite startling. For example:
- The average teenager consumes roughly 10 hours, 45 minutes of media per day, between television, movies, the internet, and music, the majority of which is TV watching.
- Of that media consumed, women own less than 6% of TV stations and roughly 6% of radio stations. The board members of the biggest media companies (such as Viacom, Time Warner, etc) systematically outnumber women by more than 2-1, so most of the media being produced and approved is from rich men.
- Women make up 51% of our population at present, but are only 17% of Congress (even I was surprised by how low that number is).
Mad yet? You should be.
A friend shared this presentation with me as we were considering materials to present and discuss for an event during Eating Disorder Awareness Week. We ultimately ended up going with something else but I’m still incredibly fond of this lecture. However, one of the reasons we decided not to show it is that during the lecture, she discusses women in advertising and provides many, many examples of how women are used in advertising. This means a sometimes excessive amount of advertising imagery as she makes her points concerning the representation of women in the media.
We had reservations showing the video to a potentially diverse group of people at a public eating disorder awareness event. At a public event, if someone feels uncomfortable with anything, there sometimes is a desire to not draw attention to oneself by getting up and excusing oneself. But, since this is the internet and you can stop watching at any time, plus I can write up a long disclaimer like this one, I think the lecture still holds it’s merit and challenges us to recognize the more subtle objectification of women and the impact it has on how women (and men) think of women and their bodies, often dividing the person from the body or at least placing value (or lack thereof) on the person with regard to the body. I think her lecture stands fine on it’s own and the visual accompaniment really isn’t necessary for most of it, so if you prefer, I encourage you to just hit ‘Play’ on the video and listen to it like a podcast while you do other things.
The author/filmmaker, Jean Kilbourne, has updated this lecture series through the years since the original she put together in the 1970’s (you’ll here her reference the original presentation a couple of times). There’s a more current one from 2010 which I haven’t seen but intend to – I’d very much like to see how it compares to this one from 1987.
I had originally subtitled this ‘The Objectification of Women in Advertising’ but went with another word in place of objectification – dehumanization. I think that’s a stronger and clearer word of what’s happening. ‘Objectification’ is almost a cliche these days, however accurate it might be. To me, dehumanization touches on a deeper sense of the violation of a person and their self-determination. After watching/listening, I’m curious to see if you agree with me:
I’m excited to point out that America the Beautiful is streaming on Hulu! Last I checked it was also available for streaming on Netflix. Though it came out in 2008, many people had never heard of it at the Eating Disorder Awareness event in February this year, so I’m excited that it’s now streaming online for free!
I think everyone needs to see this documentary. Though it isn’t perfect, it draws attention to the multi-faceted attack on body image and self-perception that runs rampant in American culture. Reminiscent of Body Wars by Margo Maine (another well-produced work I highly recommend, and hope to discuss in a future entry), America the Beautiful is well-researched and plainly presented to draw attention to this issue in a way that few films have before.
Many of us are largely unaware of the size and scope of the advertising industry, and how subtle messages about beautification play off of society’s already skewed and hyper-sexualized view of women. I’ve always known it’s out there. I cringe every time I see teen magazines while checking out at the grocery store, advertising articles on their covers about how their teenage reader base can lose weight, get more attention from guys, or have a “bikini body” in just two months. In the past I’ve seen these things in passing and shaken my head, but never really gave it much thought. But the truth is that there is a large segment of our population, mostly young women, absorbing these messages and feeling as though they must devote a significant amount of time, money, and effort to be attractive enough.
It’s no secret – I’m quite fond of Stephen Colbert. Though his satire can cross a line once in awhile, he does an excellent job providing commentary that points out just how absurd or insulting politicians/the media/everyone can be. I saw this clip a few weeks ago and wanted to make sure other people saw it.
People often sing the praises of Dove (a Unilever brand) for their occasional positive body image marketing. I’ll admit I was quite pleased to see their ads featuring women of all sizes, and they’ve done a small part to draw attention to how the fashion/beauty industry creates unrealistic and even completely fictional representations of women. Remember this video?
That’s another old clip that most people have already seen, but I think it’s a nice juxtaposition to this new product of theirs. That body-acceptance attitude clearly has not permeated every aspect of their company – namely, Research & Development. In a study conducted and financed by Unilever, researched that a whopping 93% of women find their underarms unattractive. Colbert breaks down the business model for us:
One of the secrets of sales is fulfilling the public’s need. The other secret is inventing the public’s need. Now with Unilver’s help, women have now learned that their armpits are hideous. If you take the time to create a new thing for women to feel insecure about, then sell them the solution, then you’ve cornered the market!
Colbert does such a good job explaining it (along with an awkward moment where he attempts to use Unilever-brand ice cream as deodorant) that I’ll just let you watch it for yourself. WordPress is picky on what kind of videos can be embedded, but you can watch the clip on the Huffington Post’s own write-up or directly on Comedy Central. The Wall Street Journal article that Colbert references in the clip can be read in full here.
Unattractive armpits? Really? But on the flip side, 5 days sure is a short amount of time to make them more attractive.