Tag Archives: Cult of Thinness

Cultural Pressures of Thinness and Disorderly Eating

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNBdU0PwWKU

The above video shows a mildly clothed thin woman on the beach eating a large sandwich. This video is from a Hardees television commercial that depicts Nina Agdalin in provocative poses in comparison to the sandwich. When I first viewed the commercial I noticed the way she devoured the food in a sexual manner. After viewing a second time I noticed how this commercial has the potential to promote disorderly eating. As Biber mentions “The media bombards us with images of every imaginable food…at the same time women are subjected to an onslaught of sources devoted to dieting and maintenance of a sleek and supple figures” (67).   Physical perfection is displayed in advertisements of thin women eating immense portions of food. Physical perfection is often associated with thinness but yet foods that are harmful to the heath and have the possibility to make people fat are promoted along side skinny women. The representation of a skinny woman eating unhealthy food is damaging to a society that polices body conformity. Many people try to control their body weight by not eating fast food in order to obtain a similar body to ones viewed in commercials such as Hardees. These kinds of advertisements promote disorderly eating in an environment that juxtaposes unhealthy eating habits with unattainable figures.

Source: The Cult of Thinness by Sharlene Nagy Hesse- Biber

 

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Jean Paul Gaultier has been known for risky and controversial ad campaigns that set the imagination into overdrive about sex. The above ad is the latest addition to a long line of print ads supposed to inspire the public to buy this cologne or perfume in hopes of obtaining the opposite sex’s admiration. It is obviously aimed at young, heterosexual, well to do men and women. The intense stare of the male character towards the female, an obvious bulge in his pants, muscular, well-groomed, chiseled features, dressed in blue, and Caucasian. The female character gazing seductively towards the male, long hair, slim, dressed in pink lingerie, hand on hip, chin slightly tilted down, lips parted and Caucasian. Both appear to be on balconies in well-to-do areas watching each other from afar. Her balcony is more feminine with the filigree wrought iron and curtain softly billowing in the background. His balcony is masculine made of concrete and studded. The ideal couple? Not really, you see the two characters are computer generated. An ideal that could never be obtained no matter how much perfume or cologne you douse on yourself. Parts of people pulled and added to make two characters of absolutely sublime beauty. Perfect because they have been created by advertisers who manifest what the public responds to and the epitome of what the advertisers want us to believe to be the societal ideal of masculinity and femininity. The make believe and unreal world is now being promoted as real and obtainable if we just buy this perfume. Sex sells even if it is make-believe. Bordo states “ In cultural fantasies such as Vision Quest and Flashdance, self-mastery is presented as an attainable and stable state” (199). How can one attain a state of make-believe perfection?

Works Cited;

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. Berkeley. University of California Press, 1993 pg. 199

Hess-Biber, Sharlene Nagy.The Cult of Thinness. 2nd edition. New York. Oxford University Press, 2007

How Much Power Do We Actually Have?

Watching Jean Kilbourne’s film “Killing Me Softly 4,” I thought about questions that come up when thinking about who’s responsible for the proliferation of harmful products and messages we receive in advertisements: is it the corporations for creating and promoting these ads and products, or the people who buy products from the companies who create these harmful messages? While this is an important and interesting question, I decided to reflect more specifically on: How much power do we as consumers have in stopping harmful advertising or practices when not all of us have the economic luxury to do so?

According to Hesse-Biber, “The National Cancer Institute funded a $1 million ’5-a-day’ campaign to encourage people to eat their daily allotment of fruits and vegetables, but must compete for consumer appetites against a $500 million McDonald’s campaign” (67). In many low-income neighborhoods there are “food deserts” where markets with affordable produce are either non-existent or barely any are within an easily-accessible distance. Despite residents in low-income neighborhoods not having easy and affordable access to fresh produce, cheap fast food places such as McDonald’s are installed in many of these neighborhoods.

For people who may not have the economic means to stand up to industries that promote harmful products or messaging: is there a way that they too can make an impact on these companies?

Works Cited:
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

Ad Critique: Get Fit or Get Perfect?

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Image courtesy of Equinox.

This Equinox ad above utilizes many of the common advertising tactics employed by the media today. The female model in this advertisement projects the image of the ideal woman with her lengthy body, glistening hair, sizable breasts, and slender limbs. A major problem with this image, however, is that it “offer[s] help, while presenting a nearly impossible standard,”[1] considering the substantial editing that undoubtedly went into this advertisement’s completion. In addition, the man holding the camera is focusing on the model’s upper body, dehumanizing and objectifying her by separating her body parts from her complete self. Other blatantly offensive aspects of this advertisement include the woman’s subservient positioning underneath the man and her glance that invites sexual advances.

The fact that this ad is for a gym exemplifies the ambiguous messaging implied by female representations. Women are taught to seek healthfulness, but also slenderness. However, as Marilyn Wann notes in her discussion of fat studies, these two characteristics are not always connected. The result is a female population that is obsessed with “compulsive dieting,” but also “body-building.” [2]

Perhaps one of the most startling elements of this advertisement is that it appeals to the young generation—to the people who will shape the future. We as mainstream consumers must cease to accept this sort of advertising in the name of capitalism. Rather, we must ask ourselves, “what can and should we do to eradicate this type of advertising?”Through collective action, consumers have power to influence the companies that project these damaging images. We must stop buying their products, encourage stockholders to demand tactical redirection, and promote activism in our communities.


[1] Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” in The Cult of Thinness, Second ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 63.

[2] Susan Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body,” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 191.

Big Question: What is Oppression?

One mechanism of oppression that produces highly pervasive damage and is difficult to eradicate is that of self-censorship. Every day, the entire population of American women uses it, usually unintentionally.

Over the last half century, the image of the ideal woman has morphed into one of genetic impossibility for 95% of the female population.[1] The media’s images of women are often dramatically altered or even constructed.[2] “But how does this negatively affect women?” you may wonder. The answer lies in how women respond to these images. Just think of how many times you, or a woman you know, steps on the scale each week, hoping that the number is lower than at the previous weigh-in. As Susan Bordo explains, obsessing over one’s appearance is a “powerful normalizing mechanism” that ensures “self-monitoring” and “self-disciplining.”[3]

Self-censorship deflects from the reality that propagating one, unattainable version of normal oppresses the entire female sex by limiting expression of individuality and promoting harmful objectification. Moreover, for those who will never come close to the ideal image, like women of racial or ethnic minorities, the oppressive nature of these depictions is especially detrimental. Minorities are continually pushed further from the point of acceptance for who they naturally are. While some argue that the increasingly idealized slender body, “symbolize[s] freedom from rigid femininity,” the reality is that our oppressive image of female idealness serves the purposes of a patriarchal, oppressive world. [4]  After all, society “confers” privilege according to one’s ability to achieve the ideal.[5]

To overcome the adverse nature of oppression and discontinue self-censorship requires identifying and combating the oppressor, which in this case, is the media. Just think, “how would the media respond to mass consumer refusal to purchase or consume products that insist upon the unrealistic ideal woman?” More specifically, “what personal choices can you make to help mass action become a reality?”


[1] Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women, dir. Kilbourne Jean, Sut Jhally, and David Rabinovitz (Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2010), DVD.

[2] Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” in The Cult of Thinness, Second ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 65.

[3] Susan Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body,” in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 186.

[4] Ibid., 208.

[5] Marilyn Wann, “Forward,” in The Fat Studies Reader, by Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay (New York: New York University Press, 2009), XIV.

What is oppression? Self-monitoring based on oppressive standards

Women feel enormous pressure to be thin due to media messages that feature impossibly slender and toned bodies as the beauty ideal. Our society has come to believe that “thin is inherently beautiful and fat is inherently ugly” (Wann ix), causing women to fixate on achieving a slender body with firm bodily margins. Women devote an enormous amount of time, energy, and attention in the pursuit of the ideal.

The food, diet, and exercise industries profit enormously from women’s body dissatisfaction, as “women are told that they can have the right body only if they consume more products” (Hesse-Biber 75). By normalizing thinness and stigmatizing fatness, the media has created a “fat-hating culture” in which everyone “inevitably absorbs anti-fat beliefs, assumptions, and stereotypes” (Wann xi). Therefore, our culture oppresses those people whose bodies do not fit into the slender body ideal.

This does not include only “overweight” and “obese” people, but also the huge proportion of women who are at a healthy weight but still perceive themselves as too fat. Weight oppression affects people of all sizes, since “in a fat-hating society everyone is fat” (Wann xv). Women have internalized the media messages and societal expectations. Society has trained women to oppress themselves through self-policing, demonstrated by women’s obsession with achieving thinness.

The oppressive capitalistic system oppresses women by setting up a “battle…with the self” (Bordo 198) for every woman. As a result, women are distracted from the systematic sexism in society and do little to challenge the status quo. Is there a way for women to break free from capitalism’s patriarchal oppression?

Sources:

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of CA Press, 1993.

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene. The Cult of Thinness. Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007.

Wann, Marilyn. Foreword. The Fat Studies Reader. By Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay. New York: New York UP, 2009. Ix-Xxii. Print.

This advertisement is an uncanny attempt at convincing people to become vegetarian. The featured image is Pamela Anderson dressed in an unconventional bikini which appears to be masked as lettuce leaves. Her hair is wispy, make up and skin are flawless and her facial expression is set to resemble a “sexy smolder.” Perhaps others may disagree, but this image is not a convincing way to persuade people to “Turn over a new leaf” and become vegetarian.

Many aspects of this ad show multiple notions depicted in Dreamworlds 3. The first conspicuous notion being that women are shown wearing minimal clothing. Would people be less likely to check out GoVeg.com if Anderson was dressed as a fully covered lettuce leaf? Probably not. Hesse-Biber explains the lettuce printed bikini by claiming “Our society encourages women to see themselves as objects” (Hesse-Biber 62) which is further conveyed multiple times in the “Killing Us Softly” documentary. Anderson’s sexy stance with pushed up breasts and arm resting on her opposite hip express Dreamworlds 3’s notion that women are always touching themselves.

Ironically, this ad is objectifying Pamela Anderson by advertising her body while simultaneously attempting to convince people to give up meat. How are we expecting people to stop eating meat when we can not even stop exposing human flesh in the process?

Works Cited
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. The Cult of Thinness. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.