Alcohol Advertising in Inwood

August 2, 2009 § 1 Comment

Hey, so it’s been like 3 years since I have posted anything, but here it goes.  SO, my job this summer is to research and map out the community of Inwood in terms of alcohol availability as well as the prominence of alcohol advertising.  I am creating a Google Map that will compile all if this on one handy map, which I will definitely post here once I’m done.  First of all, you would not believe how many ads there are, second of all, if anyone ever actually stopped to look at these ads (like I did), you would be SHOCKED.  The way women are portrayed was so scary that I didn’t know what to do.  Every deli, corner store, and bodega is covered in ads; most depicting women nearly naked, and often bent over, not facing the camera.  I would show you a picture, but it is SO not appropriate, and I do not want to promote anything like that.  This is not some magazine, where you can just turn the page; this is on every block, on every corner, basically everywhere you look.  Also, Inwood is a young neighborhood, most of the population is very young, many under 18.  The thing is, you would think “wow, that’s not subtle.” But really, it is.  You don’t notice it unless you stop to look at it, and I am sure many elementary school-age boys and girls do see these every day.

What do you do though?  These stores cannot and will not survive without alcohol advertisements, and who could POSSIBLY make alcohol advertisements without demoralizing women?

Princess Fat-Shaming

June 19, 2009 § 14 Comments

Via Latoya at Racialicious, I see a series of photographs by Dina Goldstein entitled “Fallen Princesses”. Goldstein says of her project:

These works place Fairy Tale characters in modern day scenarios. In all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The ‘…happily ever after’ is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues.

It’s a cool idea, artistically speaking, and some of the images are very thought-provoking. I especially liked the irony in the portrait of Snow White, an exhausted-looking young mother burdened by four kids.

But the project has some disastrous issues. Latoya’s post (go read it) and the subsequent comment thread are a nice breakdown of some troubling ethnic and racial stereotypes that Goldstein presents in her reappropriated version of Jasmine. And I’m also uncomfortable with Goldstein’s depiction of the “fallen” Little Red Riding Hood, boringly titled “Not so Little Riding Hood”:

red riding hood

Commenter Brenda DeShazer writes:

Excellent, let’s reinforce the stereotype that fat people gobble huge quantities of burgers and sodas.

For reals. I see two glaringly problematic stereotypes embodied in this photograph: that fat people eat indiscriminantly and “unhealthily”; and that being fat is the ultimate downfall.

This is the polemic “realistic outcome” that Goldstein came up with? Seems to me that she herself has fallen back on unoriginal (and clearly offensive) stereotypes.

Students Speak: V*gina

June 6, 2009 § 3 Comments

V*gina – by Ilana, a high school junior.

2005-2006: I was on the young end of the spectrum as an eighth grader. I had turned thirteen in 2005 and would stay that way until high school. Even as the baby of the grade, I had 34 B breasts that seemed to pop up over night, literally. Along with the breasts came hips and a shape that was not meant for my age. As my body changed, so did the attitudes of the people around me — both of boys and girls — but I couldn’t figure out why. As my perspective of my body was impacted, I felt obligated to adjust how I dressed. I began to cover up my body, which had previously never caused me discomfort. In addition, once I became involved with boys, I was suddenly labeled a slut for reasons I did not understand. But wait, I can’t possibly be the only one who felt like this. There must be some rationale. Let’s look back at the perception of women in our society…

1999: A scantily-clad Britney Spears, age 17, is on the cover of Rolling Stone, almost naked. The picture of young Britney shows her in a school-girl’s outfit lying on a bed with her white shirt unbuttoned completely, exposing a black bra. The photo is suggestive, provocative, and potentially perceived as slutty. 17 may be one year away from adulthood but why is this young pop star exposing herself like this? Many considered this photo inappropriate and as setting a bad example for Britney’s younger fans. An association to sex quickly accompanied her fame. This caused an uproar by many who saw Britney as representing all that was wrong with women. She was exposing a part of her that was meant to be kept secret from all. Women are not supposed to be as explicit with their bodies because this leads many to believe they want sex and will engage in it readily. A woman who is free with her sexuality is one who does not respect herself, and thus is labeled a slut. Such comments have been made about other teen pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens. These two girls were seen as young and innocent. However, the moment both of them exposed their bodies, a Britney cycle ensued.

2009: I must ask, how can it be that society so rejects women’s display of their sexuality? Britney was sexy and not afraid to show it, nor ashamed of the associations that accompanied her Lolita-esque photo. If Britney was comfortable with the photo shoot, and Miley Cyrus is not concerned with how she looks why is everyone else? Why must we demean a woman’s choices of how she handles herself if she is comfortable? The same applies to a woman’s sexual experiences. Women are seen as sluts if they are “too loose.” Let’s look further back…

1973: Erica Jong’s book Fear of Flying is published. This is a tale of a woman who recounts sexual experiences with an openness that had previously only been associated with men. Its release caused a huge uproar, which indicated that society was not ready to hear the truth about women’s sexual desires. Women had been, and continue to be, seen as having a more passive approach to sexual desire and action. In Fear of Flying, the untraditional character, Isadora, defies sexual conventions as she describes “the zipless fuck.” This is defined as an entirely sexual encounter that is based solely on desire and pleasure. Isadora states that it the “purest thing there is” and that she has never had one.

2009: But why has Isadora never been able to have a “zipless fuck?” Is it because she is afraid of the judgment she will receive? Has she internalized the notion that this feeling is unfeminine and forbidden? Or is she afraid of rejection because this approach too forward for a woman? Though for women today a “zipless fuck” is no longer “rarer than a unicorn,” the subject is still provocative. Women are not taught by society about their sexual essence and power, and struggle to learn through experience. Our sex drive is just as strong as men’s; however, we are expected to suppress it. This duplicity in society, praising men’s exploits while condemning women’s sexual freedom, presents women with an identity crisis. In addition to this, the way that a woman dresses or acts is a reflection of her sexuality. How can I feel comfortable with my sexuality when I am being told it diminishes me as a person? How can I feel comfortable with my sexuality when I am told that my comfort in my body and my desire to show it is wrong? Who will offer me much needed guidance, beyond fictional characters? Women are too easily intimidated by other’s judgments and thus become uncomfortable with themselves and their sexuality. A woman’s desires are just as valid as a man’s. Women should embrace their sexuality and not believe that their natural instincts and desires deplete their integrity.

Unfortunately, society will not change as fast as us. We will not wake up tomorrow to a world that promotes our sexuality as part of our femininity, or that allows us to dress as we please. However, we can assume the power ourselves. Every woman who can find strength in herself and her sexuality and can achieve happiness through it will lead a more complete life. I am not advocating rampant sex, or random nudity, I am simply saying the sex you chose to have and the clothing you chose to wear is yours. As long as you’re comfortable with the choices you have made, you are no slut.

Previously in Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes, by Luke; Spice Up YOUR Relationship, by Jennifer; Letters From Kartini, by Nia; Coming Out As A Feminist, by Shani; Inequality, by Sasha

Feel-Good Celebrity Quote of the Day

May 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Emma Watson on celebrity life and feminism, in July 2007…

Emma [is not] afraid to offer opinions on other contentious issues of the day – such as feminism and size zero. Naturally slim, she is aware that in commenting on weight she might be criticised by schoolmates…”There are so many girls at my school who suffer from eating disorders. There is so much pressure on girls our age to be smart and pretty and funny and skinny – they have to be everything. I definitely know what that pressure is like but my philosophy is to eat what you like and be healthy and take exercise.”

One thing that annoys her about her female contemporaries is their reluctance – from vanity, she thinks – to continue with sport in their late teens.

“I am such a feminist on this. It drives me nuts when friends say, ‘We can’t continue because sport gives you muscles and it’s so unattractive, and you get sweaty.’ For some reason girls seem to think it is unfeminine and they worry about being ‘pretty’. But I feel the most pretty when I come off the pitch after a hockey game and I have got pink cheeks and bright eyes. Sport really makes me feel good about myself.”

Love.

Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

As some of you may know, Shira and I run a feminism club at our high school. Our big project for the year was putting together a magazine of student writing. This series, spread out over the next week or so, will feature a selection of those articles (posted with permission of the writers).  Enjoy!  -Miranda

Beware The Virtual Babes – by Luke, a high school junior.

Part of a surging industry, videogames have been met with scrutiny and criticism. Critics have carped on videogames for encouraging violence, social isolation, and academic laziness. However, there is subtler problem that plagues many videogames: the unfair representation of women’s bodies. It may sound redundant to criticize the videogame industry for being “unrealistic,” but it’s important to consider the prominence and influence of games in our culture. 80% of all U.S. children have played videogames. An entire generation is absorbing a virtual, distorted image of what women “should” look like. Although more women are becoming involved in the game industry, it is still a patriarchal industry.

The story of sexism within the videogame industry begins, perhaps, with the videogames series Tomb Raider. Featuring the adventurous, beautiful, and powerful Lara Croft (later played by Angelina Jolie in the film adaptation), Tomb Raider is one of the world’s most successful games. Lara Croft set a sexual precedent for women in future videogames: voluptuous curves, minimal clothing, and flawless faces. In addition to her beauty, Lara Croft can leap with cat-like agility, perform death-defying stunts, and wield dual pistols. Thus, videogames send a dangerous message to women: without “beauty,” you cannot be powerful.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I'm not talking about her guns.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I’m not talking about her guns.

But Tomb Raider was released in 1996. Since then, the hyper-sexualization of women in videogames has become even more extreme. Released in 2008, Age of Conan is an online game where you can create your own male or female characters. You can customize their height, weight, and even body type. However, when I tried to create a female that looked like the average American woman – size 14 – the game wouldn’t let me. At the very most, I could make a size 10 female.

One might argue that because videogames are largely consumed by male audiences, they do not damage the female psyche. Such an assumption is not supported by the numbers: the Entertainment Software Rating Board estimates that 42% of all PC gamers are girls. And even if girls didn’t play videogames, these fictional females give unrealistic expectations to male gamers. If boys grow up expecting real life counterparts to “Casilda,” they will wind up very disappointed.

Casilda.

Meet Casilda, a typical Age of Conan female.

But can we really blame these videogame companies? Like other companies, aren’t they just trying to appeal to their target audience in a time of financial hardship? The answer is yes: we can blame them. Sex may sell, but the profits reaped by these software developers come at the expense of the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women.

However, if we solely criticize the game industry, we dismiss our responsibility as consumers. We are responsible for being aware of these stereotypes, so that they do not spread further throughout society. Furthermore, society is responsible for accepting women as being powerful in their own right. After all, you don’t need to wear a bikini in order to fight bad guys.

My Weighty Story: An Appeal to Feminist Thought

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

Two years ago, I lost weight. Growing up, I was made to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Left to the devices of a television that made me feel inadequate, magazines that made me feel I was in need of a makeover, a doctor that criticized the numbers on a scale, verbal abuse from my peers, and a me who did not understand the meaning of size acceptance, I became obsessed with my appearance. Inevitably, I dieted.

At the time, I had not begun my love affair with feminism, let alone that with fat acceptance (I still bring up the latter during family dinners just to have the opportunity to educate the confused faces around the table). Before my discovery of the ability to let my body be what it wanted to be, I began to physically shrink. Almost everyone commented. When I changed my Facebook photo, people who I barely knew began to commend me on what they thought were improvements.  I thought that if I “got thin” people would stop commenting on my weight, but no, the awkward dotes about my body just kept on coming.

It is considered far too acceptable to comment on women’s weight. Worse off, it is considered far too acceptable to commend thinness and criticize fatness. Although I never verbally criticized other women’s bodies the way I was conditioned to, I internally criticized my own. I am ashamed to say that when I dropped a few sizes and compliments abounded, I said “thank you.”

I no longer believe in dieting as healthy (neither physically nor mentally). I, diet-free, have a new system of beliefs: feminism and acceptance, the two joyously frolicking hand-in-hand. I believe in the power of my mind and body to take up space. It does not matter to me how much space I take up. Simply that I make an imprint on the face of equality is good enough for me. It does not matter if I’m a size 4 or a size 14. With feminism and acceptance, the imprint is still the same.

For some esoteric reason, people still comment on my weight. I do not blame them; they were taught to idealize one type of body and I provide a before, after, and yo-yoing picture for them. For similar societal pressures as why I lost weight, they comment on it. The difference between this year and last year is that this year, I do not say “thank you.”

Through feminism, I have become a size activist, reading the prose of other women speaking out against body discrimination and co-leading discussions on body ideals at my school’s feminism club. With the breadth of knowledge that I have gained from awareness and acceptance, I do not say “thank you,” but that alone unfortunately does not keep my friend’s mother from calling me “the incredible shrinking person” or my second-cousin-once-removed telling me I “look so much better after losing the weight.” Because I no longer deem these innocently demoralizing remarks worthy of my gratitude, I am left stuttering or awkwardly silent during the pause in which I’m expected to say “thank you.”

So what do I, a feminist size activist, do now? The comments keep coming, my body’s not changing, and the awkwardness pervades because I will not express my gratitude for recognition of conformity. How can I tell these people that my weight is not to be commented on (positively or negatively) when they are so innocently trying to compliment me? How do I spread this rant of size acceptance to people who just expect a “thank you” out of my loud mouth?

Thoughts on taking up space

May 22, 2009 § 6 Comments

A family friend of mine is a professor at Barnard College, and was telling me about their fantastic graduation ceremony the other day. Hillary Clinton was the commencement speaker (jealousy!); a few students presented speeches as well.

Sarah Nager, the winner of a speaking competition, gave the “Academic Reflections” address, in which she drew parallels between the amount of space women are allowed to take up literally (on the subway) and figuratively (in leadership roles and in society at large). She praised Barnard as an institution that “does not limit the amount of space women take up.”

Nager’s speech directly addresses a double standard that I – and many other feminists – think about a lot. Quite simply, guys are encouraged to be there, to make their presence known. Male body ideals – tall, chiseled, formidable – teach men to value strength and self-reliance. They should stand up straight, look people in the eye, shake hands firmly. They should be able to defend themselves.

Women, on the other hand, always need a man to protect them. We fall back on the scientific “proof” that men are physically stronger than women (which is true. Men, on average, can bench press more weight – but then again, most women can grow a child using only their bodies. Interesting what society deems important, isn’t it?), but in actuality these roles are socially constructed and implemented. The activities that girls are most often encouraged to pursue, like dance and gymnastics, are of course physically demanding, but they are cloaked in an air of performance and superficiality. Girls should move their bodies not to become stronger or have fun, but because they’ll look pretty for an audience.

This idea goes farther than just physical activity. It extends to other spheres as well:

  • Body odor: Deodorant marketed to men often has a strong, “spicy” scent, while women’s deodorant is mild and meant to be concealed.
  • Body fluids: Semen is socially acknowledged and talked about casually. Vaginal fluids and menstrual blood, on the other hand, are supposed to be wiped up as fast as possible and kept hidden from the world.
  • Posture: In my experience, strikingly tall men carry themselves with pride and confidence, whereas similar women tend to slouch.

How can we show girls – and perhaps more importantly, show ourselves – that taking up space is not only okay, it is a vital part of maintaining our physical presence and autonomy? What do y’all do to assert your physical, and consequently intellectual, selves?

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