Media images vs girl talk

No doubt you've seen the Dove 'Onslaught' video on YouTube or some other blog (and read the comments about Unilever, which owns the Dove brand, being hypocritical in the messages it sends out), but today I was checking out the Bust magazine website, on which the comments went nuts over the Dove clip, and it prompted me to think:

Which media images had the most effect on my perception of beauty and femininity growing up and are my memories of them positive or negative?

A list of movies, models, film clips and magazine shoots ran through my head (in no specific order)...

- She's Out of Control, the 1989 movie about a 15-year-old girl (Katie) who gets a makeover (braces are removed, glasses are replaced with contact, new clothes are bought) and becomes the most popular girl in town – I distinctly remember the opening scene where Katie is madly exercising in her bedroom listening to crazy 80s music on her headphones.
- Tanned, tall, blonde surfer girls in ads for Billabong and Rip Curl.
- Krissy and Niki Taylor in my Dolly and Girlfriend magazines. Blonde, tall, toned, smiley, lush-lipped, big white teeth – they were perfection personified (till Krissy passed away that is).
- Alicia Silverstone in Clueless.
- A bikini shoot in either Dolly or Girlfriend magazine where the model was pictured sitting under a palm tree. I distinctly remember her long, curly brown hair, light tan, ample boobs and the curves of her hips – they were the most beautiful curves I'd ever seen. I wanted curves!
- Pamela Anderson and Yasmine Bleeth in Baywatch – how 'bout them curves!
- Mariah Carey dancing amongst the daises in tiny denim shorts and pigtails in the
"Dreamlover" film clip (Jessica Simpson, eat your heart out).
- The supermodels, in all their (relatively) full-bodied, catwalking glory: Helena, Naomi, Cindy, Linda, Christy...
- Linda Kozlowski in Crocodile Dundee.
- Christina Applegate in Don't Tell Mum the Babysitter's Dead.
- Letitia Casta in ads for Guess? jeans.
- a very young Katherine Heigl in My Father the Hero playing Gerard Depardieu's daughter (can you believe that was her?)

Mostly these girls had curves and smiles on their faces – and no police records. They were healthy-beautiful, not emaciated-skinny. They made me want to look like a woman, not a 10-year-old. And I still got messed up about food!

Seventeen magazine is the latest to jump on the love-your-body bandwagon (arguably started by Mia Freedman way back in the 90s – '97, I believe, as this year Cosmo celebrates 10 years of 'Body Love'), launching a campaign with Dove called "Body Peace Project", which is designed to help girls appreciate their shapes and "stop stressing over the beauty industry's preferred standards."

As a writer for a teen mag who's spent a good deal of time talking up 'Self Respect', I find myself at a crossroads. There is an obesity epidemic in this country, while around 2 per cent of women are suffering eating disorders. To what extent should teen and tween girls be made aware of how to maintain a healthy weight and to what extent should they be told to love their bodies just the way they are? What is the happy medium?

When I packed on the puppy fat aged 15/16, after ditching ballet class for boozey parties and Maccas meals, the only people who really mentioned the weight gain were an aunt (who poked my stomach), a ballet mistress (typical!) and my mum (something about looking "stocky" as a tried on bikinis). But when I lost the weight in my final year of school (I can't remember if I was on a diet, per se), all the girls at school came out and said how great I looked, which left me thinking, "Thanks, I didn't realise I looked so crap before!" In my head, weight loss then became associated with girl-approval. I don't remember any specific media images that affected me as much as comments made by those around me.

On some magazines, this high-school like culture of complimenting women on their weight loss is rife. A colleague told me today that on one women's mag, "You look so ano!" is one of the highest compliments one can be paid. A couple of years ago, the same could be said of the magazine I work on (compliments always focused on how thin you were looking – and self-deprecation verbalised in terms of how fat you were feeling was common) but 12 months ago we decided to practise what we preach by stamping out such body-talk in the office (which is not to say we don't talk obsessively about food; in a 'give me a slice of that cake!' way). This may sound a little Stepford Wives, but the office has become a really wonderful place to work, free from the scent of guilt and negativity. We still go crazy-stupid when someone shows up wearing a new Sass & Bide skirt or sporting a funky new fringe, but the image-related compliments aren't weight or body specific. Coz there's more to all of us than what the scales reflect. I wonder if the team at Seventeen will follow suit?

Comments on Dove, health education versus positive reinforcement via 'body love' concepts, the influence of media versus your immediate friends/family on your self-image, and girl culture that encourages weight loss, if you have the time/inkling. Thanks!

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. I'm making my way through Madison, UK Elle and Women's Health at the moment – expect reviews over the next few days.

P.P.S. Still can't believe that was the gorgeous Katherine Heigl who played the bitchy Nicole in My Father the Hero – must rent it out this weekend!


frangipani princess said...

i love the dove onslaught video. I first saw it on the gf website and it is so true. I'm in year seven and at the start of this year, the girls in my year ate whatever they wanted (hot dogs and vanilla slices for recess, another hot dog and chips for lunch) but i've noticed in this last term everyone seems to be 'dieting', canteen visits are out and everyones saying how 'fat' they are. These girls are 12 and 13! i think that the media is to blame for alot of this. Stick thin models are baisically screaming at us 'look like us or you won't be pretty'. It's depressing. Dolly's project beautiful and Gf's self respect campaigns are doing so much but unfortunately in this day and age, sometimes you're best just isn't good enough....
georgie xx

Anonymous said...

The entire Dove campaign makes me sick and incredibly angry every time I see it. Unilever, and Dove for that matter, don't give a damn if women feel good about themselves, as long as they continue to buy their product.
The only positive is that Dove is pointing out that there are so many negative images out there. But it just screams of hypocrisy. What disturbs me is that a lot of girls can't read between the lines and see that.