media

Photoshop: A Downloadable Public Health Crisis?

 

There’s a new dystopian sci-fi event coming soon to screens near you—and no, I’m not talking about The Hunger Games. I’m calling it Photoshop: The Final Frontier. And, unfortunately, it’s taken the leap from speculation to reality.

For something that comes standard in an expansive set of computer utilities, Photoshop (when used with reckless and patriarchal abandon) has been proven to have negative social effects on the very audiences it’s targeting as potential consumers. Among these, as a very partial list…

  • Artificially slimmed-down bodies are impossible without the magic of a cursor, but these bodies are placed in women’s health and fitness magazines (okay, Women’s Health and Fitness magazines) and advertised as the totally obtainable “after” image. We go to more and more drastic lengths to obtain these fantasy results, crash dieting or engaging in unhealthily intense exercise regimens. Which, as we know from research into orthorexia, exercise bulimia, crash dieting, and the fact that diets don’t work, is wildly detrimental to health, whatever the magazine covers say.

So if studies, facts, statistics, and general common sense all tell us that Photoshopping our bodies into vaguely alien-looking plastic-people is a generally terrible idea, why is it standard business practice for the advertising industry? Because… well, not to get too Econ 101 on you, but because capitalism.

You know, capitalism? That handy economic system where profit is driven by a free-market economy in which whatever sells can be distributed at incredible prices to support the accumulation of wealth?

Here’s the thing: in our world, shame sells. Body hate sells. The diet industry (weight loss plans, pills, supplements, shakes, surgeries, and all the rest) sells, and sells, and sells, to the tune of $60 billion every year. Yup, every year.

Wonder why you feel worse about yourself after looking at endless images of tall, thin, white, symmetrical, pore-less models? Then notice, every time you open your browser or turn on the TV, the promo for the latest root/flower/seed/unicorn blood that melts fat like candle wax. Bam. That’s the one-two punch.

This isn’t to say that all advertisers are deliberately driving a Photoshop-sized hole through our self-esteem for profit. There’s our screwed-up, one-dimensional, stretched-to-the-breaking-point beauty standards to consider, too. Advertising firms are made up of humans, and it’s hard to find a human completely unaffected by the social pressure to slim down and shut up. (And be five foot nine, able-bodied, and white. You know, if possible.)

I’m not blaming any one company, firm, or person for this phenomenon. We aren’t responsible for how we’ve been socialized, just like we aren’t responsible for certain levels of cultural privilege we may or may not be born with. But, just like with privilege, we are responsible for the impact of our actions, and of our inaction. Faced with a sociocultural monster like this one, it’s that inaction that’s most destructive.

So what can we do to fight inaction with activism? A few suggestions to get you started…

1. Understand When a Product Invents the Flaw It Fixes

Show of hands: how many of us even knew what our pores were before those commercials convincing us we could shrink them with expensive creams (and Photoshop, to hide the fact that said creams invariably do nothing)? Same goes for forehead wrinkles, vaginoplasty (yes, really), or whatever can be the hell wrong with our underarms now.

Women make 85% of all consumer purchases in the US. However gender stereotypes make you feel about that, it’s a fact. If we decide we don’t want, need, or even have the ability to look like Photoshopped models, companies will have to adapt their business models to thrive in the new consumer landscape. And even if the change isn’t immediate on a cultural scale, it will be on the personal. I can’t begin to tell you how much more progress I’ve made on my writing when I decided time spent worrying about my uneven skin tone could be better spent on revisions of Chapter Twelve.

2. Take Political Action

Don’t let my Econ digression scare you; I’m not asking for a total dismantling of the capitalist system by tomorrow. (Though people always seem to say “dismantling the capitalist system” like it’s a bad thing…) But there are political actions you can take, in addition to voting with your dollar.

Sign the Truth In Ads petition, urging lawmakers to support H.R. 4341, the Truth In Advertising Act. This proposed legislation would require all advertisers to indicate when substantial, body-altering Photoshop has been used on an image. Substantial changes, mind. We’re talking shaving off ribcages or manufacturing thigh gaps, not smoothing flyaway hairs or shopping Benedict Cumberbatch’s Oscar photobomb into great moments of history. Think of it as a Surgeon General’s Warning for the body image of America.

Sign the petition and share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. Urge companies who claim to support “real beauty” to do the same. Modcloth is already on board, but companies like Dove and Aerie could stand to put their cursor where their mouth is. Put the pressure on: email, Facebook, Twitter, anything. Just make your voice heard.

3. Promote Media Literacy in the Children in Your Life

We grew up in this twisted, exploitative beauty system. We’re already pretty messed up by it. But there are kids right now who could maybe, possibly, learn a different way. So share every critical thinking muscle you’ve got.

Encourage others to call out Photoshop alterations when they see them. Give airtime to celebrities like Lorde and Lady Gaga who push back against our culture’s obsession with alteration.

Compliment young girls—and boys—and everyone—more about who they are and what they do than what they look like. Who wouldn’t want to be valued for what they had some control over, verses some genetic fluke?

Prompt kids to find the subliminal messages in ads. “Why do you think they’re selling this product?” “What is this ad really trying to say?” “Why do you think all models look like this?” Make media literacy as important as any other school subject, and kids will get better with practice.

—–

Photoshop: The Last Frontier might be approaching quickly, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit down and accept it. Stand up. Push back. Agitate for change. Because if we don’t, who will?

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Five Lessons the Media Can Learn from Welcome to Night Vale

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Warning: there be spoilers ahead. If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, you have been warned.

A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome… to Night Vale.

If an ambient snare / hi-hat / piano melody is playing in your head right now, then you’re already familiar with the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. If you’ve ever opened up a Tumblr dashboard, chances are good you’ve at least heard of the bi-monthly storytelling extravaganza by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink that, over the past two-odd years, has taken over the iTunes podcast charts, Comic-Cons, and my life. And if none of these things are true, what are you even doing with your time. Go listen to this podcast.

As a feminist writer and fiction junkie, I look for two things in my media: quality storytelling, and a basic adherence to the principles of equality, social justice, and representation. Now, it’s not necessary that something holds these principles up 100% of the time for me to fall in love with it. You can love media and still criticize it at the same time. Guys. I watched every episode of four seasons of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I know.

(Team Jacqueline. Anyway.)

But the beautiful thing about Night Vale is that it doesn’t ask me to compromise. Amid its gloriously self-referential, convoluted storylines that somehow intersect with the fulfilling eclectic fatality of a tweaked-out spider’s web (listeners: I’m torn between Nazar al-Mujaheed and Marcus Vanston’s coffee table as my favorite bits), Night Vale’s creators make efforts toward dismantling the kyriarchy on a bi-weekly basis. And guys, it is awesome.

I could make a list of hundreds of tips mainstream media could take from Night Vale Community Radio, but this is a blog post, not a manifesto. So, here are five awesome elements of the podcast that make my feminist heart sing.

1. LGBTQ Representation, Without the Drama

Night Vale’s central romance takes place between Cecil, the velvet-voiced radio host, and the perfectly imperfect Carlos, seemingly surnamed The Scientist. Now, that’s a step in and of itself, since gay relationships are often mined as campy comic relief (Will and Grace, though long off the air, comes immediately to mind) or angst-ridden existential crises and ultimate tragedy.

This isn’t to deny the weight and gravity LGBTQ folks face when coming out in our homophobic society. I’m not suggesting that discounting the serious struggles homophobia creates is the way to go.

But as a counterpoint: science fiction and storytelling are just that: fictionAnd Night Vale invents a world in which being gay is exactly as interesting as being straight, or being a five-headed dragon. (Okay, it’s a little less interesting than being a dragon.) Cecil and Carlos’ romance develops as a caring, nuanced, consensual, unbelievably adorable relationship between two adults for whom sexuality is just another aspect of their identity, not something that needs to be questioned or torn apart or defended to anyone.

My favorite example is what can, if you squint, be called Cecil’s coming-out. The character Old Woman Josie asks him why they don’t go bowling like they used to. Cecil replies,

“I don’t know. There has been a tiny underground army living under the bowling alley, and they’ve declared war on all of us. They injured my new boyfriend. Also, I have a new boyfriend. Listen, we should totally get the team back together and go to League Night again.”

That’s what I mean. There’s so much craziness going on in Night Vale that a radio host’s sexuality could seriously not be less of an issue. Looking at our own current events, there’s a lesson there for us to think about.

2. Saying No to Whitewashed Casting

I don’t know a single listener that doesn’t have a small crush on Carlos the Scientist, possibly because Cecil, our narrator, “fell in love instantly” the moment Carlos entered town. He fell in love with Carlos’ perfect eyes, his perfect teeth like a military cemetery, his perfect hair (especially his perfect hair). And Carlos, quite unequivocally, is hispanic. Take that, mainstream media’s tendency to whitewash sympathetic characters (cough cough Exodus: Gods and Kings).

As if this wasn’t already pretty awesome, there’s the casting of Carlos’ voice actor to take into account. To begin with, Carlos was voiced by co-creator Jeffrey Cranor. But following that, latino actor Dylan Marron was recast into the role. Why? In Cranor’s words,

“It sucks that there’s a white straight male (me), playing a gay man of color (Carlos).”

And Dylan Marron is fabulous. Let’s not forget that. And his hair, folks, actually is perfect.

3. WOC in Central, Awesome Roles

I talked about this recently: guys, fantasy and sci-fi requires you to invent a world from the ground up. If you’re putting dragons into it, what the hell is stopping you from making important, central, well-developed characters of color?

Oh. White privilege and social racism. That might be it.

Remember the controversy when Rue from The Hunger Games, despite being described as having “dark brown skin,” was cast as black? Proof that society has conditioned us to expect sympathetic characters to be white, regardless of what their physical descriptions read as.

Night Vale is a radio show, after all, so we rely on narration and our own imaginations, but Fink and Cranor make a deliberate point of specifying that certain characters cannot default to white. One of these, and by far a fan favorite, is the unbearably kick-ass Tamika Flynn.

Tamika Flynn is every English major’s spirit animal. Her weapons of choice are a slingshot and heavily notated copies of classic lit. She leads children from the summer reading program in a battle against an evil corporate bureaucracy. She’s a revolutionary mastermind who hides throwing stars in copies of Willa Cather. And have I mentioned she’s thirteen?

Have I also mentioned that she’s a woman of color, voiced by two voice actresses, Flor De Liz Perez and Symphony Sanders, who are also women of color?

Have I also mentioned that she’s amazing?

4. Women In Political Office and Positions of Power

All right, “positions of power” is a little vague, because Night Vale is run by a mysterious otherworldly force probably lurking in a canyon. But the fact remains that both mayors in the series, as well as one of the candidates during election season, are female. Just as with Cecil and Carlos’ relationship, no one in the series has any problem with this.

There’s no endless dwelling on Mayor Pamela Winchell’s choice of skirt or pantsuit. There’s no concern that she won’t be able to carry out her duties because her daughter had a baby and who wants a grandma for a mayor? Being female, as being of color or being gay or bi or gender-nonconforming or without a face, is simply a non-issue.

Another tip that our media could take from Pamela Winchell’s emergency press conferences. Report the issues, not the mayor’s cleavage.

5. Speaking Out Against Cultural Appropriation

If you’ve looked at an Urban Outfitters catalogue, been to or read about Coachella, or watched a Katy Perry music video recently, you’re pretty well aware with the concept of cultural appropriation: taking a phenomenon, belief, or cultural practice from a group of people to which you do not belong and taking it in a one-sided and non-mutual colonial-style transaction. For a really clear and valuable explanation of the difference between liking sushi and exploiting someone’s culture, I recommend this article from Everyday Feminism.

Night Vale is having none of this. We are introduced to the Apache Tracker, who is universally regarded as a “huge jerk” for walking around in a cartoonishly inaccurate Native American headdress and claiming to possess “Indian magicks.” It’s recognized by the whole town that he’s taken a symbol with great cultural importance and just tossed it on his head for the sake of insensitive, tone-deaf, and racist ass-hattery.

Another glorious allusion to this very issue came in an episode from just a few days ago (I was listening to it while going for a jog and fist-pumped a little bit on the sidewalk):

“[Pamela Winchell cracked her whip] like in that popular and heartwarming series of adventure movies about a wisecracking archaeologist who comically destroys countless important artifacts under the hilarious misapprehension that they belong in his museum rather than in the religious sites of the cultures that made them.”

And then on to a discussion of the dubious existence of angels. It takes artistry and writing skills to work political and social commentary into a show while still making it entertaining and making me laugh.

You know what it doesn’t take? “Indian Magicks.”

——

Night Vale listeners: what would you add to this list? Do you have any critiques or suggestions for areas of improvement in the podcast? I’d love to hear them if you do.

Stay tuned next for the sound of your own breathing, filtered through a lifetime of regret, indecision, and missed opportunities.

Good night, readers. Good night.

An Open Letter To Downton Abbey

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TRIGGER WARNING and SPOILER ALERT
 (season 4, episode 2)

Dear Downton Abbey,

First, let me make one thing very clear: I adore you. I’m coming from a place of love. My favorite bag for the longest time was my canvas tote screen-printed with “What is a weekend?” (I carried my books to the library in it on Saturday mornings.) I firmly believe that Dame Maggie Smith is a god in human form. And I’ve been shipping Sybil and Branson for longer than was reasonable, especially as I continue to do so long after Sybil’s death. So I’m not writing this out of spite, or any deep-seated dislike of English period dramas. (My friends and family can attest to this.)

No, what I’m trying to do is speak to you like I would any friend who has made a terrible, disappointing choice that caused me to seethe in anger for longer than ten minutes. Keeping aggression inside is not healthy or helpful. Consider this my constructive criticism.

Why, why, why did you have to end the second episode of your new season with a melodramatic, completely pointless, vicious and gratuitous rape scene?

No really, why. I want to hear your reason.

It certainly wasn’t to drive forward an existing storyline. The rapist, one Mr. Green, the valet of a passing houseguest, was completely phoned in for this episode. He appears out of nowhere. He doesn’t even get a first name as best as I can remember, and if there’s a less distinct name than “Mr. Green,” please let me know. He seems to have no other purpose other than to seduce Anna and then rape her when she refuses his advances. After which he promptly disappears into the night. He was created to fill the role of Visiting Rapist. So clearly, writing a rape scene for its own sake was your goal.

It also wasn’t to pick up a dragging storyline and spur things along. You have no shortage of drama. You have Edith and Gregson’s (slightly unrealistic, but I’ll go for it) divorce-clandestine-not-secret-romance, you have Lord Grantham’s total inability to cope with anything that happens around him (I could rant about his character too, but that’s not the point), you have Mrs. Crawley’s mourning and you have Thomas Barrow, an enigma unto himself. But none of these have the sensationalism factor of a rape. Sex sells, and violence sells, and when you bring them together you know you’re going to get people talking. There’s a reason I’m not writing a blog post about Branson’s class standing and existential crisis.

Although I would like to. Because that’s my favorite part of the whole show. #TeamBranson.

You might argue, and not without reason, that you’ve leaned towards the dramatic and the violent before. You’ve almost given Mrs. Hughes breast cancer, you’ve had Matthew crash his car into a tree (though really I’m told that was a casting issue with Dan Stevens, so I’ll let it slide), you’ve killed Sybil. You killed my Sybil. But I let that go, because you had narrative work to do there. You were able to humanize Mrs. Hughes in a way that might have been difficult otherwise, and to look into Edwardian and Georgian medical practices, which the dork in me liked. You were able to deal with the issues of primogeniture and patriarchy in the estate system while having Mary navigate the aftermath of Matthew’s death. You gave me this tragic and beautiful storyline with Tom Branson holding a baby he loves while trying to fit into a world that is not his. Go you. All these things are great.

What has Anna’s rape done for the story, except sensationalize the reality of sexual violence that happens to someone in the United States once every two minutes, or an estimated total of 237,868 people per year?  What has it done except force her pain and suffering and abuse into the limelight, glamorizing and dramatizing the very real pain of sexual assault and violence that an estimated 35% of women in the world have gone through?

Don’t tell me that you’re trying to raise awareness. The only possible constructive message to be taken from this scene is that rape is “a thing that happens.” Women are already very aware. 

You’re trying to get people to talk. You’re appealing to an audience you think you have that glories in violence and sex and rape and murder and torture and vulgarity and violence and nudity, because that’s what modern culture tells you people are into these days.

Here’s a hint: maybe that’s what people watch because that’s what they’re given.

I can’t even think of a show within the past five years that hasn’t featured murder, death, assault, or sexual violence of some kind. Some of these are dealt with tastefully, some of these are not. But this isn’t ancient Rome, and I don’t need to watch somebody be fed to the lions to be entertained.

No. Actually, I'm not.

No. Actually, I’m not.

I think it’s possible to make a show where the drama comes from the human interactions on-screen. And so far, Downton, you’ve done a great job with this. If you want to have cruelty and underhand manipulation, do it like you’ve been doing it with Thomas Barrow. He’s my secret second-favorite character, which I realize is weird, but you know why? Because he’s a villain and he does evil, seemingly purposeless things, but they’re not exploitative or sensationalized or gut-wrenchingly awful, and his motivations are there and waiting for me to parse them. I think of him as an Edmund figure from King Lear (please humor me, non-English-literature-people): I can’t justify anything he does, but I can see why he would behave that way. And it’s just soul-wrenching enough that I can sympathize with him, and I want things to work out for him in the end. Treat your villains as people and your victims as people, not as mindless rapists and plot devices. It’s just offensive to everyone involved.

So, Downton Abbey, the ball’s in your court. I realize that Season 4 is already done filming, and that it’s already aired in the UK, and that you’ve probably already set the script for Season 5. And I will continue cheering from the comfortable sidelines of #TeamBranson, but it’s my responsibility to hold the things I love accountable.

As Dame Maggie Smith would put it, if she had access to the internet: “I’m a media-literate feminist, Mary, I can be as contrary as I choose.”

All I’m saying: just think about it. It didn’t work.

Until next Downton Day,

-Allison

My End to the Jennifer Lawrence Debate – From So Many Heartbeats

Note: Hey there, everyone! This week’s post is, in fact, not from me at all, but a cross-post from Grace over at So Many Heartbeats, a really lovely person starting a really lovely body positivity and feminist blog. Here’s a quick taste of things to come over there, and definitely check out her site when you get the chance! I’ll be back with my own blogging later on, particularly when the madness that is working two jobs and writing a senior university honors thesis calms down just a tiny bit.


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There has been a lot of buzz lately of whether or not actress Jennifer Lawrence is a body-positivity heroine or its antithesis. Oddly enough, both sides of this argument cite the same interviews and YouTube videos but interpret them very differently. So, because I created this blog so I could weigh in on topics just like these, here I go.

On one side, J-Law lovers boast about how Jennifer Lawrence is championing over the cruelty that is Photoshop and Hollywood, saying things like she would never lose weight for a role and that society’s ideals for women’s bodies are harmful and unattainable. She talks about keeping her adolescent audience in mind when preparing for her role as Katniss in The Hunger Games, saying she wanted Katniss to be a strong female role model for young girls, instead of another waif of a woman whose main goal is to “get the guy” at the end of the film.

Cool. I’m all about women speaking out and standing up for their bodies regardless of how they look. I’m all about questioning ideals. I’m all about strong female protagonists in films that pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.

But as soon as Jennifer Lawrence’s fans flooded Tumblr in her honor, a whole stream of bloggers emerged saying, “Hold up, your fave is problematic.” Like I did with the first side of the argument, I read their evidence with an open and curious mind. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence did say a pretty trans-phobic statement during an interview with Ellen DeGeneres. Yes, she did kind of say that eating disorders are “dumb” rather than serious mental illnesses (which, I admit, really hurt me personally. We didn’t choose to have disordered eating, and we certainly should not be blamed or labeled as “dumb” for our struggles). Yes, Jennifer Lawrence is still an attractive, white woman. Despite not being the Hollywood size 0, she still generally fits into a mold of being presentable to society.

This is where my opinion of Jennifer Lawrence starts to deviate from this line of thinking. The “What does she know about being a fat and unattractive woman in America?” is thin-shaming and has no role in my body positive movement.Thin-shaming and fat-shaming are two sides of the same coin; both objectify women and deem them incapable of cultivating their own opinions and having their own independent experiences regardless of how they look. There’s actually no difference is saying that Jennifer Lawrence can’t talk about body acceptance because she’s not a size 16 and saying that Melissa McCarthy can’t talk about her favorite vegetable stew because she is. [Note: I have absolutely no idea what size Melissa McCarthy is, nor do I care.] You see? Body-shaming is body-shaming, objectification is objectification. Reducing women to their outward appearances and denying the fact that they– gasp!— are capable of producing independent thought contributes to the continued oppression of women worldwide.

So now, I’m throwing my own argument into the mix. Can we stop idealizing Jennifer Lawrence into being a perfect role model? Can we let go of the idea that “perfect” even exists? Can we stop thin-shaming her into submission by nitpicking every word that comes out of her mouth? Can we recognize that she is just another human being who is brave enough to share her unpopular opinions, but will also make some insensitive comments sometimes, as we all inevitably do? Can we all just relax about Jennifer Lawrence?

6 Deadly Sins of Body Policing and Negativity

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Sometimes, society is exhausting.

The constant pressure placed on our bodies day in and day out can make you never want to leave your bed, where at least your pillow understands that your body is nobody’s business but your own.

But much as I’d like to, I can’t stay in bed for my entire life and listen to body negativity pitter-patter against the roof like a particularly noxious rainstorm. So forgive this somewhat-ranty list of the top six things that irritate me about the way body politics appear in the world and the media today.

If I miss something that really grinds your gears, let me know in the comments! This list could go on forever, but I only have so much emotional energy to expend at one time.

1. The phrase “plus size.”

Plus what? Plus society’s preconceived notion of what size is acceptable for a woman? Here’s my general thought on the matter: “plus” means positive, as in “not a negative number.” We are all plus-sizes if we take up any space at all in the world. So please stop dividing clothing into “acceptable” and “plus-acceptable.” If you have to make clothing sized by numbers, go ahead and do that. Just keep your value judgments out of it.

2. Diet supplement and weight-loss ads everywhere.

facebookadspic1I’ve made a game of it every time an ad telling me I can LOSE SEVEN INCHES IN TWO WEEKS WITH THIS ONE EASY PILL, NO DIET OR EXERCISE REQUIRED!! (For some reason or other, they do seem to enjoy caps lock…) I like to block them, and then when Facebook politely asks me why, explain that they are “against my beliefs.” Which they are. I’d just like to see the article my friend posted on my wall about the French kids who took a llama on the tram. I don’t want to be bombarded with the multi-billion-dollar diet industry. Facebook doesn’t know my body. And quite frankly, it’s none of its business.

(For those who are interested, the llama on the tram is real. Click here.)

3. Tabloids like these:

mary-kate-olsen-119waity1originalFirst off, tabloid reporters have zero way of knowing whether or not one of these celebrities is or is not struggling with an eating disorder. That’s not something that you can tell by picking them out on the street. Eating disorders are mental illnesses (I’ve discussed this before…), not diet plans. And making it something you have to continuously deny only adds to the shame. The last thing we need is celebrities having to repeatedly assert “I’M NOT ANOREXIC!”, as this only heightens the stigma on an already dangerous disease.

And let’s not even talk about those little arrows on the left image, pointing out Mary-Kate’s “stick thin legs!” Because that’s so helpful, Star.

4. Tabloids like these:

originalenq012207vh41 xkim-kardashian-in-touch-cover.jpg.pagespeed.ic.gEmlI1yY_5No. No no no no no no. Other people’s bodies are literally none of your business. Cellulite is not like Sugar Ray Leonard, and you cannot “lose a fight with it.” Cher “packs on 26 pounds,” and that’s entirely her business. Please stop making other people’s body size news.

You want to show me “eight pages of shocking new photos”? How about some pictures of the cleanup efforts around Hurricane Sandy, or the continuing conflict in Syria. Not Britney Spears’ thighs. The only person to whom Britney Spears’ thighs are important is Britney Spears. And I doubt she’s reading this magazine to find out what they look like.

5. Fat-Shaming Week

I didn’t make this up. This is actually a thing. October 7-11 was apparently hailed by some self-absorbed douche canoes on Twitter as Fat Shaming Week, otherwise known as five days of the year when people with nothing better to do provide unsolicited, ineffective, rude, and cruel advice to anonymous strangers whose weight they determined was unsatisfactory. Here is part of their actual mission statement:

Mocking someone for lazy and slothful behavior is one of the best ways to motivate them to change and appear more pleasing before our presence… Hurting people’s feelings is the quickest way to get them to change… We have decided as a group that fat shaming is essential in creating a society of thin, beautiful women who are ashamed for being ugly. Let the fat shaming begin!

I’m actually so angry about this that I want to throw my computer across the room and let out a war cry. I won’t do that, because 1. my laptop is very expensive, and I’m unemployed, and 2. I’m in a public library and that would be frowned upon. But seriously? This is the world I live in?

I don’t think I actually need to say what’s wrong with this, but let’s do it briefly anyway.

First: THEY ARE WRONG. Fat-shaming isn’t even effective. Studies have shown this. (Yes, there were studies on this. I’m linking only a few sources that confirm it. Tiger Beatdown puts it best, I think: “Guess What? Shaming People for Being Fat Doesn’t Magically Make them Thin!)

Second: Some people still seem to be laboring under the delusion that women are here to “appear more pleasing before men’s presence.” Excuse me while I laugh so hard that I actually vomit up a lung.

Third: “Lazy and slothful behavior” are not direct causes for someone’s body type. Fat does not equal unhealthy. Thin does not equal healthy. Neither of these equal beautiful. Besides failing basic human decency, it appears that someone also failed science.

Moving on, before I actually get so angry that I break something expensive…

6. Photoshop.

If you haven’t seen the 37-second video that explains why Photoshop gives us an unrealistic view of what the actual human body is supposed to look like, I recommend you click on this link and check it out. You can spare 37 seconds to see in glittering detail how fashion magazines and advertisements are airbrushing us out of existence.

If you want to sell us clothing and accessories, please show us how it would really look on an actual human’s body, not on some computer-generated cyborg that you whipped up in your laboratory. I don’t want to see what pants will look like on someone made of toothpicks and papier-mâché, I want to know what they would look like on me. Because unless I’m very much mistaken, the average consumer is, in fact, human.

The only plus side of Photoshop in the fashion and advertising industry? The fails. Photoshop fails make my day.

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I could go on for days and days and days, but as I mentioned earlier, that would only result in me breaking things. Is it possible to live in a society where women’s bodies aren’t placed on the dissecting table and picked apart by strangers and CEO’s? Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But I live in eternal hope that someday I will turn on my computer, switch on the TV, and flip through a magazine without once feeling the need to flip a table.

Until then…

Excuses, Excuses – Maria Kang and Body Positivity

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What’s my excuse? Didn’t know I needed one.

Over the last few days, the above image has circulated around the Internet with the fervor usually reserved for cats on robot vacuums or whatever Miley Cyrus is up to now. Featuring a thin and toned mother of three posing in a sports bra and matching panties around her three children, aged 8 months to 3 years, this picture of Maria Kang has apparently succeeded in pitting half the virtual world against the other.

On one side, we have the supporters: “Good for you! This inspires me to lose the baby weight and get in the best shape of my life! Don’t let the haters get you down!”

And then the other side. Mine.

Now, let’s be clear. I support Ms. Kang’s right to take care of herself in whatever way she sees fit. (No pun intended.) If her lifestyle involves regular workout sessions, “clean” eating, and rigorous self-discipline, and that makes her healthy and feel good both physically and mentally, then more power to her. No body positive movement that I support will shame people for any reason, whether they are slim, full-figured, athletic, prefer a marathon of Breaking Bad to a workout, or any combination of the four.

Moreover, I do not and will not support body shaming of this woman. My body positive movement will not stand for the shame and criticism of this woman’s body shape for any reason. And neither should yours. No calling her out for being “a bad mother” or “self-obsessed” or any of those things. Positivity is part of the movement for a reason.

That said, though.

The message conveyed through this picture is not one of supporting a healthy lifestyle through a balanced diet and regular exercise. The message here is work hard enough, and you can look like this.

If Ms. Kang provided a picture of her three kids sitting down with her to a balanced meal full of healthy whole grains and vegetables, or the three of them partaking in mommy-and-me aerobics or whatever her workout routine actually is, I would be completely behind this message. You absolutely can take good care of your body regardless of your family size (though for some it might be more difficult because of economic circumstances, work schedules, physical disability, etc). Advocating health for everybody is totally in line with body positivity. Hey, if we want to love our bodies, shouldn’t we take care of them?

Kang’s apology, though, doesn’t address the real problem that I think should be mentioned about this image: it equates health with body size and sexual attractiveness, which is simply not true.

You can be thin and fit, just as you can be fat and fit. The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement has been trying to spread this message, but apparently it has not caught on as well as it should. Looking good in a sports bra (and hey, who’s to say that her way of looking good is the only way?) does not mean that you can run a marathon, or that you are getting an adequate amount of nutrients, or that all your muscles and organs are in tip-top working order. They can do that just as well at a higher weight, or a different body shape.

If Maria Kang is healthy and happy in her current body, more power to her. But I don’t need an “excuse” not to look like she does. Why? Because even though I look different, even though my abs will never do whatever thing hers are doing and my thighs have some more give to them, I am perfectly capable of being healthy in this body. Just as you’re perfectly capable of being healthy in yours.

Now, I’m all for free speech and first amendment rights. I’m not saying that Kang should take the image down, or that she should stop anything she’s doing. I’m just asking that we think critically about the social movements that lead us to believe that health equals thinness and “conventional attractiveness.” (The only way I can express my disdain for this concept is through quotation marks, because I don’t know how to punctuate an eye-roll.) Consider that athletes, and all women for that matter, come in different shapes and sizes, and one shouldn’t be more valued than another.

What’s my excuse for not looking like Maria Kang?

I look like me.