In preparation for my interview with Jean Kilbourne, I watched the film, Killing Us Softly 4. Jean Kilbourne is a pioneer, who began her work in raising awareness about gender representation in advertising about four decades ago. In the present day, she remains a force for change in the media and advertising industries. You can read my interview with her on The 3% Conference blog here if you’d like to learn more about her story as a female leader and activist.
Killing Us Softly 4 opened my eyes to issues that both advertisers and consumers encounter in the industry.
As an advertiser, you are expected to sell products, and if your ads are not compelling enough, you get canned. Adhering to the tried-and-true sexism in ads is the simple, surefire way to get attention, clicks and purchases.
As a consumer, you are being programmed to crave certain ideals that the media and advertising industries are feeding you. Even when you believe you are immune to advertising, the images and messages infiltrate your subconscious mind. Whether or not you watch mainstream TV or choose to watch your favorite shows on Netflix, you are still affected by the messaging.
Is it a no-win situation for both parties?
Is it possible for advertisers to create effective ads that sell good products to consumers WITHOUT using the sexist—or even dehumanizing—advertisements that get consumers’ attention?
Can consumers simply ignore the media messages through brute force of will and monitor their childrens’ viewing habits to be sure they are NEVER influenced?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the conundrum.
Present day advertising is a successful game of dominos that has worked every time for decades, where consumers are fed messages by the media, which compels them to want an ideal and then to purchase products to (hopefully) achieve this ideal. If these media messages are changed, will consumers be happy with their lives and simply buy fewer products?
Is it worth the mental stress and anguish for women to still pursue beauty?
Though I disagree with the sexism and stereotyping of women, I find myself within a personal dichotomy. I still want to be as beautiful as I can be, even though I’ll never look like a supermodel weighing in at a voluptuous 133lb, densely muscled, with longer legs and an unreasonably short torso and stumpy neck. My husband thinks I’m gorgeous, while I also feel the eyes of all the males at the gym lingering a bit too long in my direction during my workouts. But, it’s never enough. I’m never lean enough. My abs are never popping as much as I’d like. This stubborn upside down smile on my stomach from my pregnancy 14 months ago is still apparent. I’ll never get down to the low 100’s again. That fucks with my mind. (Excuse my language.)
I still spend hours daily thinking about beauty, comparing myself to other women and working on my body through fitness, beauty routines and deliberate self-care. I get sucked into Instagram hashtags, like #fitspo and #gymselfie, which brings on a torrent of emotions. Like me, most people only post their best shots and angles, which leads you to assume that they look like an “S” from every angle minus any bumps, rolls or jiggles.
Can I blame the way I feel on the media? Or, is it my own inner battle?
I think it’s both. Though I don’t have many female friends, the ones I do associate with outside my day job are other body-obsessed, fitness girls. They denigrate their bodies daily, analyzing every inch of their skin under harsh lighting and unforgiving mirrors. The media teaches us that this type of behavior may be extreme, but it’s okay. Heck, if we want to look like those twigs on TV, then obsession is a must.
On the other hand, it’s my own battle. I allow certain messages from the media into my psyche to fester because I like the way it feels. I purposefully seek out images to “inspire” me to pursue my best body. When I’m obsessing, I feel alive, like there’s still more in life that I want to achieve. When I’m competing with past images of my body, I get a sense of accomplishment for how far my body’s come since 2008 when I began weight training. It’s all a game.
How do I shield my stepdaughter and daughter from adopting a similar mindset?
It’s too late for my 12-year-old stepdaughter. She’s already experiencing the effects of peer pressure and her Disney heroines to fit a certain ideal. We’ve had several talks about it, and I do not consider myself an ideal role model for body image based on my history. For her own well being, my husband and I chose to get her a counselor to talk to before she hits the harsh teenage years. This is already doing wonders for her, and I’d recommend it to any other parents out there with tweens and teens showing signs of body image issues.
For my 1-year-old daughter, I think there’s still time for me to work through my body image issues before she is old enough to feel self-conscious for the first time. At age 28, I am more conscious of the messages and stereotypes that are pushed onto girls. Female empowerment is a value I hope to instill in her, but it’s got to start with me.
What about you? As a parent, a leader or influential in a young person’s life, how do you combat the messages in the media? I’d be interested to hear your stories, as I am currently in the midst of researching this theme for my next novel. Shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me here.