What is discrimination? Body Deja Vu

Recently, companies have been getting backlash from using thin models and retouching photos since they are creating an image that is unattainable for “normal” women. There is the other opinion that it is difficult to sell bikinis without having perfection on the page. We see this dichotomy in the articles about Doutzen Kroes getting retouched (1), and Nathalie Portman’s mascara ad being banned (2). Even the magazine in Germany that banned professional models is now reconsidering that decision because they found that Brigitte’s sales have plunged further (3). To some extent, I believe that if we are paying models inordinate amounts of money, that they should not be like the general population, they should be extraordinary.

At one point in time, the focus was on being plump and pale; now, the focus is on being thin and tan. Why are we discriminating against this “skinny” model population now? This is another devolution of what is beautiful to the dominant society. Israel has banned underweight models from being used in advertisements by going into the model’s medical records. Can anyone say “breach of privacy” (4). Besse Biber, the author who wrote Selling the Body Beautiful would be in support of legislation like this because companies are using advertisements to show you what you should be and not what you are. However, with more education on the topic women are becoming smart to advertising tricks and avoiding the trap. Instead of people maintaining prejudice against fat girls, the prejudice has turned to those who are thin. We need to move on and educate ourselves in natural self-beauty and to rejoice in our differences fat or skinny.

(1) “Can you Tell the Difference Between Doutzen Kroes with and Without Retouching” by Hayley Phelan http://fashionista.com/2012/08/can-you-tell-the-difference-between-doutzen-kroes-with-and-without-retouching/

(2) “L’Oreal Gets Natalie Portman’s Dior Mascara Ad Banned by Tyler McCall


(3) “Magazine Considers Reversing Ban on Professional Models after Two Years” http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/sep/03/magazine-reversing-ban-professional-models

(4) “New Israeli Law bans Underweight Models in Adverts” http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG9154920/New-Israeli-law-bans-underweight-models-in-adverts.html

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4 Responses to What is discrimination? Body Deja Vu

  1. While I agree that media advertising contributes greatly to weight and body type discrimination, I argue against your belief that recent exhibitions of female bodies have created discrimination against thin bodies. Upon reading this blog post, I immediately thought of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and the German magazine Brigitte. I completely support the intentions of these ads, to show real women and real figures in place of the idealized unhealthy bodies that are constantly portrayed in advertising. However, I believe that such representations of true forms have in fact reinforced the distinction between fat and thin by recognizing and emphasizing the difference between the bodies we see in advertising and those we see in the real world. By highlighting the fact that these women are “real,” are we also not directly comparing them to the slim modelesque bodies and making more apparent that they are different than the bodies considered acceptable in advertising? This alienation is reminiscent of the subject/other relationship we read about in De Beauvoir. I believe that the slim, ideal body has been allocated the position of subject, that which is correct, acceptable, and desirable, while real bodies have been made the others, viewed as different and incorrect.
    I do not agree that this is the relationship that should exist. Unhealthy bodies should not be worshipped and glorified as they are, and we should be working towards educating women about their bodies to promote health and self-esteem. However, advertising works against us in this battle, and even the attempts to exhibit “true beauty” in the media, I believe, have in fact backlashed in making the distinction between “thin” and “fat” even more severe and tangible.

    De Beauvoir, Simone. “Introduction to the Second Sex.”

  2. maddyzaleski says:

    While I agree that discrimination has been created by magazines against skinny and tan women, I do not think that this is the real issue. I think that people have problems with, not only the fact that only one type of woman is portrayed in advertisements, but also that this one type is not healthy. Although there are women who are naturally very thin and still healthy, it is well known that models starve themselves and work hard to be skinnier than is healthy. There is backlash against magazines because they encourage models to look this way, despite the fact that these habits are unhealthy.
    In regards to your comment on women getting smart to advertisers tricks, I agree that this is true but I do not think that this has freed us from their effect. In “Killing Us Softly 4,” Jean Kilbourne mentions that modern consumers always state that ads have no effect on them. She notes that, despite our idea that ads do not effect us, we internalize everything we see without even realizing it. Even though we may know that ads have been retouched, we still see these women and wish that we looked that way. I think that the discrimination against thin women proves my point that ads can effect us despite our knowledge of their true intention. In my opinion, this discrimination arises from the jealousy that is constant among women. Ads teach women that they are competing with each other and create jealousy among us. When we see these beautiful, skinny, tan women who are glorified in ads, we wish to be like this and, when we are not, we become jealous of these “perfect” women and so this “discrimination” is born.

  3. jenniferl0 says:

    I completely agree that discriminating against any body type is wrong. Wann states in Fat Studies that fat serves as a free floating signifier to identify someone as inferior regardless of their weight (XV). Perhaps skinny is also being turned into a free floating signifier. This is happening because only a select few body types is being presented by the media as desirable and normal. Those who fit that description ostracize others who don’t to feel superior, and those who don’t fit the description fight back by demonizing those who do. To stop this, there has to be broad representation of body types in the media to make everyone feel equal. The problem is how to achieve this.
    You mentioned being plump and pale was the ideal look for women before, and it’s interesting to think about how this change to the skinny and tanned look came about. At some point the media must have started focusing on skinny and tanned women. But to gain consumers and/or audiences their target demographic would have to accept that look as the ideal look. However their target demographic must have been influenced by years of constant media bombardment that shows being pale and plump is the right look. Essentially the media and consumer are stuck in a cycle where only one type of body image is being reinforced. So to change the body images being represented is theoretically very difficult, but, of course, it has happened countless times before. This gives us hope that an equal representation of all body types in the media can also be achieved one day.
    Wann, Marilyn. “Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution”.

  4. alicial2012 says:

    I think that you are right to be concerned about any kind of discrimination when it comes to weight. Wann discusses in “Fat Studies” that “health is not a number, but rather a subjective experience with many influences”, and thus a healthy body could be “slim”, “fat”, or take any shape and appearance (Wann xiii). Therefore people who are “skinny” and healthy should be represented in advertising, but not to the exclusion of other healthy bodies; the inclusion of many body types in advertising would help switch the focus in advertising from selling certain bodies and images to the viewer to actually selling the product.

    Furthermore, I agree with your statement that we need to educate ourselves in natural self-beauty and rejoice in our different body types, but this is contrary to advertisement industry’s policies on retouching, which is to create “perfect” bodies. The problem with this is that it creates the idea that there even is a “perfect” body, and for those who know that even Natalie Portman and other stars “need” to be retouched by advertisers enforces that the “perfect” body is unattainable, even for them. In the advertising world (with the exception of a few companies such as the Dove campaign for real beauty), “natural” and “beautiful” are concepts which are completely separate and often contradictory. This makes sense because advertisers are trying to sell us creams, lotions, make-up, clothing, etc. all to “improve” us and “make” us look beautiful, not to allow us to accept ourselves as beautiful naturally. While we must remain practical about this aspect of advertising, I do think that advertisers can and should be encouraged to show beauty in all forms and including a range of body types rather than depicting “perfection” in the form of one distinct and often unattainable type of body.

    Wann, Marilyn. “Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution”.

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