Friday, July 30, 2010

Drawing Strength From Going Against the "Beauty Grain"

Man, I'm exhausted. My inner-feminist got a good workout this week (even if I didn’t).

First it was watching an incredibly stereotypical episode of Disaster Date (see Cram another feminist stereotype in there, why don't you?), then it was listening to a bitter Youtubian trying to tell me why "women have it so easy in life," and then kindly reminding him why that wasn’t necessarily true. And now, go figure, a Facebook comment has got my vigilante juices flowing.

You see, I was making my usual rounds on Facebook (scrolling down the homepage to see if anything juicy was going on) when I noticed one of my classmates talking about possibly getting her hair cut. Now don't get me wrong, her hair is absolutely gorgeous - long, shiny, and black, the kind wig-makers would kill for - but I'm a huge fan of short cuts (no pun intended). Naturally, I chimed in with a good pat on the back and “atta girl,” but it wasn’t long before a couple of boys jumped in and disagreed, saying short hair most certainly wouldn’t be cute.

Miffed, I asked: "What's wrong with short hair?"

Nothing, apparently. Except the girl in question "wouldn't look as cute" with it.

"Well, it's not your decision to make!” . . . is what I would’ve said, if I weren’t such a civil person. (Facebook is no place for a fight. Back alleys are so much better . . .)

But seriously, this isn't a stand-alone case. Whenever a girl talks about getting her hair cut on Facebook (yeah, teens have too much time on their hands), it's always girls who show support, and guys who seem to have massive coronaries. I know it's a biological fact that men are attracted to women with long hair (you know, because it signifies "youth" and "fertility," stuff 16-year-olds really care about), but it's the 21st century for cryin' out loud! If we want to get our hair cut short - or do anything that contradicts outdated standards of beauty - what's stopping us?

In fact (and yes, this is going to sound really cheesy), I'm starting to realize the power one can draw from going against the grain. The beauty grain, that is.

For starters, my hair is short. Not a big deal, right? But you're talking to a girl who only had about three trips to Super Cuts in her entire childhood, and who had waist-length hair until the 10th grade. But I've never felt more alive since adopting a short do, and I couldn't care less what type of hair boys prefer. Because short hair - that I can tease mercilessly, that hardly needs brushing, and that creates the most awesome bed-head ever - makes me feel light, free, confident, and fierce.

Something else I've taken for granted until recently is natural beauty. I’ve always seen it in others, but when it comes to myself I’ve always felt the need to hide my imperfections (especially at school) with healthy doses of foundation and mascara. I can even remember the one time I didn't wear makeup to school (because I was so gosh-darned tired), and I ended up feeling self-conscious all day. It sucked big time.

But these days, seeing as I can’t get my license for another six months and my parents both work, I’ve been stuck at home all summer. In other words: no makeup.

Have you ever really looked at yourself in the mirror? I mean really looked?

Astrid Alaud posed a similar question when she asked if we’ve ever actually “tasted” a carrot. Not just ate it, but tasted it. She suggested that “we can’t taste the beauty and energy of the earth in a Twinkie,” and similarly, I think there’s no better time to marvel at the beauty of humanity as when we’re completely "natural."

I know (now) that when I look in the mirror it doesn’t matter whether my eyelashes are long and luscious or straight and stubby, if my complexion is perfectly tanned or perfectly pink, or if my blemishes are covered or just there. It really doesn’t matter. But when I take a minute to actually study myself, feel my face in my hands, or jack it up into an uninhibited smile, I see a girl who’s funny, and dorky, and smart, and corny, and above all passionate about a lot of things. And that’s when I think I know . . . scratch that, that's when I know what magazines are missing these days. Not just me, but us. The real us.

All I’m saying is: don’t let other people tell you how to live your life. Don’t shy away from getting your hair cut (or try to grow it out!) just because you think boys will like it, and don’t wear makeup because that’s what girls are “supposed” to do. Glam yourself up as much (or as little) as you want because it makes you happy, because it makes you confident, and because it makes you want to take on the world. Look in the mirror - really look - and be proud to see what you see.

Despite what Dallas Cowboy cheerleader and/or Hollister employee recruiters would have you believe, there is no single definition of “beauty.” So let's make up our own rules, okay?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cram another feminist stereotype in there, why don't you?

This is funny. No, really, you're going to laugh. You see, I was all geared up to write an article about "female role models in popular culture" when a chance encounter gave me some new material - and pissed off energy - to work with. It's a little after 11:00 AM on a lazy summer Tuesday, and with nothing better to do (that's a lie), I was flipping through the Tube when MTV's Disaster Date caught my attention. Funny how things work out.

If you're not familiar with the show's premise (as if the title isn't descriptive enough), evil people set up their BFFs on fake dates with actors who are programmed to behave as sloppily, loudly, rudely, [insert negative adjective here] as possible. Basically, they taper their act according to what their "victim" despises the most. So if Jimmy hates a messy eater, you can bet his date is going to be shoving nachos down her throat. Or if Suzy hates nerds, her date is going to be a Level 27 Dragonlord who spends his spare time collecting Pokemon cards. In other words, stereotypes to the max.

Well, meet our latest Disaster Date victim, Antoine: a "player" who hates "girls with hairy legs, girls who boss him around, and most of all, feminists."

That's okay, take a minute. Just let it all sink in.

Now if you're not sufficiently pissed, meet Antoine's date Crystal, a "strict feminist who's gonna show Antoine why women are the superior gender."

Who knew that in a five-minute span MTV could cram every feminist stereotype into one neat little package? From the misconception that feminists have hairy legs to the plain fact that they're "whiny bitches" who make men their whipping boys, Crystal portrays it all with the elegance of a B-movie actress. Actually, that's being generous.

But the sad part about this whole thing isn't that we're actually spending chunks of our lives watching crap like Disaster Date (and other MTV treasures like The Real World or The Hills), these "dates" are supposed to be a window to the types of people we, as a society, disapprove of. We hate slobs, people who chew with their mouths open, and public burpers. We hate over-emotional, whiny girls and dead-beat guys, over-bearing perfectionists and religious fanatics. And apparently, we also hate feminists.

It just makes me so angry. Popular culture does a lot to dictate how people view certain issues, and when shows like these make it seem like "hip, young people dislike feminists," how do you think the Average Joe (or Jane) - who doesn't know a single thing about feminist ideology - is going to react? Shame on you, MTV.

But you're not the only culprit.

The general consensus in the media seems to be the "I'm not a feminist, but" theory. And if it's not that, it's the "everybody hates feminists" message that I addressed before. I mean, thinking back I've never really heard a television character come right out and say they were a feminist. Sure, there are a few strong female characters that we can respect (see my article TV Women Who Break the Mold), but do we ever hear the f-word? Nooooooo . . .

Well, let's do something. Even if it's a little step, even if it seems totally pointless, it's going to make me (and hopefully you) feel a whole heckuvalot better. Here's the link to the episode of Disaster Date we've been talking about. There's a comment box on the bottom of the page. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? I say we tell MTV exactly how we feel about their episode.

Update (7.28.2010): Check out this awesome comment from Rach, a fellow blogger! She really busted MTV in the you-know-what!
Feminists are all kinds of people--men, women, gay, lesbian, bi, straight,..okay you get the idea. We're all different! I don't understand why feminists have to be stereotyped as man-hating, non-shaving, "reverse sexist", possibly lesbian women. While there are a few radical feminists who DO exhibit these traits, they're in the minority. Feminism isn't about hating men or wanting women to be the "dominant sex"; feminism is about wanting equal rights for everyone, everywhere. By producing this episode, MTV is perpetuating an unfair stereotype attached to a very important movement. In fact, this whole show is about mocking those who do not fit society's expectations...seriously, can't we all just grow up?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Are anti-rape condoms "empowering"?

Okay, let's get serious here. Most of my posts are chock-full of fluff, bad puns, and sorry attempts at humor, but this post doesn't warrant any of my usual silliness. I recently came across something disturbing: it's called Rape-aXe, the anti-rape condom. The basic idea is that women can insert this "device" like a tampon and if she were to be, you know, violated, little barbs lining the condom would grab onto the perpetrator's you-know-what and cause mild discomfort. But since the only way to get rid of the thing is to have it surgically-removed, it would be incredibly easy to convict them.

This makes me uncomfortable on several levels, and I'll let you know why. First of all, I checked out Rape-aXe's
official website and was less than impressed. I find it hard to take any product seriously when its (should-be professional) website is littered with grammar and spelling mistakes:

The Rape-aXe anti rape condom was developed by a South African woman ,Sonnet Ehlers, after witnessing first hand the horrific aftermath of an sexual assault. She felt that something had to be done to stop this growing thread against woman. and start to work on the anti rape condom the Rape-aXe. The first prototype was launched on 31 August 2005, at Kleinmond, Cape Province, South Africa.
How are women supposed to respect and trust a product when its major marketing campaign seems to have been written by an 8-year-old? Not only is the site poorly written, it doesn't even make a strong case why Rape-aXe would be useful:

One of the major benefits of the Rape-aXe system is the fact that it helps in the prevention of the rape victim contracting an STD like HIV. An additional benefit of the anti rape condom is the fact that it helps in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape.
Correct my tenth-grade Health class education if it's wrong, but don't all condoms reduce the risk of unwanted STDs and pregnancies? Adding little, junk-grabbing "teeth" to the equation seems a little sadistic. Of course, that's not to say rape itself isn't an incredibly horrific and sadistic act.

I just can't help but think: what woman on the face of this earth would want to walk around wearing this thing? It's not as if she would have time to slip it in if (Heaven forbid) she were to be sexually assaulted. Does that mean she'd have to wear it all day, every day for it to be effective? What does that say about the condition of our world if women are seen as constant targets for rape? Has our society crumbled so much that we have to live in constant fear of being taken advantage of?

I think Victoria Kajja, a fellow for the Ugandan Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, hit the nail on the head:

The fears surrounding the victim, the act of wearing the condom in anticipation of being assaulted all represent enslavement that no woman should be subjected to.
And back to a point I addressed in my essay Should men and women be treated equally?, I don't understand why so much time, energy, and money has been invested to make sure women protect themselves when a considerably less amount of time has been spent educating young people about the seriousness of sexual harrassment and abuse in the first place. It's like the situation with Middle Eastern women being forced to conceal themselves from head to toe because "men can't control themselves." Are we forced to live in fear because of the same reason? Not only is that the lamest excuse on the planet, it's a horrible insult to the men in our lives.

In short, I don't support Rape-aXe. It seems like a mediocre product that will never gain widespread acceptance. No woman - scratch that, no person - deserves to be violated or sexually abused, that much is certain. But in the case of this product, no woman deserves to walk around with a ticking time-bomb in her body, constantly tortured by the idea that she could be violated at any moment. What kind of life is that?

Want to read more? Check out this CNN article: "South African doctor invents female condoms with 'teeth' to fight rape."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Am I the only one who's completely freaked out by child beauty pageants?

I have to ask this question: am I the only one who's completely freaked out by child beauty pageants? I mean, whenever I'm flipping through our 900 channels (887 of which are useless) and happen across the show Toddlers & Tiaras, I can't help but watch it. I just sit there with this overall dumb look on my face because I am both mesmerized and horrified by these strange, nightmare-like creatures that are some people's idea of "beauty."

I don't care what the message was in Miss Congeniality, beauty pageants are messed up. Having full grown women prance around in bikinis to prove their self-confidence is degrading enough, but watching little 5-year-old girls do the same seems borderline abusive. These are tiny, tiny girls. Babies. Yet their coaches - who am I kidding, their mothers - are forcing them to adhere to "mature" standards of beauty, like wearing short, revealing dresses, (ten pounds of) makeup, big, bouncy hair, fake tans, and even fake teeth.

Is it just me, or is the damage really obvious here? These mothers are basically telling their daughters that they are not good enough - that they won't even have a shot at winning a pageant, let alone succeed in life - if they're not tan enough, skinny enough, peppy enough, or pretty enough. Because as we all know, girls can never be good enough.

You can cut the whole "beauty pageants are good for self-esteem" crap right now, 'cause I ain't buying it. Beauty pageants are exactly that - dehumanizing contests to see which girl looks best in a swimsuit and/or frilly dress. And don't even try to justify it with "well, the girls are encouraged to be themselves during the talent competitions!" Because if these little girls were truly given license to be themselves, their moms wouldn't be in the corner screaming "smile wider, honey! Remember that smile we practiced?"

How I detest that smile.

Believe it or not, beauty pageant moms are ten times scarier than their little demo-- I mean angels. Not only do many of them yell at their daughters when they make teeny-weeny mistakes, these women usually fit the same mold. Without spelling out every detail, you can guess that most of these women weren't treated as well as they should have as children. Maybe they never felt pretty, wanted, loved. Maybe they were told they were too "this" or too "that" to enter a pageant; maybe they got picked on in school. Whatever the case, most of these moms (I'd say 99%) are living through their daughters to create the childhood, fame, and success they wanted as children.

Beauty pageants teach little girls that looks and dresses and smiles and competition and prize money are everything in life. In other words, we need to be picture perfect. From the way we walk, to the way we talk, to the way we flirtatiously smile at others - we will always be judged. If you let your guard down even a little, you can't win in life.

What a load of bull-crap!

I would never want my daughter (please note that I'm thinking 15 years down the road here) to be a part of something like that. I can't even fathom sitting back while watching my 5-year-old being picked apart in front of a panel of judges (and other whacked-out mothers). How could any parent stand to watch that? Internal beauty my ass, confidence my ass . . .

Now you're probably thinking: Danielle, what if your daughter comes to you one day and says she wants to be in a beauty pageant? Simple. I'll say: "Who wants to sit in a stinky old chair for 6 hours getting their makeup done when they could be chopping this in half?!" That's when I'll whip out a 2-by-4.

Yes, my daughter will be joining karate.

Want to see some real heartbreak? Watch this video all the way 'till the end:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Book Review: "Out" by Natsuo Kirino

I had the pleasure of visiting a little bookstore a few weeks ago with my grandma. Actually, there was nothing "little" about that place, except for the fact that it wasn't anything like the big-name stores we know and love (I'm talking to you, Borders). But still, this place was amazing, and even though it had the same look and feel as an old, creepy antique store - with dim, flickering lights, creaky floor boards, and a faint smell of death - it was like my own personal Heaven. Books from floor to ceiling, rows and rows (and rows) of every topic imaginable . . . Seriously! I'm not sure how many bookstores can claim an actual section for topics like Jewish History or Fondue. It was that awesome.

I really didn't have a specific book in mind when I went in that day. You know how it is with those family-owned places: you can't walk in and expect to find twenty copies of Twilight, you just have to wander around and hope to stumble on a juicy treasure. Well I did, and it came in the form of Natsuo Kirino's Out.

Now, if you didn't already know this about me, I absolutely adore crime thrillers, horror, basically anything that makes the blood curdle. I'm the nerd next door who watches Criminal Minds until her eyes bleed, the geek who plays Resident Evil religiously, and the girl who'd rather see Saw than a romantic-comedy any day. I'm just weird (i.e. awesome) like that. So it probably doesn't surprise you that my first stop that day was to the "crime" section where Out immediately caught my eye. Something about the lines slashing through the woman's face on the cover made me think of a knife cutting through flesh. Thoroughly creepy. But it wasn't the picture that ultimately persuaded me to buy it; the review on the cover sealed the deal.

The review, written by some "professional" at New York Times, reads: "A nervy thriller . . . Out has the force of a juicy tabloid scandal . . . A potent cocktail of urban blight, perverse feminism and vigilante justice."

I must have read that ten times, just trying to get my head around whatever the heck "perverse feminism" meant. I honestly had no idea. And that is when I decided that I had to have this book.

I'm really picky when it comes to books. If I don't get hooked within the first, say, twenty or thirty pages it's really hard for me to find the willpower to finish it (there are more than a few "rejects" in the dark recesses of my closet). So when I say that Out left me constantly guessing and hungry to read more, you can bet that there's something a little different, a little special, about this book. And yes, I mean special in the worst possible way.

Out follows the lives of four very different Japanese women, their only connection being their nightshift at a local factory making meal boxes. The work is horrible - physically and mentally exhausting - but money serves a huge purpose in this novel, and for some reason or another each of the four women relies on a steady income. Masako, the blunt and sometimes distant leader of the pack, lives with a husband who couldn't care less if she walked out on him, and a teenage shut-in son who hasn't spoken a word to her in years. Yoshie, fondly known as "Skipper" around the factory, must balance working to send her ungrateful daughter through school with caring for her incontinent mother-in-law. Kuniko, a vain, selfish woman, spends all of her money on fake Chanel handbags even though it lands her in hot water with loan sharks. And Yayoi is a beautiful-yet-meak woman who struggles to take care of her two young sons while suffering the abuse of her alcoholic, gambling, ne'r-do-well husband.

If I were to go into detail about all the subtleties of the novel we'd probably be here all night, so I'll have to be painfully brief here: Yayoi murders her husband. Yep, you heard me. He came home after a particularly bad night of drinking and gambling and got a belt to the neck. Never even saw it coming.

The book is basically about how the four women come together after learning about Yayoi's unspeakable act. Masako (and later Yoshie and Kuniko) agree to dispose of the body if they're paid handsomely (like I said, money is a huge theme here). But what's amazing is not only how beautifully (and simply) the book's written, but how it makes you feel. It was honestly blowing my mind. Like I said before, I grew up on CourtTV and watching the cops get the bad guys, and for all intents and purposes these women should be monsters for agreeing to cut up a body and dispersing it throughout town (woops, did I give it away?), but it's written in such a way that you want them to succeed. You want them to get away with it. And your heart starts turning somersaults whenever the police get a tiny step further in figuring out the truth. Isn't that scary?

I guess I've never felt this before. I've never been so emotionally impacted by a book.

Feminist themes were definitely there, but New York got it right: it was perverse, extreme, nothing I'd ever want to be associated with. The book was female-centric in itself, and the women were constantly degraded by the men in their lives. For example: Masako worked in finance for over twenty years but had to sit idly by as her younger male coworkers surpassed her in wealth and prestige; men constantly showed disgust for Kuniko because she was overweight; Yayoi suffered physical abuse, etc.

For lack of a better term, these women had shitty lives and this drove them to their breaking point. Suddenly they were willing to do anything to earn money and get things back in order, even if it meant helping a friend get away with murder. This was probably the type of "perverse feminist revenge" the review was talking about.

I think Out is a despicable book about despicable women, but it's not every day that you come across a novel that can transport you to the other side of justice and make you feel sympathy - even encouragement - for such "monstrous" people. That's pretty powerful stuff.

I guess I would have to recommend this book to anyone who has the stomach for it!

P.S. The ending is going to blow your mind!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Women in Television Who Break the Mold

10. Carrie Heffernan (The King of Queens)
The King of Queens isn't my favorite show in the world, but I always thought Carrie was an interesting character because she's a 180-flip from the stereotypical sweet, docile housewife. She's a career woman, not overtly nurturing, bold, outspoken, and I don't really see her taking crap from anyone, least of all her husband.

Arthur: Darling, I need to borrow the iron.
Carrie: Dad, I told you, if you want a grilled cheese sandwich, I will make you one!

9. Ren Stevens (Even Stevens)
I rioted when Even Stevens was taken off the air. Seriously, I loved that show. Louis and his friends made the show funny (you gotta love Beans!), but I related to Ren, the over-achieving older sister, more than anyone. Ren was the typical goody-two-shoes, but she was also incredibly smart and able to compete with Louis's pranks.

Ren: May I please have permission to FedEx Louis to Timbuktu before June-Marie gets here?
Eileen: Absolutely not. UPS is so much cheaper.

8. Harriette Winslow (Family Matters)
I think Harriette was one of the more underrated characters on Family Matters. The squeaky-voiced, over-the-top Urkel may have stolen the show, but Harriette was the epitome of fierce elegance, the perfect rational balance to her family's crazy schemes. And she was never afraid to put someone in their place; I loved that!

Carl: You know you were rude to that guy, Harriette.
Harriette: I simply put out his cigar.
Carl: In his soup.

7. Allison Dubois (Medium)
The first time I saw Medium I was blown away. Not only am I in love with Allison's husband, Joe, the show is just so different. Allison Dubois "breaks the mold" because she's incredibly stubborn, impulsive, intense, and willing to do whatever it takes to catch the bad guy, even if it means (occasionally) bending the law.

Allison: I don't wanna get up. You're right, I'm depressed.
Joe: You know what depression is? It's unchanneled anger.
Allison: Thank you. Thank you . . . I'm still not getting up.

6. Special Agent Dana Scully (The X-Files)
I'm sure women like Dana Scully make most of us wish we were kick-butt, gun-totting FBI agents. She is just so cool, calm, and collected, not to mention fiercely intelligent and self-sufficient! She completely shatters the stereotype that women are dainty little flowers that can't make it in a "man's world."

Mulder: Do you believe in the afterlife, Scully?
Scully: I'd settle for a life in this one.

5. Roseanne Conner (Roseanne)
Roseanne is a farcry from the typical bubbly, sweet, nurturing mom we usually see on TV, but that's probably why the show was so successful. She represented a woman who was loud and demanding, but who could still be a good mom; she just wasn't always lovey-dovey about it.

Roseanne: That is not funny! You're grounded until menopause!
Darlene: Yours or mine?
Roseanne: Your father's!

4. Jill Taylor (Home Improvement)
I always liked Jill on Home Improvement because she was the anchor that kept Tim, in all his inane and dangerous wackiness, grounded. Not only that, she was smart, funny, hard-working, responsible, understanding . . . all while juggling college and three unruly boys. Now that is a modern day superwoman!

Tim: You lied in church on Christmas Eve? Watch out for those lightning bolts. God doesn't like that stuff.
Jill: At least I'm not begging the Almighty for two touchdowns . . .

3. Elaine Benes (Seinfeld)
Elaine is arguably the most sane character on Seinfeld (one of my favorite shows of all-time). She's smart, confident, independent, crafty, and incredibly liberal/pro-choice. But she's also vain, shallow, and judgmental - which is great, because you almost never see a woman on TV portray those qualities in a believable way.

Gwen: I have lost my fiance, the poor baby!
Elaine: [Australian accent] Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

2. Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones)
Bones freakin' kicks a--! Ahem. Sorry about that. But seriously, this is an amazing show. Dr. Temperance Brennan proves that the busty, blonde airhead stereotype is vastly overrated, and brains are so in this year! She certainly kicks butt and shatters any stereotype about what a woman is "supposed" to be.

Special Agent Booth: You're a smart-ass, you know that?
Dr. Brennan: Objectively, I'd say I'm very smart. Although it has nothing to do with my ass.

1. Clair Huxtable (The Cosby Show)
Out of all the women I used to watch on TV, Clair Huxtable was always my biggest role model. She embodied so many amazing qualities: strength, confidence, self-righteousness, brains, etc. Sure, I liked the fact she was a caring wife and mother, but I loved that she wasn't afraid to speak up when certain men in her life (most notably Sondra's husband Elvin) got out of line.

Clair: Cliff . . . there are three idiots in the kitchen.
Cliff: You have to be a little more specific than that.

Of course, these ladies are only from shows I watch or have grown up with, so it's very possible I left out some deserving candidates. You can nominate your own favorite TV heroine by leaving a comment, but make sure you tell us why she "breaks the mold"!

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Phat" Girl in a Skinny World

When you're the only fat girl in your 2nd grade class, kids can be pretty merciless. As someone who's been overweight their entire life I've heard every joke and jab imaginable: ugly, fat-ass, puffer fish, ugly fat-ass puffer fish. And even when some of the other kids would try to make me feel better, sometimes saying I was just "big-boned," that never did any good because I still knew 99% of the kids in my class - probably my school - were looking at me and seeing "the fat girl." Not Danielle. Not me.

I don't think people realize how hard it is to grow up fat. There seems to be this underlying hostility towards overweight people, and in many cases, it's worse against overweight girls. After all, I'm supposed to be skinny, toned, and tan; not flabby, soft, and pale. My hair is supposed to be shiny and long; not quirky and short. My chest is supposed to be big, my waist small, my skin smooth and blemish free, my eyebrows perfectly plucked . . .

Heck, if beauty truly is what we see in the magazines, I've failed epically.

It's taken me a long time to be okay with who I am. Maybe you wouldn't even call it "okay." I mean, it's not like I look in the mirror and say "I love you, arm flab!" But I've realized a few things in my time as an "all-knowing teenager":

1. People who call you names are hurting inside. When you're happy with yourself, and your life, you don't have to gain confidence by putting others down.

2. True friends don't care what size you are. True friends love you for being nice, funny, smart, fearless - not because of your size, race, or anything else.

3. Don't give a [frick] about what you're supposed to look like. The media that tells women they need to be impossibly skinny is the same media that tells us we can't have pores (just look at any make-up ad ever). If we spent as much time doing the things we love as we do hating our bodies, we'd all be a lot happier!

4. People don't care about you. Wait, don't take that the wrong way! We're always obsessing about our tiniest flaws - the way our shirt doesn't match our shoes, or that we're having a bad hair day - and we're convinced that everybody in the world is staring at us. But the truth is, they've got their own lives and their own problems. People aren't sitting there obsessing about your bad hair day, so neither should you!

5. "If something doesn't matter in five years, don't worry about it." I don't remember where I heard that, or if I just made it up myself, but it's helped me in too many situations to count. So when you spill that ketchup down the front of your shirt, the world is not going to end. It isn't going to matter in five years, so laugh and shrug it off.

I'm a lot different than I was in elementary school, even middle school. I'm not a wallflower. I speak my mind. I don't put myself down. I try not to care what people think about me. I respect myself. I surround myself with people who really care about me, and work hard to be a good student, citizen, sister, daughter . . . you catch my drift. In other words, I'm proud to be me! It just sucks it's taken me a decade to realize it.

On a slightly different note, all this got me thinking about the portrayal of overweight women in the media.

Are there overweight women in the media?

As Laura Frasier stated in her article Fear of Fat: "On television, for the most part, fat people are as invisible as in fashion magazines. When fat people show up on TV, they aren’t usually serious people, but are either comics (the jolly fat person) or pathetic talkshow creatures whose lives are miserable because they can’t lose weight."

That is so true! When overweight people (i.e. women) show up in TV shows they always have to be the subject of some moral. If they're not, like Frasier stated, for comic relief or to remind us how difficult dieting is, they're there to teach us to "love and accept ourselves." Sheesh, can't there be a plus-size woman in popular culture that's taken seriously, with absolutely no mention to her weight? Or is that an impossible dream?

Food for thought (ha!): Have you seen the new show Huge on ABC Family, and if so, what did you think? Is the show going to shed some much-needed light on the struggles overweight teens face, or is it going to do more harm than good?

My HUGE Review (Episode 2): Okay, I watched the next episode of Huge. After I got over the initial shock that the new camper's name was Danielle (my name) and that everybody in her family had a name that started with "D" (like my family), I realized what I liked and disliked about the show overall. I don't know, the show just seems so scattered. We learn a tiny detail about one camper here, another there, but everything is so disconnected that it's hard to get excited about a single storyline. Is the show about Will's rebellious nature? Amber's (kind of creepy) budding relationship with camp counselor George? Becca's journey to gaining more confidence? Dr. Dorothy's mysterious relationship with her parents?

I know the show's probably going to be one of those everything-connects-and-makes-sense-in-the-end deals, but I'm hungry for a plot now. The individual storylines just haven't developed yet, and I think that's what's leaving me a little sour.

Now you're probably thinking she hates the show, but that's not true! As an overweight teen who's never had an outlet like this, I find myself fixated by the problems these quirky teens face because they're many of the same problems I've faced in my own life. And even if I'm not as bold as Will, as shy as Becca, as hopeless a romantic as Ian, or as cooky as Alistair, each character has something that I can relate to. I love that! As for how this show is going to represent overweight teens to the general public, I'm still not sure. Even though I don't like the fact that they make out (some) overweight teens to be self-conscious, cynical, lazy, and food-crazy, I will definitely be tuning in next week!

P.S. Who wants to bet that Will and Ian get together in the end? :)

Want to check out a trailer for "Huge"? Here you go!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sexism and Other Garbage in Our Media

Have you ever had a love-hate relationship with something? Like chocolate. I mean, one minute you love it more than life itself (I've been known to eat a s'more in my day), but the next minute you're staring into the bathroom mirror, pinching and pulling your thighs, and wondering why you ever got mixed up with that crap in the first place. That pretty much sums up my love-hate relationship with the media, minus the pinching and pulling. One minute I'll be chuckling at a Skittles commercial, but the next minute I'll go on a rampage because some idiotic company felt the need to bash, stereotype, or otherwise degrade women to sell their products.

I didn't used to be so critical, but once I actually started paying attention to what I was watching and reading I realized how much garbage we're subjected to in a day - it's on TV, in newspapers, magazines, billboards, everywhere! We can't escape it!

I've been collecting sexist ads on the internet for a while now, and while some are only mildly sexist, others are oh-my-gosh-I-can't-believe-they-did-that-who's-skull-can-I-bash-in sexist. And there have been some common themes along the way:

1. "Oh, you're a woman? You must be [insert stereotype here]."

Translation: Women only serve two purposes. I'm sure you can guess what they are.

It just amazes me that companies can get away with printing such blatantly-sexist advertisements, and ads that promote ridiculous stereotypes about women are more common than I first realized. Women are frequently typecast as shoppers, pink-lovers, gold-diggers, scaredy-cats, sexual objects, prostitutes, nagging mothers, air-heads. . . it never ends! I don't know about you, but I am neither a shopper, pink-lover, gold-digger, scaredy-cat, sexual object, prostitute, nor nagging mother. And heaven forbid you call me an airhead. Why do advertisers think it's okay to paint women in this light?

Here are some gender-related videos:

Analysis of Gender in Media
Gender Stereotypes in Media
Gender Stereotyping of Women in the Media

2. "Are women even human? Nah, they're just objects."

Translation: Keep the bag, throw away the woman.

As discussed in the documentary Killing Us Softly 3: Advertising's Image of Women, women are constantly turned into objects, sometimes even becoming part of the product that's being sold. Some might justify this by saying women's bodies are "beautiful works of art." Well yeah, we're awesome. But we're not inanimate things that can be used like a piece of toilet paper. As the documentary explains (please watch it), when women are portrayed as less than human people can use that as an excuse to justify violence against them. After all, is it easier to mistreat something you value (i.e. like a human being), or something that is little more than a piece of meat or, in the case of this advertisement, garbage?

3. "Make that sexual objects."

Translation: Women are valued for their bodies, not their intelligence, personalities, etc.

First off, how funny (i.e. ridiculous) is it that an ad for wakeboards stuffs their product into a teeny-weeny corner, while the forefront is dominated by irrelevant, bikini-clad women? Does this tactic really work with its intended audience, which we can all assume to be men? Do they really see this as and think "ooh, women, I must buy a wakeboard"? That's pretty insulting to their intelligence, isn't it? But if I can get to my main rant, thank you, this ad is incredibly degrading. By covering up the women's faces (but leaving their bodies exposed) we get the message that they are not people to be valued for their intelligence, humor, personalities, or anything that makes them inherently likeable or unique, they're valued for their bodies and sexuality. Not only do the bags make these women appear as if they're less than human, they transform them into sexual objects. Horrifying.

4. "This is what beauty really looks like."

Translation: If you're with an ugly woman like this, who could blame you if you cheated with a gorgeous woman like this?

I absolutely deplore ads that try to impose their idea of beauty on us. The message "sometimes ya gotta cheat" is sickening enough (are they really trying to promote adultery?), but I just hate the fact that they're taking it upon themselves to judge two women purely by their looks. This woman is wrinkly, old, and therefore ugly; this woman is skinny, busty, and therefore beautiful. There's no mention of internal qualities; after all, who needs to be smart or compassionate when they've got jugs? These ads drive women crazy because they feel insurmountable pressure to look more like the "mistress" and less like the "wife." These ads might also hurt our relationships with men, because one day we're lounging around in our grungy pajamas and they're thinking "hey, why don't you look like this?"

5. "Violence? Eh, it's no big deal."

Translation: I don't even know what they were trying to go for.

This ad is frivolous, meaningless. Violence for the sake of violence. I have absolutely no clue how this would make people want to buy ties (unless they're in the mafia). Just look at the sickening expression on the man's face. "Yeah, look what I did." He looks amused, clutching the naked dead woman by the throat, blood dripping down the hood of the car. This ad pretty much renders my brain numb. I don't know how to describe it, how to accurately describe my rage, my disgust. How can they . . . Why would they . . . This is pure horror. They're glorifying violence against women to sell their crappy little ties - and if the public thinks this is okay, we're all in trouble. I beg you: if you ever see an ad as horrific as this, please, please, please make some phone calls, write some letters, call the president, do whatever you have to do to get it destroyed.
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