Body Image And Social Media

 

Photo courtesy of Frank Kovalchek

As someone who has struggled in the past with achieving a healthy body image, I am quite interested in the conversation that has been flourishing on social media websites this spring. If my Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, it seems that stories about the ways in which women view their bodies and how they are portrayed in the media have received renewed interested in recent months.

 

First, earlier in the spring, a meme went viral on Facebook and Twitter that featured photos of several current female stars like Keira Knightly and Nicole Richie, above a row of photos of famous actresses from past decades, like Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Davis. The meme read, "When did this become hotter than this?" It implied that the contemporary actresses, who were much thinner and less curvy than their counterparts from the past, were less attractive.

It sparked a passionate debate among those who left comments. Many agreed that the contemporary standard of beauty, which idealizes women who are very thin, is unhealthy and that women who have curves are indeed more attractive. However, a few people took the conversation deeper. They argued that the real problem is the objectification of women. Marilyn and Bettie were portrayed as sexual objects just as much as Keira and Nicole. I certainly agree with the latter argument.

 

What is more, what we as women should treat one another and ourselves with respect and compassion, regardless of our body shape or size. Yes, many of us feel as if we are being attacked when we are held up to impossible beauty standards. Seeing the retouched images of women in magazines feels like an affront, because it is as if we are being told by the media that, because we don't look like those women, we are undesirable. But attacking the women in the magazines, suggesting that they are undesirable, merely spreads animosity.   If it hurts us, it hurts them, as well.

Photo courtesy of Chantel Beam

In addition, some women are truly slender by nature. I've known of women who actually wanted more curves but simply could not put on weight. Implying that there is something wrong with some women because they are thin is no better than implying there is something wrong with women who are supposedly not thin enough.

 

Next came the controversy over Equinx Gym's promotional video featuring a woman moving through a series of yoga poses dressed in nothing but a bra and underwear. The video included a number of close shots of various body parts. Several articles were written about the story. Some writers argued that the video both objectifies the woman and cheapens the spiritual foundation of yoga by sexualizing it. Others argued that the video, which is quite beautifully shot and produced, is an artistic piece.


I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it is difficult for me to buy into the argument that the video is a work of art because it is, after all, a commercial. The video was produced to sell gym memberships. It seems likely, therefore, that the decision was made to include a scantily clad woman because sex sells. If this is true, then it is certainly a case of exploitation and objectification.

 

On the other hand, I do not support our culture's tendency to jump to the conclusion that anything that reveals a woman's body is exploitative because that belief assumes that a woman would only bare her body if she were being taken advantage of - or being used to take advantage of other women. In the United States, we are entirely too insecure about sexuality. It is this insecurity that leads to ridiculous debates about banning birth control, for example. Men and women should celebrate their sexuality. Certainly, sexuality can be used as a tool of commercialism, but it is inherently a source of strength, not weakness.

 

Photo courtesy of Genevieve719

Finally, Ashley Judd's article about the ways in which the media objectifies women generated a great deal of buzz recently. She discusses the ways in which women are deemed valuable based on their appearance. When many people disagree with a woman's opinions, for example, they criticize her looks, rather than making a cogent, logical argument against her position. And, Judd points out, women are guilty of this, as well. The article details the many practices our culture engages in that devalue women.

 

Of course, I couldn't agree more. As is evident from the meme and the video discussed above, our culture regularly turns women into objects of desire. And it is often those women who are seen as the most physically desirable who are also valued the most as human beings. Judd is correct in asserting that these practices must be addressed if women are to be treated equally and valued for the totality of who they are. I was glad to see that, though some of the comments posted below the article and on Facebook were shallow and snarky, most served to promote constructive - and much needed - conversation.

 

We have come a long way in this country in our treatment of women. But it is easy to look at the progress we've made and conclude that it is alright for us to rest on our laurels. But there is still a great deal of work that must be done if women are to enjoy true equality and genuine respect, and I am encouraged by the fact that this topic seems to be gaining attention in online communities.