Redefining Beauty by Promoting Obesity? Not Even Close.
We, Lindsay and Lexie of Beauty Redefined, often get some interesting feedback about our work. Recently, we were told “we just don’t look like academics” by an important scholar, and was asked why anyone would want to listen to “beautiful women” talk about beauty. Just months ago, we were approached by a reporter from one of the largest international news organizations to be interviewed for a story about our groundbreaking billboard campaign and our movement for positive body image. And then the story was shot down because of radical confusion about what we do. Our post about the harmful forms of “thinspiration” so prevalent online was republished by the Huffington Post and the comments are reflective of this exact same confusion and criticism. When you tell those you love about this type of body image work, you might be met with some of this push-back too, so we’ve got some great ways to help those you love understand the importance of this work.
As you can imagine, we were pumped (!!!) when we were approached by this massive news organization, which we can now tell you was Reuters International. The reporter was fantastic and professional and after pitching the idea to his editor and having it approved, we had a great interview and looked forward to some amazing news coverage of this uplifting, attention-grabbing, relatable story. He also interviewed our impressive friend and fellow empowerment activist, Inês Almeida, of 7Wonderlicious (in Australia) about why she chose to support our billboard campaign from all the way across the world.
Unfortunately, rather than a timely and crucial health story about the dire state of female body image and the efforts many people are taking to contribute solutions, we received an apologetic e-mail from the reporter after Inês followed up with him:
“Unfortunately, the article was killed by my ‘nameless news network’ editor after he previously gave the go-ahead on the story. His reasoning was it lacked newsworthiness. In reality, he did not like the whole positive body image message of the article. His attitude was very narrow-minded and he basically claimed such a message simply promoted obesity. I was very upset because I felt like it was both a positive story and very much newsworthy. I guess it underscores the battle the Kite sisters face in getting their message heard. I would be happy to send you a copy of what would have been written if you would like it.” (We can also now happily report this male reporter quit his job with Reuters after this fallout because he couldn’t be employed by an organization run in this manner. AMAZING MAN.)
Here’s Inês’ eloquent response (via her fantastic blog) to this surprisingly common (and unbelievably flawed) criticism about body image work:
“I think the email from the journalist says it all. I am not disclosing the name of the network or the journalist as I want to respect the privacy of this individual and do not want to get this person in any kind of trouble, since we desperately need the support of people like this individual that continue to try to get media coverage on important issues facing women and girls.
Question 1 – How can billboards with the messages below promote obesity?
- You are capable of much more than being looked at.
- There is more to be than eye candy.
- Your reflection does not define your worth.
- When beauty hurts, we’re doing it wrong.
Is this editor aware of the increasing number of preteen children being treated for eating disorders? Is this campaign in any way promoting unhealthy lifestyles, junk foods or a sedentary life?
Question 2 – How come a story of two passionate and very intelligent young women standing up for what they believe and helping others is not newsworthy but these stories are:
- yoga for dogs
- DiCaprio, Depp are the top best-paid actors
The “news” stories above were posted on the same news network this week. I do not have more information than the email above and my comments are based on the journalist’s interpretation in regards to why the editor rejected the story…. but something does not feel quite right. Even if we decide to focus just on the facts, the reality is that the story got canceled for not being newsworthy.
Having billboards all over one state in the U.S. full of empowering messages that counteract the overload of toxic marketing messages that make women feel horrible in their own skin IS in my humble opinion, VERY newsworthy.
Celebrating the fact that two resourceful, confident, intelligent and well informed young women are making a difference in the world and creating a movement that is positive and empowering IS in my humble opinion, VERY newsworthy.
Fortunately, other news agencies understand this and this project is getting excellent media coverage and rallying the support of many sister movements around the world. YOU GO GIRLS!”
First of all, she is amazing and we are immensely grateful for her support (financially and professionally) and for her kind words. Thankfully, she is one of many wonderful people who are excited about and supportive of the Beauty Redefined movement – and that is seriously thrilling. We are overwhelmed with the kinds words, media coverage (from the national forum iVillage to Fox 13 Utah and many others) and help in every possible way!
BUT, in the midst of this outpouring of support, we do hear from a few critics that sound a lot like the news agency editor. Does this sentiment sound familiar? Via the comments section on our ABC4 Salt Lake City story, “Alfred” says: “Could it possibly be that the reason women are feeling increasingly bad about their bodies is because THEY SHOULD? Go sit for a few minutes in any mall and count the percentage of obese people compared to normal (ideal weight) people. It’s easily Ten to One, the number of overweight people compared to the normal ones. Rather than a campaign trying to help people feel OK about being UNHEALTHY, how about a campaign promoting fitness???”
My response: “Hi Alfred, I’m Lindsay (one of the billboard creators). We’re in no way promoting unhealthiness or obesity – in fact, research shows that when people feel OK about their bodies, regardless of what they look like, they make healthier choices. They are more active and mindful of what they eat. On the other hand, people who are disgusted with themselves (as many are, especially in comparison to idealized images throughout all of media) are shown to make poor health choices like overeating and sedentary lifestyles. We’re promoting positive messages to remind women they are valuable for more than what their outsides look like, which is a message you won’t hear many places. We hope these uplifting messages will contribute to more positive feelings about our bodies, and in turn, more positive health choices!”
A valid critique that we have received about our four billboard designs is that there isn’t enough diversity represented in the women holding the signs. That is true. Lexie and I were both excited to (literally and figuratively) stand behind the messages we came up with, so we did just that. We both happen to be white with light-ish hair and are 25. Both of our other beautiful sign-holders are also white, though they represent two different generations in age and opposite hair colors and skin tones. We plan to expand this movement far beyond our home turf and include a huge variety of ages, races, hair colors, anything and everything that can help anyone identify with our messages as being applicable to EVERYONE. But just because the person holding up the message appears to be of a certain race or age or any other category doesn’t mean the message only applies to people who LOOK like that. This is not about the looks of the five inches of face and hair showing on our billboards.
Any other criticisms mostly center around our own physical appearances, which is as expected and ironic as it gets. By even appearing on the news (or putting our eyes and foreheads on billboards), Lexie and I recognize that we are putting ourselves at risk for criticism of any kind — and since we’re female, that discussion tends to center around our looks. In November 2011, we presented our latest scholarly research at the National Communication Association Conference in New Orleans. Before we presented, Lexie was told we don’t “look like academics,” because we don’t “look like we’re trudging back and forth between our offices and the library all day.” She was asked “why would women want to listen to you when you’re beautiful?” And guess what? We showed them what academics look like! Lindsay gave a captivating presentation and had the whole room practically shouting “Amen!” about the history of the BMI. And Lexie won Top Paper in the entire Feminist and Women’s Studies Division. Her research on Victoria’s Secret’s sinister marketing techniques had the full ballroom talking. THAT is what academics look like!
Via ABC4’s Facebook post about the news story they ran on us for our billboards: “I do think it’s interesting that the 2 women initiating are young, beautiful, thin with obvious brains. That alone will turn women off who are no longer thin, young or beautiful, especially if they are struggling to make ends meet. Body image is here to stay from a 57 yo women, with a less than perfect body who has to use makeup!”
Though our initial reaction is immediately argue against this woman’s assessment of our looks as untrue or exagerrated, that simply won’t do. Discussing our appearances completely derails our entire message. Beauty Redefined supporter Kendra described this problem beautifully via our Facebook page:
“I noticed the comment directed at your looks as well. It is problematic for a number of reasons. First, as female activists, you are reduced to *your* appearance. This does not happen to men promoting business or activism. Period. The comment reflects the poster’s ignorance but also her indoctrination that she is beyond the scope of positive body image (age, weight?). It is like she is thinking that how could two “young” and “thin” women possibly understand her plight in this culture of female perfection? So sad. If anything, this comment reflects the need for your work.”
Thus, the Beauty Redefined project is crucial. You are capable of much more than being looked at. Your reflection does not define your worth. There is more to be than eye candy. If beauty hurts, we’re doing it wrong. Health and fitness are crucial, and we promote healthy goals as much as we possibly can. Our Body Hate Apocalypse 2012 strategies are a key example of this emphasis on health and fitness over thin ideals and sex appeal. We strive to take the focus off thinness and appearance-focused ideals of what “fit” bodies supposedly look like for everyone. We do this through extensive research on the way health and fitness are measured and ways to effectively promote physical activity. Let’s show the world that we are capable of anything and everything we want to do. (And feel free to slap a sticky note with a reminder of these messages somewhere anyone and everyone can can see it!)
And, just for the record, these messages are NOT our sneaky attempt at encouraging people to become obese. Because apparently there’s some confusion there.