One of the main questions we get following speaking engagements is from men asking how they can help and support the women in their lives. Below are some practical tips that boys and men can use in the battle to take back beauty. This important cause can be greatly benefited by the support of males who care! Though the strategies here (and here) are presented with a focus on females, many — if not all — of them can be adapted and used successfully to improve body image for boys and men as well.
RUN from Normalized Pornography: Depicting sexual images and dialogue is now a normal part of media all hours of the day, and it is presented as “safe” in advertisements, catalogs, TV shows, movies, men’s and women’s magazines, books, video games, websites, billboards, etc. Research is very clear that pornography changes the way men and women view each other, it gets in the way of us forming loving and healthy relationships with family and friends, it skews our perceptions of female bodies, our sense of self-worth, and our sense of women’s worth. Do not just walk away – RUN from it!
Check Your Vision: Be conscious of the vast amount of media we consume each day, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. In fact, the average American spends about 4.5 hours every day watching TV or movies and another 3.5 hours on the Internet, on top of being exposed to about 3,600 advertisements from every angle. As you go through your day, pay attention to what you see and what messages go against what you know be true about yourself and others you love.
Remember Some Jokes Aren’t Funny: Decide now that you will not make jokes about the appearance of a girl or woman in your life. Even if you are trying to be funny, it won’t turn out that way. Joking about weight, height, or appearance in any way can stick with girls for an entire lifetime, since so many sources have taught them to believe their value is dependent upon their attractiveness.
Be a Positive Example: Be especially cautious when making comments about girls’ and womens’ appearance, even if they are celebrities in magazines or on the big screen. Even if you say something you think is positive about a woman, like “She is so hot!” it is likely that the girls and women in your life will automatically make judgments against themselves based on what you said. Even if they don’t tell you, most girls and women care very much about the way the men in their lives treat, view and speak about other women. Your example can have a profound effect for good or bad.
Unreal Ideals: Remember it is reasonable to assume no image we ever see of a woman in media has gone un-manipulated. As early as 1991, a media industry insider referred to the digital alteration of women as a “retouching epidemic.” And today magazine editors refer to airbrushing as an industry standard. Plus, vertical film stretching to make women appear taller and thinner is a common technique, as are filtered lenses on video cameras and soft lighting, which do away with wrinkles, pores, and other so-called “blemishes” for women on TV and in movies. The next time you start comparing the females in your life to those you see in media, remember that even the beauty ideals don’t fit the ideal they are supposed to represent!
Go on a Media Fast: Choose a day, a week, a month, or longer to steer clear of as much media as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all those messages and images, and when you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those you love and those that are unrealistic. One group of male college students in Utah went on a “media fast” for three months, and at the end of that time, the men claimed they found the real women in their lives more beautiful while they were on the fast, and continued to find them more beautiful once the fast was over.
Turn Away From Harmful Images: The girls and women you know and love are hopefully trying hard to remember that the women they see in media are digitally manipulated to appear “perfect,” even though they don’t really look that way. When you put those types of pictures in your locker or subscribe to magazines that depict women in unrealistic and degrading ways, the females in your life may then believe those are the types of women you value most. Turning away from media images that hurt women (and men) is a perfect way to help the females in your life understand what you really value in women – real women you see face to face.
Object to Objectification: Pay attention to media that is objectifying to women, which means it shows women and girls as just PARTS of themselves. That happens when the camera pans up and down their bodies, or zooms in on certain body parts. This also takes place when magazines or movies and TV talk about women’s bodies in ways that degrade them and turn them into just body parts instead of thinking, feeling humans. Boys and men exposed to sexually objectifying messages (which are inescapable in today’s media landscape), learn to primarily view and value females for their outward appearance and actually endorse objectifying images in the future. Yikes! Turn away from objectifying media – it is harmful for you and for the females you love.
Show Them What You Value: Most girls and women claim they’re trying to achieve these beauty ideals in an attempt to become more desirable and attractive to men. If the things they are trying so hard to obtain are not actually all you value in a woman, be sure to make that known by speaking about women in positive ways and referencing their characters, personalities and talents as things you admire and seek in girls and women you want in your life. Choose to compliment the girls and women in your life for those things, too. The compliments that stick with you for a lifetime are those that acknowledge your valuable qualities, like a good attitude, selflessness, talents, and honesty.
Be Critical of Media, Not Yourself or Women: While the U.S. is the No. 1 producer and exporter of media, we are also the only industrialized country in the world without some form of media literacy in public school curriculum. We need to feel an obligation to put media under closer inspection for the influence it has in our lives. Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching a movie, train yourself to ask important questions about what you see. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt you and those you love!
- Do you feel better or worse about yourself when viewing or hearing this media? Do you believe the females in your life would feel better or worse about themselves after viewing or hearing this media?
- Who is advertising in these pages or on this screen? (Look for ads and commercials and you’ll see who is paying the bills for your favorite media messages)
- Who owns the TV show, movie, magazine, video game or website you are viewing? (Research the company and its owners and you’ll find out who the powerful decision makers are behind the scenes of your media of choice)
- Is the media you read and view promoting real health or impossible ideals meant to make you spend money and time? Who are those messages promoting impossible ideals usually speaking to?
- How are women and girls presented here? Are they valued for their talents and personality? Do they look like the females in your life?
Get Back to Reality: Since we’ll see more images of women in one week of media viewing than we’ll probably ever see face to face, it’s important to give ourselves a reality check! When we look eye to eye with the women we know and love, we can remind ourselves what real women and real beauty look like. This real definition of beauty is so much more than just looks! It is your best girl friend’s basketball skills, your sister’s hard work on her English paper, the lines on your mom’s face from years of beautiful smiles and laughter, and so much more.
Tell the Truth: Point out the difference between media representations of women’s bodies and real-life women’s bodies while watching TV or flipping through a magazine with friends or family. Saying these things aloud will help you train your mind and the minds of those you love to recognize what is real and what is far from the truth. Remember, honesty is always the best policy!
Take Media Into Your Own Hands: Post links or start discussions on blogs and social networking sites to continuously spark conversation about dangerous ideals (like the thin ideal, surgical enhancement, white ideals, etc.) and to bring to light those who profit from our belief in those ideals. And when thinking about your future college studies and/or present career, consider going into journalism, advertising or media production so YOU can produce messages that uplift rather than degrade. Since it’s rare to see an ad that does anything positive for female body image, we have launched a campaign to fund a billboard promoting healthy body image here in Salt Lake City. If you can help, please do!
Be an Advocate: If our suggestion to turn away from media that degrades or otherwise women is just not enough for you, consider your fierce influence as an advocate for truth and uplifting messages. When you come across a company’s advertising that fuels female insecurity or a magazine that objectifies women even as it claims to empower them, speak up! Blogging your disapproval is a great start, and so is posting links to news stories that reveal harmful ideals on social networking sites. Join us on Facebook for regular links to share and continue this conversation! If you’d like to go a step further, write to and/or call your local cable company, TV station, newspaper and any other media outlet perpetuating harmful messages. Get the word out that the media message you have seen is inappropriate and dangerous and threaten to boycott if it is not removed. If your complaints are not heard, do NOT patronize those institutions and suggest the same to your loved ones.
Redefining Healthy: Getting back to reality involves figuring out what “health” really means – and it’s not what media shows us. For-profit media like women’s fitness magazines or TV shows would have us believe health and fitness are all about what women look like, and any doctor can tell us that simply isn’t true. If you know a girl or woman who believes her health and fitness depend on what she looks like, encourage her to talk to a doctor, nutritionist or other health specialist to figure out what healthy really means for her individually. She can then work with them to set healthy goals for herself that aren’t based off profit-driven beauty ideals.
Refiguring Health: If you are a health practitioner, doctor, or medical student, a lofty but necessary goal can be developing and helping to implement accurate and reliable measures of healthy weight, whether that means developing new algorithms that can better predict individual body fat or steering clear of the inaccurate Body Mass Index in favor of other financially feasible measures like waist circumference measurement or skinfold thickness tests.
The Power of Media Makers: Media decision-makers like editors, producers, writers, directors, and web developers can and should disrupt the steady stream of idealized bodies with positive representations of more normative shapes and sizes, with positive dialogue or editorials regarding those images that does not focus solely on appearance.
Health Activism in Play: Anyone willing and able can work to visibly resist messages that repackage women’s health in power-laden “beauty” terms in any way possible, whether through volunteering to speak out against harmful ideals for any audience who will listen, attracting media attention toward dangerous messages like advertisements or TV shows that lead to low self esteem, or speaking to local leaders and politicians about inappropriate or dangerous messages in media programming or local advertising.