NBC’s Today Show is doing a week-long “Love Your Selfie” with the extremely attractive personalities admitting their self-image insecurities and appearing without makeup. The men look pretty much like themselves and the women just look plain around their eyes. Everyone is still their media-quality good-looking selves. We’ve been treated to the team’s dorkiest teenage photos as if we’re supposed to feel bad that they went through an awkward phase but still grew up with the self-confidence, talent, and good fortune to become highly-paid network television personalities. It was downright ridiculous when Carson Daly made a big deal out of having a group of Olympic athletes use facial wipes to remove their stage makeup. Because the public is so used to seeing athletes in makeup? And because Olympic athletes suffer low self-esteem and a high sense of physical awkwardness? I’m sure as the week goes on, fat shaming will be extensively discussed when the focus is put on Al Roker. Yes, he did grow up black, fat, and his name is Albert. Hey, hey, hey, I’m sure he got picked on at school.
I find this kind of thing a non-story and I believe that it does more harm than good. In some ways, I think it is a kind of exploitation of emotions and feelings. A segment opened with images of Marilyn Monroe with a comparison to today’s much thinner models. What’s different today?
Decades ago, no one did research into the effects of media portrayals and body image. But every era defines its own standards of beauty and its own portrayals of aesthetic ideals. Every generation feels pressured to conform to those beauty standards and social ideals. What’s changed is that today we put so much focus on media images that if you were not already dissatisfied with your body and your looks, television and the Internet will tell you that statistically, you should be.
Did the media have no influence back when Marilyn Monroe was the most photographed woman? She was portrayed as the most fabulously beautiful, glamorous, and desirable woman of her day. Regardless of her actual weight, do you think young women did not compare themselves with her and her completely unachievable and unrealistic media image?
This is Dovima. She was one of the top models of the 1950s. Years before Twiggy, Dovima had a 19″ waist.
Dovima was hailed as the most sophisticated look of her era but she was portrayed as empty-headed in her only film performance in the Audrey Hepburn vehicle, Funny Face in 1957, a film about fashion models.
Lisa Fonssagrives was married to Irving Penn, one of the most influential fashion photographers of all time. Her career fit the definition of what we’d today call a supermodel. Her image was as pervasive back then as any one model could have been. American women would not have been able to pick up a magazine without seeing photographs of Fonssagrives.
The 1950s media told women that they had to be slim and polished and they should aspire to maintain a well-run home for a husband and family. Girls were not encouraged to go to college. And in the 1940s, women got to compare themselves to this:
Media images will always dictate widely-held body image perceptions and opinions. The Today Show announced the statistic that 85% of teenage girls are unhappy with their appearance and would like to lose weight. Oh really? I call that being a teenage girl. I believe we have an advantage today. We can know just how manipulated images are. Adobe Photoshop was introduced nearly 25 years ago but before it existed, photographic techniques in the studio and the darkroom produced heavily manipulated images. Technology has made it possible to create wholly artificial images that appear amazingly real. Can we all finally agree that we’re aware that photographic and video images today are manipulated in a vast array of ways and a huge percentage of what we all see is not realistic? Even children know how to use image editing software. Can image manipulation STOP being news??
What I think we should be more concerned about is our “motivational” culture that tells everyone they can accomplish anything, be anything, have anything. “If I can do it, you can do it” sends the message that we are all on level ground with equal abilities, equal access, and equal good fortune. It tells us that if those former fat folks in People magazine can lose hundreds of pounds, when are you going to quit being lazy and get inspired by them?. If the homeless woman can get herself into Harvard, why don’t you have an Ivy League degree? If the single mom turned her simple idea into a multi-million dollar business, why aren’t you rich? If the high school dropout is the CEO, why haven’t you gotten a promotion? If the wounded vet got himself out of a wheelchair and runs five miles every day, why are you on the couch? If millions of other people are getting rich, happy, healthy, thin, perfectly-organized, and smarter, having more sex and sleeping better, why haven’t you changed the way you think and started living your authentic best life? Do you need more motivational sayings in your Facebook news feed?
Maybe if the media would stop telling us how screwed up we all are and how perfect we’re supposed to be, we could all stop stressing over it. Minnie Driver was on the Today Show this morning and she was asked her opinion on media images. She had a very simple response. “Don’t compare yourself to anyone.”