Monday, January 29, 2007

Gee, where DO we get those negative messages?

I hate to keep harping on this body-image thing, but late last night I think I saw a slightly different version of that obnoxious NutriSystem ad we've discussed before—a version that zeroes in with even greater cunning on a woman's self-confidence and overall sense of being at-peace with her body. After giving us the usual blather about how she's down to a size 2 and feels "so sexy," the spokesmodel gushes, "This is the first time I could put on a swimsuit and not feel self-conscious!"

So let me get this straight, then: She felt self-conscious at a size 6? A 4?? Are we supposed to picture her trying on swimsuits in the mirror at those "bloated" sizes and grimacing in disgust each time? (None of that action specifically appears in the ad, of course, but that's the subtle message being sold here.... And what other inference is there?) These sentiments are bound to register with the audience: millions of American women getting ready for bed, putting on nightgowns or what-have-you, preparing to walk into their bedrooms and be visually surveyed by their significant others. Maybe I'm taking this stuff too seriously, but I find it almost unspeakable.

And speaking of unspeakable... As I'm sitting down with the morning paper after writing the above, I hear the opening for a GMA segment about body image and "changing the negative messages women send themselves." Diane Sawyer's expert guest is the editor of Self magazine, who wonders, along with Diane, "Where do we women get these awful messages about our bodies?" And as she's saying this—as she's saying thisGMA runs a shot of the cover of Self, which shows a skinny, smiling woman in a bathing suit. Much as I'd like to think that this was done with a note of irony, I'm sure it was just intended to reinforce the editor's credibility and stature by showing the audience the magazine she runs.

So, Ms. Big New York City Magazine Editor, I think we have at least a partial answer to your question, Where do women get these messages? They get them from you and your stupid magazine. (The photo at left, taken from Self's web site, is original and unretouched.) They get them from the advertisers who pay your bills, running ads similar in tone to the NutriSystem ad described above. Want to help the average woman have a better body image? Put a 45-year-old, 160-pound model on your cover now and then. Yes, in a swimsuit. Let's see you put your magazine where your mouth is....

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read your comment on the GMA board. This is terrific stuff, sad but terrific and all too true! I have ordered your book and will keep reading.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I showed this to my wife and she literally applauded.
-Carl
ps, the Rev. probaly will be shocked to hear that I actually have a wife.

a/good/lysstener said...

I won't deny, I sometimes wonder why this is seemingly such a crusade for you. I almost feel that there must be a personal story behind it. Still I have to second the other reactions here, or "third them," since there's already two, in saying this is much needed comment. It's in the category of something we all know, and the media pay it lip service as you suggest, yet no on is sincere enough to change business as usual.

Steve Salerno said...

This isn't a crusade per se, Alyssa. And if you think about it, the subject of body image isn't very far removed from discussions of "the self" and what constitutes it. In no area of American life, perhaps, do we have more feverish commercial activity than the diet-and-fitness industry--particularly at this time of year. Yet the crushing irony is that, while dieting never seems to work for the people who really need to lose weight, the diet MESSAGE (a la NutriSystem: "there's no such thing as too thin") has had a devastating impact on millions of women--many young women in particular--who are just fine the way they are.

Citizen Deux said...

Healthy balance is all we really need. I am continually stunned by the horrible messages we send via marketing and advertising. Just how many bikini clad models do we need before a person's slef image (and conversely the images expected by the opposite gender) self destructs?

How about this, if you are within a healthy weight range and want to improve your endurance or physique, try some light exercise. If you are outside that range, work with a professional to reduce your overall health risk!

Crikey.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, I could imagine you watching "The View" just a little while ago today (Wed., Jan. 31), and shouting, "My point exactly!" The ladies were talking about how lousy they've always felt about themselves after looking at most women's magazines.