body image, gender, girls rights, Women's rights

Do ‘girl ads’ detract from girls’ empowerment?

This excellent blog post summarizing the discussion at the NY Technology Salon the past week really hits on a number of critical issues relating girls and/in the media.

I think that one of the issues not brought up directly, but alluded to in this discussion, is the co-opting of feminist ideas. The appeal of the feminist movement is predicated on the nagging sense all women have that something isn’t right, that boys and men are getting a better deal. on a very basic level, this is universal enough to appeal to a broad audience. Consumer product marketing mavericks took this notion, and they basically used it to make their product seem ‘feminist’. Of course, this is what we would call ‘lipstick feminism’ or  in other words, taking the feminist ideals of power with/to/within and removing the political sting, so all you’re left with are hallowed out terms that can easily be adopted by a campaign for a beauty product.

Not to get too deeply into the issues of cause marketing (which are vast), the very idea of linking the feminist notion of the commodification of female bodies which serves patriarchal systems to keep women subjugated, fractured and busy with what Naomi Wolf called ‘the third shift’, and adopting it to sell body lotion and deodorant, is nothing short of mind boggling. this paradox could only ever exist and succeed in a society that conflates political participation with purchasing products. and i think in the face of this consumer driven onslaught, feminism is going to lose.

Because selling a product is so much easier than explaining the heterosexual matrix. and because our attention spans are getting ever shorter, the odds of someone not enrolled in a women’s studies program ever taking the time to really understand these powerful concepts, is highly unlikely. and so you get things like this. because young women think feminism is unnecessary, but the same girls think the Dove campaign for ‘real beauty’ is powerful. and that Nicki Minaj is a role model.

Do ‘girl ads’ detract from girls’ empowerment?.

16 days, body image, gender, media, violence, Women's rights

How the media failed women

The media has never been kind towards women. They are ultimately trying to sell us something and as agents of the beauty industry have good reason to keep us dissatisfied with ourselves and obsessed with images of airbrushed women. We are stereotyped in movies, advertisements and glossy magazines, and are made to believe we can only digest the evening news if it’s presented by a very pretty woman.

We are aware of this. Men and women who find these images appalling and oppressive, speak out where possible. Yet the industry remains undisturbed; and every once in a while they come up with things like this:


Let’s break down this image shall we? A woman is held down by force by a man while thrusting her pelvise suggestively at another three men who are standing around awaiting their turn and watching. Four men and one woman? Where have i heard this story before?

oh, that’s right. Delhi, India, December 2012. A young woman is gang raped by six men and subsequently dies from the assault. This sort of violence seems completely at odds with this glossy shot, and yet the imagery obviously suggests that dominating women en mass is cool, sexy and acceptable.

Violence against women isn’t created in a vacuum. It’s cultivated, sustained, sanctioned and disseminated in subtle ways, online and offline, through images and words.

In a video by Dove’s “campaign for real beauty” (which is just another consumer ploy, let’s be honest, from the same company which produces racist products such as Fair and Lovely. puke.) a girl is bombarded with images reminiscent of the famous scene from ‘Clockwork Orange’ and finally the words flashing across the screen advise mothers to educate their daughters before the beauty industry does.

In this instance, the self-hate propagated by these images can lead to self-harm, another form of violence, which girls inflict upon themselves in despair once they realize (at the age of 10) that they will never look like any of the young women they see on screen and in magazines. and apparently it’s your fault, mother, for not shielding your daughter from such images. hello? maybe Unilever would like to step up and take responsibility for the stick-figure, scantily clad women they use in their ads?

pot noodle unilever

Comparing a woman to pot noodle? Really Unilever?

how about this:


Turning women into objects is the first step towards justifying violence against women. In other words – they’re not really people, so it’s okay to beat the crap out of them. Kate Moss is simply a prop, much like a tripod in fact, for holding up a desirable camera.

whatever sells, right?

How else has media failed women in 2013? a short recap in this video by Miss Representation.

Just when you thought it was safe to be a conscious feminist, the media does it again. and again. and again.

Tomorrow is the last day of the 16 days of activism to end violence against women. it’s important to talk about these issues, and write about them, and nag about them, all year round. Because they are here all the time, and they are not confined to news reports of rape in third world countries. Violence is spoon fed to us all the time by those who would keep us powerless, occupied with thinking about our looks, instead of thinking about equality.

Don’t let them win.

body image, fitness, gender

No pain, no gain (part I)

I don’t often (read, ever) blog about body image. I guess there’s something very personal to me about the issue and as a feminist I really struggle to reconcile what I know in theory about the consequences of believing photoshopped images, and how I actually feel when I look in the mirror and swear to myself, not for the first time, that I need to just stop eating altogether because food is evil and being skinny will make me happy.

More often than not, the only time of day when I feel entirely at ease with my body is when im running. The feel of my muscles working and the slight soreness I get from the lactic acid buildup, makes me appreciate my body – my strong legs that let me go up and down hills, my agile feet that allow me to jump over rocks, my dependable heart that keeps my blood pumping even during interval training. At the end of each running session, much like at the conclusion of each yoga practice, I thank my body for letting me do what I love.

And yet, I’ll get home, take my clothes off on the way to the shower and critically examine my belly fat thinking, ugh, no more wheat products, ever!

So when I came across this great article by Kevin Moore on the ‘6 most shockingly irresponsible “fitspiration” photos’, it really hit a nerve. Moore looks at a few Pinterest type images that blend a catchy motivational phrase with a (more or less) artistic photo to create what he calls ‘fitness propaganda’.


Moore really challenges the messages those images send on several levels – is this message smart fitness advice? And what does the image tell the viewer about their own body? In both cases the answer is – look away! You’re about to be fed a load of bollocks that will make you feel bad about yourself and do something irresponsible to fix it. According to Moore “Pushing your body’s limits just because you want bigger biceps is sort of like setting your house on fire because you’re cold.”

And what about this one?


According to Moore:

“Now, ladies, you need to be skinny and ripped. It’s an additional layer of self-loathing  (perfectly suited for hypergymnasiacs), just in case people had started to get desensitized to the omnipresent and psychologically crippling display of corpse-thin women in the media”.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse – the photo feels practically pornographic and suddenly being fit means looking impossibly sexy in a torn t-shirt and thong.


I guess for those who have been paying attention, the transfer of glossy mag beauty standards to the world of fitness and sports has been happening for a while. You will recall that two days before the 2012 London Olympics an Australian newspaper called Leisel Jones, an Olympic triple gold medalist, ‘fat’ and questioned her fitness levels.


The same accusations were leveled at Jessica Ennis, the British Heptathlete champion who said in response: ““Everyone has their hang-ups, but I see my body as a training tool and I feel good about it. I’m comfortable being naked.”

It’s a sad day when an Olympic level athlete has to answer to public comments about their body shape, fully ignoring their world-class sporting achievements. Turns out, being an Olympic level athlete should looks like this:


Wait…what??! I thought being strong was about being strong. Nope. Seems being strong is about prescribing to an unreal hyper sexualized silicone breasted airbrushed image.

Thing is – I could probably starve myself into looking like that. But then I wouldn’t be able to run 10k, or chaturangah, or walk up the stairs without getting tired. So how can I reconcile being fit with being hungry? And if this is what the internet is selling everyone, is there any hope for me?


To be continued…