Last winter, I entered a contest. The charge was to explain in 500 words or less one bold action that could make the world truly value the diversity of female bodies. I didn’t win (obviously), but I am still proud of my entry. And should I ever have the power and means to implement it on my own, you can bet your ass I’ll do it.
For the record, I don’t think this is the ONLY bold move, the BEST bold move, or even an ESSENTIAL bold move to changing perceptions surrounding female bodies. But it is one that I feel I could personally spearhead, and one that I think could have tremendous impact. On the surface, it oversimplifies some important issues, but it also pries them open for examination and discussion. Or could, anyway.
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No one has ever told me that I’m unattractive. Not to my face. And yet I have felt misshapen and unsightly since the moment I hit puberty. Movies, television, music videos, advertisements, and magazines fed me passive messages about weight and figure, complexion and proportion that invaded my psyche and convinced me of my own inadequacy. Eventually, overt messages from ads for weight-loss products, magazine articles about faking a perfect complexion, and news stories on obesity began contributing, too. There followed several decades of intense self-loathing.
And, like millions of women worldwide, I still struggle. But blogging about the link between style and body image has thrown me into a global community of women of every imaginable height, weight, and body shape. Seeing daily photographs of their radiant faces and amazing figures has exploded my definition of beauty. It wasn’t enough to observe bodily diversity passively. I needed to see it highlighted, called out, labeled. And once I did, I was finally able to shed my belief that there is only one kind of gorgeous.
I believe one bold action that could make the world truly value the diversity of women’s and girls’ bodies would be to launch a multi-tiered, ongoing, subversive ad campaign that forces people to reevaluate concepts of physical beauty. While similar campaigns are already in place, corporate influence and narrow focus have limited their impact. My vision is for a far-reaching, thought-provoking, conversation-starting campaign that presents female bodily diversity in all its true glory.
Imagine a billboard with a photograph of a size 28 woman in a simple red dress, the word “GORGEOUS” in bold type below her. Imagine a magazine ad with a 4’10” woman in jeans and a tee, the word “POWERFUL” her label. Imagine banner ads on popular websites showing disabled women, women with tattoos and facial piercings, women with belly fat and frizzy hair and wrinkles described in simple, high-impact terms like, “SEXY,” and “LOVELY,” and “BEAUTIFUL.” Place these ads in markets nationwide over several months and allow viewers to react and discuss. Then follow up with a more verbal campaign asking viewers why applying these terms to these particular women may feel counter-intuitive. Television spots and animated banners could be part of this second tier, generating more conversation and allowing more time for ideas to shift. The final phase would be comprised of more woman-word pairings, but also direct consumers to a website containing essays from the women featured in the ads, forums for discussion, and other related resources.
Body image is both deep-seated and intensely personal. Women who hate themselves can’t shift mentalities or heal psyches just because they’re told to. They must be shown new examples, allowed time to contemplate, and given room to reevaluate. People who believe that only tall, slender women could ever be attractive need new paradigms. And presenting those paradigms through the very same media that manufacture beauty-related falsehoods could be a bold, effective, even revolutionary step toward shattering biases about women’s bodies.
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