Ways to Cultivate Media Immunity

I’ll level with ya: I’m not sure that true media immunity is possible. Not for those of us who watch movies and television, use the Internet, and read magazines or even just view their covers. And that can feel frustrating since the messages we receive from mass media about beauty, bodies, and value are oppressive and upsetting: It’s hard to cultivate self-love in the face of relentless images of women who don’t look a thing like you, information about how to hide your “flaws,” and unending pressure to lose weight and tone up. Progress has been made on a few fronts, but many media outlets still dump this stuff on us daily. And since we can’t get away from it, I think it’s wise to create a plan of reaction and to cultivate as much immunity as possible. Until we can recast the messages, we must be aware of how we receive them.

So here are a few tricks I use to keep those media messages from dragging me down. Perhaps a few will work for you, too.

Yes, it has been Photoshopped: Every photograph in every magazine, catalog, or other printed medium has, indeed, been Photoshopped. You can bet on it. From the red carpet shot of Heidi Klum to the impossibly close photo of the matte foundation model’s t-zone. Never, ever look at a printed photo and think,”If only I could get my hair/skin/undereyes/hips/breasts to look that good.” You can’t. Even the woman you’re looking at can’t. It’s not humanly possible. Frustrating … but also a bit freeing.

No mass-marketed periodical can tell you anything about your health: You are a unique individual and you are a human being. That means your health is an INCREDIBLY complex concept. Periodicals will hurl statistics at you, make mind-blowing generalizations, and do just about everything they can to convince you that their articles and recommendations are scientifically sound. They’re not. They’re just not! No exercise regimen shown in a mag is going to be perfect for you, no diet plan described on TV is going to do the trick for you, no product is going to change your body shape. If you want to undertake changes that will impact your body and health, contact professionals in your area who can meet with you in person and discuss your specific history. And don’t let anyone who hasn’t met you and spoken with you at great length deem you unhealthy.

Famous people have live-in tailors: Once again, I must point you to this post which reveals that the rich and famous have everything tailored. Including basic tees. Those people you’re looking at in those glossy photos? They have had everything they’re wearing custom made for their proportions. Why do they look so amazing in things that look weird on you? Because they have skilled tailors and gobs of cash.

Inspiration is everywhere: It really is! And despite all of the rather ominous-sounding stuff in this post, images and ideas from mass media CAN be incredibly inspiring. If you choose to explore traditional media but worry how it will affect your self image, do your best to keep yourself in mind as you consume. Think, “What of this applies to me, my body, and my life?” If the clothes won’t fit or are too expensive, mind the proportions, materials, and color combos. If a workout idea appeals, consult a trainer or gym employee before attempting it on your own. If a spread showing a celebrity home makes you feel ashamed of your own, jot down a few DIY projects that might help you emulate what you’re seeing and loving. The media has all sorts of views about what you should be, but you get to decide what you want to be.

Again, the true goal is to crack open the beauty myth and let some real diversity in. These are simply workarounds that can soften the blows that magazines, catalogs, TV, movies, and videos can inflict on our collective body image. Alternately, you can try a media fast, or choose to support only outlets that align with your own views on how women should be represented and portrayed. Both fantastic ways to send messages to the industry and ensure that you’re surrounded by positive messages. But since mainstream media infiltrate much of Western culture no matter how we attempt to avoid them, cultivating some psychological and emotional immunity can be beneficial.

Image via weheartit.

Next Post
Previous Post
  • Tina

    I have to say I get really irritated by it all. I have co-workers that are super skinny and they constantly obsess over food and body image. I am about 25 lbs overweight (even though I just lost 50 lbs) and I am OK with it all. I want to tell them “do you know how boring you are? I am so tired of hearing about this”. I always prefer to interact with my male co-workers because frankly, I am sick and tired of the body snarking that goes on with the women.

    • TinaPete

      Amen. I wish that “fat talk” could be banned, particularly when I go out to lunch with my friends. Don’t we have so much more to talk about?
      Congrats on your healthy body status!

      • Tina

        Thanks!!!

    • Hear, hear! I really wish those ladies knew just how boring weight-loss talk is. I understand that it’s important to them and I don’t mean to detract from that, but I have lots of things that are important to me and I don’t insist on talking about them ad infinitum as if I think anyone else cares. And these aren’t even culturally and socially loaded topics like weight!

  • These are great tips and reminders for dealing with the treacherous world of fashion magazines. I remember when I learned that most famous people have everything tailored. It was a total light bulb moment for me.

    I normally deal with my media issues by limiting my consumption of it. I’ve found that the more I look at magazines, the worse I feel about myself, so I just…don’t. I have a similar take on the mall. I will feel fine about the things I own and the clothes I have until I go to the mall, and then suddenly I want everything and nothing I own is good enough. Because my bank account can’t handle that, I instead choose to just limit the amount of time I spend in the mall.

  • Great post. I think it’s also important to remind yourself whenever you see a media-filtered image: somebody is trying to sell me something. Whether it’s a product, a lifestyle, or a worldview, there’s an attempt to make a sale. So ask yourself: what is going on here? What is this image trying to sell me? It may not be immediately apparent — maybe it’s just a set of (unconscious?) values on the part of a filmmaker — but it’s there and it can help to put things in perspective and help you to recognize someone is making money by selling your “gaze” (i.e., your eyes viewing the ad, or the movie, or the billboard) to an advertiser.

  • I use the media to keep we aware of the world around me but don’t take it as gospel. It’s always someone’s interpretation of something. take it as that.

  • The single best way I’ve found to cultivate “media immunity”, or whatever you want to call just not worrying about this stuff, is just to have more pressing priorities. When I was growing up, the magazines around the house were The Atlantic, Christian Science Monitor, and Utne Reader. I was encouraged to pillage the public library every week, so I had books to read that were not about “girl stuff”. My family was not well off, but I had great public schools, and so I had music lessons and practices, swimming lessons, debate and speech practices. Plus, a whole small town to have the run of by day and sneakily by night. I don’t think I ever looked at a “Seventeen” magazine. In college, I traded in a moment of sorority-joining foolishness (accompanied for a short time by pearls, pink sweaters, and meticulously curled hair) for a black trench coat and a rich and weird life of managing the campus radio station in the heyday of college radio. Graduate school in the hard sciences didn’t leave a lot of time for body image worries, and the spare time I did have I filled up with working at the local food co-op, learning to cook, and long distance running. A brief flirtation with TV in 2001-2 convinced me I didn’t need it, and I haven’t had cable since; I’ve filled the time with dance classes, music, and the hard work of staying on top of genomic science for my job. I probably have consumed more female-oriented media in the last two years, through reading fashion blogs, than ever in my life. (And yeah, I’m not real sure it’s been good for me).

    So. Learn a skill. If you have the luxury, go back to school and study something that taxes every brain cell you have. Dance, even if you’re already past your prime (I started at 30) and you’re not shooting to be a pro. Learn a language. Spanish is probably going to come in real handy in the future. Become an activist. Fight back against the real, serious, legislative anti-woman craziness that’s going on right now. Work on fitness — how long would you survive after the zombie apocalypse? Could you improve your chances? Read, and when you read, identify with the protagonist. I know he’s probably a dude. Do it anyway — I’ve been identifying with the protagonist all of my life because that’s what I want to be.

    • Susan, the one in Berkeley

      Right on!

  • Yes, yes, to what Cynthia said. (esp about the zombie apocalypse) : > I try to focus away from the advertising-laden media and the images of “ideal” women. It’s not possible to escape them entirely, but I much prefer to get my fashion fixes from blogs like yours!

  • I think I’m generally good at blocking out media messages about body standards.

    I tend to compare myself to my friends and acquaintances, though… definitely a bad habit I’m trying to get rid of.

  • I read magazines/ads all the time (partly because of school) and the way I keep some distance is to think about it in an academic way: ie like I’m some cultural anthropologist studying the way society likes to portray the aesthetic parts of itself.

    It blew my mind when I realized most celebrities tailor all their clothes.

  • Debbie R.

    Thanks for the great post. It’s a very good reminder!

  • I just try to take the good out of media – inspiration for future shoots (I’m a photographer), clothing, decor, new recipes,etc. I think, as others have pointed out, but realize it for the filtered, highly-stylized, non-reality that it is 🙂

  • D

    This is wonderful. These tips have certainly worked for me, as well as Cynthia’s suggestion about having other things going on in your life. Roller derby now, swing dancing and marching band in my past…its nice to put your focus on more productive outlets.

    I think it also helps that I don’t watch TV.

  • Susan, the one in Berkeley

    I had good, solid RiotGrrl training so I see these magazines for what they are – people trying to make money on the insecurity of women. I find fashion blogs like this one are carrying the torch and keeping things in perspective. Its hard to keep the fun of fashion and throw away the rest without reinforcement from other like-minded women.

  • Mel

    I mostly steer clear, while trying to be vaguely aware in a general way of what is stylish so I don’t look too completely out-dated.

    As in, finally realizing that my boxy older blazers with the larger lapels, and longer lengths that weren’t too terribly outdated a few years ago are now completely outdated. And they do *nothing* for my body shape. They probably never did; I just didn’t realize it. (Doesn’t make it any easier to get rid of them, though.)

    The internet has helped tremendously with learning. In the past, there was no way to easily learn about body shapes and what looked good on me without a lot of time invested and it being more of an academic pursuit. Now I can breeze through a couple of blogs…..well, ok, a bunch of blogs….every day and learn tons. It’s waaay more visual than academic learning. Whereas a book would have a few pictures, the internet has millions of examples for me to peruse.

    I was astounded to learn that some people have ALL their clothes altered. Wow! No wonder they look so good, and I don’t so much! I’ve spent the time since Christmas altering all of my pants, and am now starting on my jackets. I can’t get over the compliments I’m getting on stuff that’s old. And it’s all because it fits better.

  • Sarah

    I can remember reading Cosmo as a teen and being completely overwhelmed by how many things I was supposed to do to get his interest, turn him on, keep his interest, keep turning him on, steam up the bedroom, make his eyes roll back in his head, etc, etc. Not to mention the 10 super secret errogenous zones I’ve never heard of, the 25 things he’s too shy to tell me he wants to do in bed, and 50 easy tricks for making him want me even more. Cosmo managed to make me sick of sex about 5 years before I started having it.

    Nowadays I just read magazines with solid writing and reporting and try to ignore the rest. Elle consistently impresses me with their articles and I think of it as a very thoughtful magazine. Esquire has some of the greatest writers working today and moves me to tears at least once an issue. I admit, I started reading it hoping for insight into men, but I still read it ten years later because of the caliber of the writing. Even the celebrity profiles are brilliant.

  • Gail

    Because I am 4′ 10″ tall, and 58-yrs-old, this issue is both really tough and really hilarious. I may be getting freer in my body and mind, but not any younger. So instead of shuddering where it’s all heading, I imagine a magazine tailored just for me when I’m 78—-little gnomish or elvish elders in amazing ethnic designer clothes–the stuff of dreams!

  • I definitely limit my consumption – no fashion magazines and no tv. My fashion news I get from blogs and from people I see on the street. This wasn’t a deliberate decision I ever made; I just find that fashion magazines are mostly ads and not worth the space they take up and I dislike TV. I love fashion though and I think it helps if you have a strong sense of your own style, so you can filter out the noise but still find inspiration. I don’t know anyone who obsesses over body weight or other image issues so I think there are very few such negative influences in my life overall.

  • Miss T

    The most egregious trend in the media’s assault on women recently has been, in my opinion, the substitution of MEN’S bodies as images of idealized women, as in the case of “transgender model” Andrej Pejic (photo here: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/photos/jan-27-2012-photo-photographer-sebastien-micke-assistant-photo-031711021.html). Pejic is the “new face” of Gaultier’s WOMEN’S couture women’s line, as well as the face of Gaultier perfume. This man-as-image-of-ideal-female-body is being showcased in mainstream fashion magazines (e.g., Vogue) so the message of no breasts, no hips, no fat, no curves is once again put upon us as being “hot” and perpetuates the same opportunity for self-loathing that feminists have tried to mitigate for the past several years. I am actually surprised that there has been no outcry about this in terms of having a negative effect on young girls’s sense of body image — not that Vogue ever was great for that, but this is over the top — and the lack of outcry seems very ominous to me in terms of the current backlash against women in general these days. On a more local level, I also have problems with men (boys, really) selling makeup to women in department stores like Nordstrom. They are called “makeup artists”, a term that implies that a woman is too unskilled to pick out her own lipstick but needs to confer with a 20-year-old boy who is a certified “artist” and learn the proper application from him — he, who does NOT wear lipstick on a daily basis. The idea that one needs to visit a (male) makeup artist in order to look presentable is insulting and infantilizing to women. When I was a teen (the 70s), just learning to wear makeup, I remember visiting a local department store (no longer in business) near my high school in San Francisco and going to the Revlon counter where the most beautiful woman (probably in her 40’s at the time) patiently helped me find the right color eye shadow that didn’t look trashy and inappropriate on a girl my age. I was so grateful, and felt really special because she was a role model for me in terms of being a real woman who was stylish, and sure, she was selling me something, but she took the time to mentor me and help me make good fashion decisions.

    As I write this, I’ve been wondering if if my critique of male dominance of the women’s fashion industry extends to male designers. That’s a tough one. Having been trained as a designer myself (though I never worked professionally in the field, it was just something I loved) I am aware that there is clothing that is worn and there is clothing that is art, and men are as artistic as women (though most art created by women is downplayed in our society as “crafts”). Much of what we see in the fashion magazines is clothing as art, and if one remembers that, it loses it’s domination over one’s sense of body image. On the other hand, there is a paucity of female designers of haute couture today, which is a fairly recent trend, I think. In the 60s and 70s, you could open up Vogue and see many female designers, who really pushed the edge in terms of fashion, but it was fashion that was fun, appealing, wearable, and had a kind of respect for the female form that you just don’t see today in fashion designed by men. Somehow, female designers just don’t have the influence they once had, which I think is linked to the overall denigration of women’s bodies that is present in media images today.

    • Jessica

      Transgender women are women, not men.

      • Miss T

        Andrej Pejic is a man.

        • Jessica

          Then your use of “transgender” is incorrect. Perhaps you mean “androgynous?”

  • Love this post with some great “how tos” in terms of media immunity. I try to limit my media consumption, but I also am very inspired by women-centered blogs that offer an alternative to mainstream media. As usual, great, thought-provoking post!

  • Marsha Calhoun

    The only defense: watch what you look at, watch what you read, watch what you think. You are the one in charge of these things – and the only important thing is what you wind up thinking after looking and reading.

  • l

    I’m some kind of freak who finds it all beautiful and inspiring! Of course, I am thankful to understand now things I did not always understand as a teenager, about pinning of clothes, photo revisions and so on. And I have some pretty features but really, really do not look like those beauty standards from neither my shoulders up nor my neck down. I have no idea why they don’t bother me, have not been destructive to me, and I just find them pleasant and inspiring – and I wonder how many other women are like this.

  • I’m trying to learn to believe my friends compliments and look at all the other women who have tumys from have babies and teenagers and too much stress in their lives. I’ve never been a magazine gazer but when I do read them, as in the doctors office, I purposefully look for women of my age and also for any cellulite, etc that has been missed. I’m also beginning to give up a bit on the ‘fruit’ shape that I am because I don’t actually fit into any bracket as a shortish (5′ 2″) person. I’m starting to wear what I like ,buying better quality at opportunity shops (secondhand) and then throwing out if I have made a mistake. Cherrie

  • Lydia

    I never viewed these magazines as reality in the first place. For me they always represented a ‘fantasy and imagined life’ — a life that is not mine. I enjoy the magazines that have pictures of clothes that are NOT on a model — that gives me ideas of what I really like, and what I would wear. As for the photo shoots with models — I honestly see them as ‘models’ — women who wear clothes to pose in a magazine — sure they are real women with lives of their own, but I view fashion photoshoots as manufactured, therefore, not real, or even intended to reflect a reality.

    I enjoy reading blogs like this one much more than reading articles in fashion magazines, because this is so much more interesting and inspiring to me as an individual — plus I love the healthy message here. — I get sick and tired of articles that are really written for editors and people who live to exist in the fashion world; thus, I end up skimming or skipping articles, and taking on the role of viewer.

    Incedentally, I played with Barbie as welll, and never thought I had to look like her — she represented a fantasy world as well, and I honestly do not live my life like my Barbie lived hers!

  • I have a fantasy of a world without advertising…

  • M-C

    Absolutely no need to have gobs of cash in order to have every stitch of clothing on your body custom tailored :-). A little time investment for training is all it takes.
    I do confirm that it does wonders for your body image though. Amazing how quickly I can feel worse about myself if I try on some RTW. Otherwise my quirks never cross my mind, they’re just what makes me be me.