Repost: Ways to Cultivate Media Immunity

I’ll be taking the week off regular programming to spend time with my family and relax a bit. Hope many of you can do the same, and enjoy these tidbits from the archive!

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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.

How do you react to mass media messages about women’s bodies and beauty? Do they get under your skin, or have you cultivated some immunity? Would any of these tips help you feel less affected when consuming photos and video of celebs and models? Care to share other ideas for building up some immunity? Or do you prefer to just steer clear as best you can?

Image via weheartit.

  • Anna

    At this moment in the season. with holidays receding and the new year imminent, this roundup is a perfect reminder that we can accept ourselves as we are, and draw inspiration for choosing to make whatever realistic changes we desire, while having fun along the way. Thanks, Sally!

  • Amy

    It seems counter-intuitive, but I actually like to look at candid shots of celebrities in their bathing suits on the beach. It’s amazing how human they look when you catch them without benefit of makeup and perfect lighting and tailored garments. That’s a big reality check for me when I start to think , “if only I was perfect like ___. “

  • Chris

    The whole point is to get you to buy something. So the media is going to use every psychological hook under the sun to make you feel uneasy and inadequate – and make you want to buy the product advertised.

    Before there was PhotoShop or even computers in common use, photos for publication got airbrushed and retouched.

  • Chris

    To underline what Sallie said and to borrow from the 12 Step programs,

    “Take what you can use, and leave the rest.”

  • hannah

    I can definitely vouch for tailoring. Since I’ve started making my own clothes, I’ve realized what a big difference tailoring can really make (and honestly it takes far less time and money to make a perfectly fitted shirt than it does to find one).

  • Beth

    In case it helps, I’ll just give you my story:
    My husband, who grew up starving in Communist Romania, can’t fathom paying for cable or smart phones, so we don’t have them.
    Five years ago, we bought a house in a wooded suburb that’s just far enough from a mall that I never go to one.
    And, we have two small kids, which means I have barely any time at all to myself — and that I have started to really think about aspects of life and culture that I previously took for granted, now that I have to be their guide through all this stuff.

    These three things have totally immunized me to the media. Or maybe the term I should use is “insulated me from.” I didn’t even really mean it to happen, and didn’t know that it was happening — until I went to the mall for the first time in a very, very long time a couple months back and felt like I was on another planet. In that mall, I suddenly understood that I had not been exposed to much popular media for a long time. I also understood that if I lived in a city, or spent any time in malls, I would probably feel pretty inadequate. I was really taken aback by that sudden insight, because I’ve been feeling great about myself for the past few years — better than ever, even. That trip to the mall helped me figure out why — in those years, I have not been comparing myself in any way to any standard outside my own ideas about dressing well (which I clearly care about — because here I am!).

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  • Queen Lucia

    I pretty much stopped reading magazines years ago because I found myself feeling so needy all the time – I need this, I need that. When I started ripping pages out, to remind me of things to buy or try, I knew it needed to stop. This feeling is especially acute when reading InStyle (and similar), which leads you to believe that what they are peddling is actually attainable (relatively “affordable,” available from the drugstore, just buy a knockoff at Walmart, etc). But, ironically, I DON’T feel that way when I read Vogue, which shows a lifestyle that is totally UNattainable for me – I don’t feel the same pressure. And since I’m unlikely to get plastic surgery, or live in a castle in the English countryside, or party with the latest It girls, I can appreciate the artistry of the layouts and the beautiful, well-made clothes and leave the rest.