The Other Side to Media’s Unrealistic Depictions of Beauty

Apologies for the break in posts over the past few weeks.  I’ve been cooking up a whole new aspect to my blog!  Stay tuned for the upcoming changes.

Courtesy of Numero Magazine

I was flying back from Paris last week and picked up the August issue of Numero magazine in the airport.  Though my French is terrible, my eye sight isn’t, so I relished in the magazine’s beautiful imagery.  But nothing blew me away as much as the amazing spread by Sophia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello.  Of course the photography was gorgeous and the fashion beautiful.  What stopped me in my tracks, though, were the striking images of young and older women (see pic above).  Despite my heavy load, I knew I had to carry that magazine with me all the way home.  This photoshoot elated me.  And it confirmed what I’ve been believing for a while.  Let’s not fear and reject media outright for it’s shaming of men and women.  Instead, let’s find ways to uplift it.

As a young strategic planner at DDB in the 90’s, I couldn’t escape all of the famous quotes from legendary ad man and founder, Bill Bernbach.  As you’d expect I barely remember most of them but a few have stuck.  One that has influenced me throughout my career, and frankly kept me connected to the marketing and advertising business as long as I have, was this:

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

Today, media, especially social media, is often vilified for projecting unrealistic, negative, stereotypical imagery of people.  And it can lead to the vulgar sides of society: body shaming, poor self image and crazy standards.  As a mother of girl entering puberty, I’m acutely aware of this.  Plus, I often catch myself measuring my looks against these standards.

But can we recognize the opportunity the media affords us too?

For better or for worse, we are visual creatures.  We are drawn to imagery, especially images of people.  Moreover, we are fundamentally attracted to beauty — beautiful people, beautiful images, and beautiful things.  Of course we have different interpretations of beauty.  But the truth they appeal to us… greatly.   And because we’re that much more likely to focus on a picture or video than sit down and read an essay, or listen to a pundit speak, we are likely to let these new notions of beauty and self-expression penetrate.

We could just bemoan today’s media or we could use our tendency towards beauty, and the media that leverages, it to “uplift”society, rather than “vulgarize it.”

How?

First, let’s use the plethora of imagery to spark a conversation with our kids.  We can ask them how they feel about it and how to view it all with a realistic eye.  Through that conversation we may venture into much larger issues of body image, aging, and confidence.

Second, we can influence media to push for more inclusive imagery.   And it’s happening already!  Media is starting to hear us.  A recent article in Digiday references the numerous examples from beauty and fashion magazines that are now reflecting the many different forms of gender, ethnicity, body type and age.

Finally, because we know we are attracted to such imagery, the world of beauty and fashion can be a vehicle for even greater social change!  This same article gave us two great quotes, one from Jenny Bailly, Allure’s executive beauty editor, and the other from, Cat Quinn of Refinery29, which summarized this well:

“Beauty is a great vehicle for driving conversations about social change, because it’s accessible to everyone,” said Quinn, of Refinery29. It’s a topic that many argue lends itself easily to the bigger picture. “When we talk to Halima or [trans model] Andreja Pejic, or [boy beauty star] James Charles, or a young woman on a reservation in Montana about hair and makeup, we’re also having intimate conversations about where they’ve come from, what they believe in and how they interact with the world,” said Bailly.

Let’s not expect to shield our children entirely from the imagery around us, or even poo poo it.  Plus, we all know they find ways to see to it anyway.  Instead let’s embrace the imagery.  Let’s use it as a forum for discussion, and even encourage our friends and our kids to let media outlets know what they want to see projected.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of social media?  Everyone has a voice :).

Someday you will want to remember how it feels to be young and beautiful

Week 1 of 30lbs in 30 weeks.

“Feel your legs. Feel your body. Someday you will want to remember how it feels to be young and beautiful in New York City.”
I wrote the above in my journal when I was 25. I was unemployed, completely broke, and going through a contentious divorce. I didn’t even have an apartment and was sleeping on friend’s couches. I was also probably the happiest I had ever been. I have been trying to recapture the feeling I had those couple years ever since.

a younger Karen
Someday you will want to remember how it feels to be young and beautiful in New York City.

I felt truly free. I was listening to my heart and my body and I imposed very few rules on myself. If it felt good, I did it. It was a time of great exploration for me. I was single for the first time as an adult (I got married at 19), I was in New York City, and the world of possibility was open before me. I was willing to try almost anything once. I didn’t berate myself for mistakes and was completely unafraid of failure. I refused to indulge in negative thoughts, feelings of guilt and I took the word “should” out of my vocabulary. To be a little cliche, I was living “in the now.”

My inner satisfaction seemed to have ripple effects in other areas of my life. As I mentioned before, my divorce was quite ugly and I could easily have focused on the negativity surrounding that process. Instead, each dick move my ex made, I reminded myself how lucky I was to be (nearly) free of him.

My dating life went great, mostly because I just wanted to have fun. Because I was not looking for husband #2, I did not have any preconceived ideas about my perspective dates. I didn’t care much about his age, I didn’t take his bad habits personally, I didn’t try to change him. As long as he was kind, I enjoyed his company and there was attraction, I didn’t care about his career, his background, his hobbies or future goals. I met a lot of great guys with whom I am still friends with. I also met the man would become husband #2.

During this time, I was also in great shape. Despite the fact that I had started drinking, did not have a gym membership and was not counting calories, I managed to stay trim and active. I believe it had something to do with my state of mind. I was listening to my body, I felt energetic and sexy and all this translated to how I treated food and exercise. It likely also manifested itself in other ways that are known to influence our weight – stress, sleep, hormones, mood.

In the past, weight loss was always the goal. It was as if I was going to wake up one day and be at that perfect weight, that perfect size, and suddenly everything would be great. I’d have a steamy sex life, all my clothes would be awesome and fashionable, I’d have more friends, I’d be athletic. I am re-framing my thinking. Weight-loss is no longer my goal. It is a by-product, a benefit of my happiness goal.

To learn more about my project, 30lbs in 30 weeks, follow my weekly posts here.

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Karen Propp is an artsy-fartsy digital geek who sees beauty in a different way. She chronicles the pursuit of happiness and  her weight loss project, 30lbs in 30 weeks, in a weekly feature. You can read the introduction here and follow her journey here. You can also follow Karen on twitter @karen_propp.

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