Are these bodies “really” that diverse? Dove Real Beauty Campaign Ad.
In her book Becoming Women: The Embodied Self in Image Culture (2014), Carla Rice reconfirms the commonsense notion that North American popular culture—filled with images of thin white women—damages women’s self-esteem by sending narrow messages about what women should look like. Because the mass media’s standard of beauty excludes 99% of ladies, it encourages them to develop such issues as body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Rice predictably lobbies for more diverse pictures of women. About a decade ago she served as a consultant to Dove, helping that company develop its “Real Beauty” advertising campaign. It was begun in 2004 after surveys revealed that only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful. Rice urged Dove to appeal to women’s desire for acceptance rather than judgement, admitting that the final (highly controversial) advertisements continued to feature attractive women with flawless skin.
Jo Spence and Tim Sheard, Exiled, 1989. From Narratives of Dis-ease (1989).
Yet Dove was late to the party. For decades artists and scholars have intervened in dominant image culture, offering alternative images of fat, sick, differently abled, and lesbian bodies, among others. Artist Jo Spence is well known for scrawling “Monster” across her chest, taking photographs of her cancer treatments in an effort to reclaim and de-medicalize her suffering body. Such transgressive images are much more effective than those produced by Dove, though they have less popular circulation.
While I agree that the current beauty standard is ridiculously limiting, and support the display of diverse female bodies, I think that image culture receives too much attention and has in fact become a scapegoat for women’s body problems. Continue reading →
Crystal 2007: Slim and Sexy in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Crystal Fraser
I was walking down a dark bike path, cell phone in hand, noting the sound of every step and scuffle strangers made on the cold, wet pavement. I was in Ottawa undertaking the final phase of my archival research for my PhD dissertation and this was the evening of a particularly long and intense day; we had been in lockdown in a federal building after the murder of Nathan Cirillo and the dramatic events that unfolded at Parliament’s Centre Block. On uber-high alert, I consistently reminded myself why I needed to pay such close attention to every detail of my surroundings. “Okay self. First: last news update. There may be suspects still at large. Fuck. Second: You are an Indigenous woman and statistically have a one-in-three chance of being sexually assaulted. Fuck. Third: No one better mess with me. I have an umbrella, a set of keys, and a large purse and I am not afraid to use them. Double fuck.” Trying to dismiss all of the above, I attempted to rationalize the uncertainty of my situation. “Listen here self: you don’t have to worry about that strange man walking behind you. You’ll be safe you cause you are FAT! Hahahaha – joke is on him! Wait…what?”Continue reading →
“What happened to you?” my mother asks, turning around to look at the dusty farmer now sitting beside me in the back seat of the blue Valiant. The man is hunched over and emitting small gasps of pain. Raising frightened eyes, he slowly unwinds a stained cloth to reveal his right hand. As the farmer starts to shake and sweat, I catch a glimpse of two severed fingers, covered in blood. I am surprised by how small they are. The man then gathers the stumps back into his handkerchief, and presses the injured parts to his chest. I am not quite six years old. Continue reading →
After finishing my book, which is now in the hands of external referees, I realized that many photographs—taken by the incomparable artist and designer Patrick J. Reed—could not be included in it. I think his images offer feminist interventions in the often heteronormative, … Continue reading →
You are correct to think that this poster shows a male rather than female body, and not a very sexy one at that. Created by the Parisian advertising agency Leg, it encourages French attendance at the upcoming summer Olympic Games in London by poking fun at the stereotypical British physique; this softly beer-gutted man is more likely to throw darts than a javelin. Her Continue reading →
This post is not about how to take selfies in flattering lighting conditions while wearing glasses to hide eye bags.
Get ready for some awesome advice about how to defy the ageing process. This post is aimed at people who are rather old, like me. Don’t worry. I will not be talking about face cream, chemical injections, or how to improve your pathetically thin eyebrows! My advice is simple, easy to follow, and gender neutral. Plus it just makes sense. Continue reading →
I no longer work out two hours per day, but I still spend quite a bit of time at the gym, about one hour six days per week. While warming up on the rowing machine or re-racking the bar in the mirrored squat rack, I take a look around. Sometimes I admire the masterful technique of those nearby. Sometimes I get ideas for new exercises, helping me to plan the next work out with Dr. Ironcore. And sometimes I become irrationally annoyed by people who don’t seem to be working out at all. They are just wasting time. Continue reading →
After stashing my purse in the corner of the indoor playground, I jump on the wide blue trampoline, rising higher and higher. The stress of the week leaves my upper back and neck regions. A bolt of freedom shoots from my entrails to the top of my head. I relish the sheer physicality of the moment, without a care in the world.
This title is meant to recall the title of the best-selling book, The Last Lecture (2008), written by Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science who had terminal cancer. Just before his death he delivered pithy life lessons to his students, or at least I think so. I have not read his final words and have no interest in doing so. I thought of Pausch’s book today only because I taught my last spin class, after offering between 2-4 classes per week for the last five years. Although I am not dying anytime soon—thankfully I am fit as a fiddle—I did feel a sense of loss when I decided to throw in my cleats. Continue reading →