Body image presentation tackles ‘The Sexy Lie’
Nearly every day, we’re exposed to advertising and media messages either sexualize the female body or tell us we need to be thinner, leaner, more muscular and that physical perfection is the goal. Especially for women, this type of advertising creates the idea that being a sex object is in some way empowering, and it can be easy to buy into this message. Perhaps the biggest problem with this belief is how few are aware of how pervasive it is.
“What I find to be particularly surprising is how widespread the acceptability of sexual objectification is,” said Caroline Heldman, politics professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “(Many people) don’t view it as a problem. We live in a culture where we don’t have the tools to identify the problems of sexual objectifications and the harm this causes girls and women.”
The media image
Heldman is one of four panelists speaking at Your Body, Your Image, a Vail Symposium event held at Vail Christian High School on Thursday night. In 2013, Heldman sought to expose this empowerment myth with a TEDxYouth talk she gave called “The Sexy Lie”, which has garnered over one million views on YouTube.
After “The Sexy Lie” went viral, Heldman said she heard from thousands of girls and women who wanted to know what they could do to fight these media messages and “not fall into the trap of the idea that they need to be a sex object.”
For her talk, Heldman will expand on “The Sexy Lie,” identifying the shocking and myriad ways the media uses our bodies as objects and ways one can take action against this onslaught of sexualization in advertising. Tracey Flower, executive director at the Vail Symposium, said Your Body, Your Image is a program she wished she could have attended as a teenager, when she struggled with poor self image and would compare her appearance to the actresses and models she saw in fashion magazines, unaware that they were being airbrushed.
“This conversation is something I wish I would have had access to when I was 12, 13,” Flower said. “(I wish I’d had) the opportunity to know that what I was seeing wasn’t real, and it was okay that I didn’t measure up to that.”
‘What we can all be doing’
Along with Heldman, also speaking on the panel will be Danica Lo, a former plus-size model who is now the online editor-at-large at Glamour magazine. Flower said Lo will provide a perspective from someone in the media and fashion world, and talk about the positive changes being made when it comes to marketing and advertising. Seher Ali, a student at the University of Windsor in Canada, works with the SPARK Movement, an online and grassroots organization who’s goal is to end the sexualization of women and girls in the media.
“(Ali) will touch on the way women of different ethnicities, such as latino women and African-American women, are portrayed in the media, and how this increases the rate of violence against (these) women,” Flower said. “What her group (SPARK Movement) is doing is what we can all be doing to start taking steps towards fixing these problems.”
Aging and changing body image
Dr. Jill Squyres, a licensed psychologist with an office in Eagle, is a local health professional who specializes in body image issues in both children and adults. Squyres will discuss body image from a psychological perspective, and how this is “not only an adolescent issue,” she said.
“One thing I’ve noticed here in the Vail Valley is that it’s a very prominent issue (and seen) more in people mid-life to aging, for both men and women,” Squyres said.
Because we live in a community that tends to celebrate youth and athletics, Squyres said, when we get older and our physical appearance starts to change, body image issues can arise. Squyres said those who experience these issues in middle-age typically had a “more brittle body image to begin with.”
“For people at mid-life, I think it’s rare to develop body dysmorphic disorder, I see that (more) with young people,” Squyres said. “For them, it’s more depression and feeling hopeless or even anxiety. A lot of it is really centered on looking old. I don’t see a fixation on one wrinkle or even a couple of pounds. It’s more like ‘I don’t look like I’m young anymore. I used to be good looking and now I’m not.’”
Continuing the conversation
For parents concerned about how the media, advertising and peer pressure may influence their child’s self-image, Squyres said many of the messages we receive about our bodies happen at a young age from our own families.
“Within the family, you have to be a good role model, not talk about fat as a big topic of conversation,” Squyres said. “A lot of people remember when a parent said ‘You look fat in that’ or ‘If you eat that you’ll (get) fat.’ It’s not really about how you (or your children) look. Focus on the positives, not the negatives. You can be beautiful no matter what you weigh.”
Flower said she hopes those who attend Your Body, Your Image will come away with more knowledge and learn some useful tools for not only talking about body image, but ways to take action.
“I hope they continue talking about it and continue wanting to learn more and have more conversations,” Flower said. “(I hope) those who are struggling with certain body issues and eating disorders (will) feel like they’re not alone and will know where they can go in the community to get help.”
One evening of dialogue about sexual objectification and body image may not be enough to stem the tidal wave of media messages we’re awash in everyday. But those speaking at Your Body, Your Image know that, like Heldman’s “The Sexy Lie”, one conversation can be the catalyst for positive change in how we feel about our bodies, and, ultimately, ourselves.