Mar. 18, 2022 – How long would it be, I wondered, until they would be repeating some version of this refrain? Just moments before, I had listened to a whole different storyline unfold. Two girls, each around 10 years old, were sitting near me on a rock ledge out in the water. One friend was tearfully telling the other that there was a girl at school who was calling her “fat and ugly.” The listening friend was outraged and indignant. “She’s so mean! Ooooo…oh, I, uhh! She’s gonna be sassy? Well, then when I see her I’m going to sass her like she has never been sassed before!” It’s a devastating transition. When do we go from helping each other fend off the bullies to being our own bullies? Why do we stop resisting the oppression, and start swallowing it? How does the battle become internalized, when the enemy is really external?

I remember the first time I saw Jean Kilbourn’s presentation, “Killing Us Softly.” It was the first time I became consciously aware as an adult of the impact modern media was having on girls’ body image. She skillfully showed viewers how the media was dictating the parameters of a desirable female physique, and how it was becoming less and less attainable, less and less healthy, less and less true to the real variety in body shapes and sizes. She cataloged how women were portrayed as objects for male observation: sexualized, depersonalized, and disempowered. And she laid out the painful statistics about the toll this was taking on self-esteem and body image, and the rise in eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.  To be clear, these are not simply correlations—this impact is causal. Researchers from the Eating Disorders Center of Harvard Medical School paid close attention as television was first introduced to the island of Fiji in 1995. Within 3 years, in a culture that previously considered higher weight and bigger bodies to be markers of beauty, 15% of adolescent girls reported inducing vomiting to control their weight, 29% scored high on a test assessing the risk of eating disorders, 50% reported feeling they were too big and wanted to be thinner, and 69% reported having been on a diet in the last three years.

(Do not cut the photo) for clarification see:Jean Kilbourne Killing Us Softly – “Woman’s bodies continue to be dismembered in advertising. Over and over again just one part of the body is used to sell products, which is one of the most dehumanizing thing you can do to someone. Not only is she a thing, but just one part of that thing is focused on.”

— Jean Kilbourne


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