Don’t hold your breath for advertising messages that tell you you’re just fine the way you are.
At the start of the week I posted my thoughts about the Federal Government’s new voluntary body image code of conduct. I said that it was basically OK as far as it went, but that it had ignored a significant contributor to body image dissatisfaction, the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls. The advertising, fashion and beauty industries weren’t being called upon to cease this practice, which is demonstrably harmful to them. You can have a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities represented, but they can still be posed and styled in sexually objectifying ways. Objectification in a size 14 is still objectification.
Thinking about the issue further, while in so many ways the code doesn’t go far enough, in one way it demonstrates remarkable naivete in regard to the beauty industry and the way it advertises itself. A section of the code contains criteria for compliance with the “realistic and natural images of people”. As if the beauty industry is going to do that? It doesn’t want to use real and natural women who might have moles, freckles, blotchy skin, pimples, dry hair and bodies which don’t conform to the thin ideal. (And no one is fooled by Dove anymore, given airbrushing in the ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, its skin whitening products for dark-skinned women and the company’s latest casting calls for women with ‘beautiful hair and skin’, ‘nice bodies’ and who are ‘not too curvy’).
The Code also “encourages organisations to ensure the messages in advertising do not contradict the positive body image messages that may be presented in editorial content.” You have got to be joking. The whole aim of beauty advertising is to make women feel bad about themselves, inadequate and in need of improvement. Making women feel good will defeat the whole purpose of what they do. Don’t expect any upbeat messages about how you are fine the way you are anytime soon.
I would love to be proven wrong, of course.
Zero percent of beauty industry advertising would receive the body image tick of approval
Erica Bartle over at Girl With A Satchel has written a really good post on this aspect of the code. In it she argues, quite rightly, that zero percent of beauty industry advertising would receive the body image tick of approval by conforming to the code in regard to ‘realistic and natural’ depictions and ‘fair placement’ which calls on advertising to be consistent with positive body image messages in the editorials and feature sections of magazines. You can read her views here.
Karen Brooks, author of ‘Consuming Innocence: Popular Culture and Our Children‘, has also weighted into the discussion, with a piece worth reading in the Courier Mail today. In it she writes:
Not only am I concerned that we continue to identify very real social and psychological problems and then provide unrealistic and unattainable solutions (a tick? voluntary?), but we also go about the process the wrong way.
We need more than this to make advertising, beauty and fashion industries accountable
On the 7pm ABC News last night, a report on the Government’s new body image code was illustrated by the story of size 14 model Laura Wells, who was proud of her body and very confident, even though she didn’t conform to the typical model body type.
That is a good thing of course. It’s positive to have women in the industry who challenge the thin ideal.
But the argument fell apart for me, because, as the ABC report informed us, Laura was so confident that she even took her clothes off for modeling shoots. And then we saw some footage of her squeezing her breasts together for the camera. She was naked.
This news item summarized some of my hesitations about the latest moves to address body image concerns.
Yes, of course it is good to encourage body diversity. And it’s right to disclose when models have been airbrushed or digitally enhanced. Of course the fashion industry should be discouraged from parading stick-thin half-dead waifs down the catwalk.
But even when these changes come about – and face it, they are the most basic of essentials, and not even mandatory – the fact is the culture of sexualisation and objectification is not challenged or transformed.
Yesterday, as the 24-year-old recreated the pose of full-figured American pin-up Lizzie Miller – complete with her own “wobbly bits to rock” your socks off, boys – there was nothing to hide… Wiggling and giggling as she attempted to wrestle one [of] her E-cup breasts out of sight, Laura has clearly struck up a fabulously healthy relationship with her body…
It makes you wonder if Laura didn’t have the classic model facial features and an E cup, whether her ‘larger’ body would be so desired by the industry.
It is no advance when curvy women are presented in the same sexualized ways as their smaller sisters. I wrote about this in regard to Rikki Lee Coulter’s dominatrix photo shoot for Ralph, which I described as ‘objectification in a size 14’. Simply using so-called larger bodies (discuss: is size 14 large?] doesn’t change the main goal of the advertising and fashion industries – presenting women as sexually alluring. The baring of female flesh – even when the flesh comes packaged as a size that isn’t a 6, 8, or 10 – is still the main game.
A lot of research tells us that sexualising imagery contributes to body dissatisfaction among girls and women, depression, anxiety, disordered eating and low self-esteem. Yet the National Body Image Advisory Group – whose report has contributed to the Government’s latest announcement – doesn’t mention sexualisation or objectification at all. The industry is smacked with a feather. It’s all voluntary, it’s all about ‘encouraging’ and being nice. (Take the ABC News heading ‘Fashion industry asked to adopt body-image code’. We hope they asked politely!). The report has no teeth. There are no penalties for non-compliance for the recalcitrant’s who will continue to profit from their sexist and harmful practices.
As for disclosing digital enhancement, the message still sent is that women are not good enough on their own – they all need ‘work’ done, they all need to be altered in some way.
Body image isn’t just about not retouching photographs of models who already enjoy the beauty privilege that most of us beat ourselves up about.
It doesn’t help much when the Advisory Group Chair has a section on her website encouraging body surveillance and judgement (is she beautiful or not? Does she look hot in that dress or doesn’t she?) as pointed out in Natalie’s piece above. It doesn’t help much that our Minister for Youth who announced the new code (and who I’m sure has good intentions) does a sexy photo shoot for Grazia, saying she wants girls to feel good about their bodies, then avoids answering questions about whether the shoot was photoshopped. Would Grazia receive the Government’s body image tick of approval?
Another member of the Advisory Group, Sarah Murdoch, hosts Australia’s Next Top Model, which turns judging other women into an art form, using terms like “wild pig”, “Frankenstein” and “Yeti” to describe them. That’s gotta make you feel good about yourself.
Today, a guest blog post from my friend and Collective Shout colleague Melinda Liszewski, affectionately known as ‘The Other Melinda’. Melinda has been a long time campaigner against the objectification of women. She is fondly known as the young woman who took on Blokesworld in 2005 – an event celebrating everything men love, e.g. fast cars, alcohol and semi naked women – and through her dynamic grassroots activism – including getting sponsors to pull out – succeeded in having it shut down. Melinda turned up to the Brisbane showgrounds with her baby, some mates and a protest sign to find it boarded up. This was pre-Collective Shout days, but certainly a forerunner of actions to follow. Melinda’s actions inspired many other women to publicly protest and make their voices heard.
The ‘Rape-aXe’ female condom is designed to be inserted into the woman’s vagina. If a man rapes her, tiny hooks on the inside of the condom will latch onto his penis causing him significant pain. If the man attempts to remove the condom, it will become tighter causing even more pain. Apparently, the condom can only be removed by a doctor. It is hoped that by the time a doctor is removing the condom, the authorities will be on the scene and able to make an arrest.
The premise behind this product is that it is the woman’s responsibility to prevent rape, a sentiment that is all too common in our society. Why was she wearing that? She shouldn’t have been walking alone, she was intoxicated, she went back to his home willingly. There is an endless list of ways in which men are absolved of responsibility for rape. It is accepted that rape is inevitable, so us women had better make sure we avoid being the target. Aside from having to take self-defense classes, avoid going out alone or at night, not drink alcohol, wearing clothes that are too tight, too short or otherwise ‘provocative,’ we now have the option of inserting a product with tiny hooks into our vaginas to further ‘deter’ men who rape. Is this what we’ve come to?
Would it not be more just and more effective to place the responsibility to stop rape where it belongs? With men?
The woman who created the product, seems to have genuine intentions. A South Africa doctor in a country where 1 in 4 men admit to having committed rape, Dr Sonnette Ehlers created the ‘Rape-aXe’ after having to treat a victim of rape four decades ago. Obviously this experience affected her deeply. She sold her belongings to fund the product’s development.
Critics have claimed the product is ‘medieval’ and Dr Ehlers agrees: “Yes my device is medieval, but it’s for a medieval deed that has been around for decades,” she told CNN. “I believe something’s got to be done, and this will make some men rethink before they assault a woman.”
She’s right about one thing, something does have to be done. Many things have to be done. The values and attitudes that lead to rape, that are perpetuated in our society are mediaeval and yet all too common. When will these be challenged?
Images of women who are objectified and desperate for sex wallpaper our society. Violence against women is eroticized; rape is something to joke about.
In 2009, Roger David came under fire for producing shirts with images that appeared to be of women who had experienced violence.
At the same time, it was revealed that a number of clothing retailers are selling shirts which make a joke out of rape.
Sometimes the eroticization of sexual violence is a little more obvious.
Then of course there are the magazines on display everywhere you shop, that send a message about what women are for.
Music videos on TV on Saturday mornings consistently portray women as half dressed and hyper-sexed.
These are just a few examples. It is little wonder then that rape myths abound – women always want sex, sometimes no means yes, women provoke rape, rape isn’t that big a deal.
One of the outcomes of rape myths is that rape goes grossly under-reported. Women don’t report rape because they don’t think the police will believe them, they fear being blamed or they don’t feel as though their case is serious enough for police.
We don’t need another way for women to avoid rape. We need men to stop raping women. We need to create an ‘anti-rape culture.’ A culture that acknowledges women as people and not ‘sex toys.’ A culture that holds men accountable for their choice to rape women.
Stop Porn Cultures conference: how industrialised porn harms us all
I’ve just come back from the US where I attended the Stop Porn Culture conference in Boston. While I can’t say I enjoyed it quite as much as the enchanted evening listening to James Taylor and Carole King perform in Washington (my smooth-taking mate DJM from the north of England scored $15 tickets on the sidewalk an hour before the show), it was good to be with like-minded women – and some men – committed to unmasking the harms of Big Porn Inc.
The conference examined the nature and impact of the global porn industry and the move toward ever more violent and degrading forms of pornography. The papers were disturbing. We learnt of the tactics porn companies use to get men hooked on porn, of the porn profit trails leading to mainstream corporations, of porn’s influence on the music industry, of racist stereotypes of Black, Asian and Latino women perpetuated in pornography, of the filming of sexual torture of women in war situations. We watched Chyng Sun’s film ‘The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality, and Relationships’. I hadn’t seen animated images of children used in pornography before. Now I have. This material, so life-like and realistic – is one of the latest trends in pornography, protected as free-speech under the constitution of the United States of America, thanks to the efforts of the ‘Free Speech Coalition’.
I also picked up Dr. Gail Dines new book Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality (Beacon Press, Boston, 2010), which I read on the plane home (read David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers on the way over. Reckon I’ll choose Anne of Green Gables for the next trip). The book is a confronting no-holds barred look at what porn is and where it is taking us, including the niche markets of teen sex, torture and gonzo porn. Professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, an internationally acclaimed speaker and author, and a feminist activist, Dines argues that the proliferation of sexualised imagery is a major public health concern that we cannot ignore. She argues pornographers have hijacked our sexuality, selling is back to us in forms ever more dark and cruel. Contrary to stereotypes of anti porn feminists as ‘man hating’, it is clear Dines cares for men and boys and porn’s impact on them. Also contrary to the labels, Dines makes it clear she is not anti sex, just anti industrialised, corporatized porn sex which destroys real intimacy.
Gail Dines is a founding member of Stop Porn Culture, an educational and activist group made up of academics, anti-violence experts, community organisers and anyone concerned about the increasing pornification of the culture.
I’m reprinting here, with her permission, Gail’s opening address to the conference:
Welcome to the Stop Porn culture Conference of 2010. We are thrilled to host these two days of keynotes and workshops, and to provide a space where we can discuss the harmful effects of an industry that saturates our society with misogynistic and racist images. In this room we have women and men who are activists, anti-violence experts, academics, anti-racist educators, students and citizens who feel deep in their gut that something is wrong with the culture. Everywhere we look we see what it means to live in a pornified culture where the images, themes and stories of porn seep into our everyday lives. Whether it be teens sexting or Miley Cyrus doing a pole dance, the dominant discourse around sex and sexuality has been hijacked by the pornographers.
We come together this weekend to share ideas and discuss strategy, and we do this because we recognize that we need to build a robust movement that takes on this predatory industry. This weekend you are amongst friends. It is not often that those of us opposed to porn find a place where we can feel welcome. The academy has basically turned us into outliers, the mass media has caricatured us, and we are ridiculed and insulted all over the web.
If the chatter is to be believed, then apparently we are anti-sex prudes who hate men and scream rape every time a woman has sex with a man. To read about us, it would appear that we are against fun, sexual creativity, playfulness, masturbation and of course orgasms. We are depressing, unappetizing and worse yet, out to ruin everyone else’s sex life.
Of course, all this is just a way to belittle us and legitimize the porn industry. I would say that anti-porn feminists are pro-sex in the real sense of the word, pro that wonderful, fun and deliciously creative force that bathes the body in delight and pleasure. And what we are actually against is porn sex. A sex that is debased, dehumanized, formulaic and generic, a sex based not on individual fantasy, play or imagination, but one that is the result of an industrial product created by (mostly) men who get excited, not by bodily contact, but by market penetration and profits. A sex that encodes deep cultural scripts of male entitlement and female subservience.
To appreciate just how bizarre it is to collapse a critique of pornography into a critique of sex, think for a minute if we were critiquing McDonald’s for its exploitive labor practices, its destruction of the environment, and its impact on our diet and health. Would anyone accuse us of being anti-eating or anti-food? I suspect that most readers would separate the industry (McDonald’s) and the industrial product (hamburgers) from the act of eating and would understand that the critique was focused on the large-scale impact of the fast food industry and not the human need, experience, and joy of eating. So, why, when we talk about pornography, is it difficult to understand that one can be a feminist who is unabashedly pro-sex but against the commodification and industrialization of a human desire? The answer, of course, is that pornographers have done an incredible job of selling their product as being all about sex, and not about a particular constructed version of sex that is developed within an industrial setting.
Understanding that porn is an industry means that it needs to be understood as a business, whose product evolves with a specifically capitalist logic. This is a business with considerable political clout, with the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles, and use public relations to influence public debate. Like the tobacco industry, this is not a simple matter of consumer choice; rather the business is increasingly able to deploy a sophisticated and well-resourced marketing machine, not just to push its wares but also to cast the industry’s image in a positive light. As a major industry, the porn business does not just construct and sell a product; it constructs a world in which the product can be sold: the technologies, the business models, the enthusiastic consumers, the compliant performers, the tolerant laws, even the ideologies that proclaim porn to be the very pinnacle of empowerment and liberation.
As anti-porn feminists we refuse to buy into the “porn equals empowerment” argument and instead look at the industry from a critical and macro perspective. This means looking for patterns and explaining how they came to be, their dynamics and the structural forces that perpetuate them. We acknowledge that some women can make porn work for them. Jenna Jameson is fabulously rich, Sasha Grey is on the fast track to becoming a major crossover star, and Tera Patrick is a one woman industry. But for all the Jennas, Sashas and Teras, there are thousands of women that go to the San Fernando Valley with stars in their eyes and come away with scars on their bodies. Some go back to their low paid jobs while others end up on the streets under the control of pimps, in the brothels of Nevada, or doing the type of porn that is considered to be beyond the mainstream, even by the porn industry.
You won’t be seeing these women on Oprah or Howard Stern. These are the women the pro-porn people never want to talk about because they bring into stark focus just how the industry really treats women. Their lives illustrate the contempt and utter disregard that the industry has for women and the reality of their lives is hidden behind the mantra of “well, they consented”. What does consent mean in a world where women are the poorest, hungriest and most overworked group? What does consent mean in a world where, according to economist Amartya Sen, 100 million women are missing? And we don’t even notice their absence. For these women, gender isn’t some abstract concept to be played with or deconstructed within a post-modern discourse, it is a lived experience and it shapes, determines and controls the conditions of their lives.
See also this blog piece by Susan Hawthorn of Spinifex Press, who also attended the SPC conference.
Award winning Canadian journalist and author Victor Malarek was in Australia recently speaking about the international trade in the bodies of women and girls.The exploitation of women and girls in the sex trade was one of the most neglected human rights abuses in the world today, Victor Malarek said, describing the trade as “international sexual terrorism”. Malarek is author of The Natashas: Inside the New Global Slave Trade and The Johns: Sex for sale and the men who buy it. The tour was co-sponsored by Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation and the Salvation Army. It was a privilege to share a platform with Victor at a number of events. Here is a copy of his speech.
Somaly Mam in Australia next week
Cambodian trafficking survivor Somaly Mam will be speaking in Sydney next week. Sold into Cambodia’s sex trade at the age of 12 and forced to work in a brothel alongside other children where she was raped daily, Mam is co-founder of AFESIP, a Cambodian NGO which provides hope to other victims. Honoured as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009, Mam has launched the Somaly Mam Foundation as a vehicle to support anti-trafficking organisations and to provide victims and survivors with a way to have their voices heard around the world. Hear Somaly Mam’s inspiring story on Tuesday June 22. Details here.
BodyMatters: a health-based, not weight-based approach to eating and wellness.
One of the privileges of the cause I’m engaged in is that I get to work with some of the best women in the world. Women who are passionate, bright, engaging, outspoken and fun to be with. In the past year I’ve come to know Sarah McMahon and Lydia Turner. I can’t recall exactly how it happened but pretty much from the moment we met, I knew we’d be working closely together. And that’s what happened. I was just starting to build a new grassroots movement against the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls. It was coming together in an organic way, with women I knew and women I didn’t, coming together to form what is now known as Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation.
Sarah and Lydia are young psychologists specialising in eating disorder treatment and prevention. While ‘picking up the pieces’ at the clinical end, they came to feel that more needed to be done to address the culturally based harms being caused to the women and girls they were treating: that what was required was a radical overturning of the negative messages directed at women. That’s why they came on board. Sarah and Lydia have been a gift to our growing movement with their evidence-based, compassionate and holistic approach. They have since launched BodyMatters Australasia, an idea whose times has well and truly come.
I thought you might like to get to know them more, so here’s my recent interview with them.
Sarah and Lydia, why did you decide to launch BodyMatters Australasia? What will BodyMatters do?
We have had the misfortune of being touched personally by clinical eating disorders and through this experience became aware of the chronic insufficiency of service and support in the Australasian region for sufferers, their family members and friends. Both of us had decided to undertake education to qualify ourselves to “make a difference” in this area. By chance we met at a conference about five years ago, and within no time began spending many days conjuring up ideas about the things we strongly believed needed to be done to eradicate the problem. Together we now have over 10 years of combined study and clinical experience within the field of disordered eating. Our qualifications extend across the disciplines of psychology, nutrition, gender studies, sexual health and public health.
Studying eating disorders made us aware of how much our culture normalizes- and actively encourages- problematic eating behaviours. We realised early on that the behaviours prescribed as solutions to those labeled ‘obese,’ were often the same behaviours we as practitioners were diagnosing in those with clinical eating disorders. It seemed rather unhelpful to view ourselves as existing in the midst of an ‘obesity epidemic;’ instead, we found it more accurate to describe what we are really experiencing as an epidemic of disordered eating. Disordered eating includes those with clinical eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, those who sit far above their natural body weight due to unhealthy eating practices, and also those who exist in between those extremes who experience various degrees of body shame and unhealthy weight loss practices which significantly compromises their health and wellbeing.
At the moment, estimates of disordered eating within the Australasian community are unknown. When we look at estimates suggesting that over 3 million Australians are currently ‘obese,’ we have to keep in mind that not all people who are ‘obese’ are that way because of problematic eating patterns and poor lifestyle choices. There are multiple pathways into ‘obesity,’ for example, some patients who experience bipolar disorder may find their medication leads to significant increase in weight gain. It can be very difficult for them, having to choose between sanity and fatness, largely due to social stigma and size discrimination. So statistics reflecting rates of ‘obesity’ do not accurately reflect rates of disordered eating and poor lifestyle choices. ‘Obesity’ involves a complex interaction often including the role of genetics, epigenetics, social, psychological, physiological, and environmental factors. When we look at clinical eating disorders, it is clear that a high incidence exists, with one study identifying anorexia nervosa as the third most common disease in females in Australia. Despite compelling statistics highlighting the extent of clinical eating disorders, their incidence is under reported.
The relationship between obesity and clinical eating disorders remains complex as the risk factors for clinical eating disorders include elevated body mass and dieting, rendering those who are obese or overweight at significant risk of developing clinical eating disorders if they diet for weight loss. Other research has identified overlapping risk factors for both obesity and clinical eating disorders- such as dieting, media use, body image dissatisfaction and weight-related teasing. Similarly, many people who experience obesity engage in disordered eating of sorts. Ultimately this suggests a strong, complex relationship between obesity and clinical eating disorders. Yet despite attempts to address these problems from a public health perspective, both obesity and clinical eating disorders continue to escalate.
We formed BodyMatters Australasia in recognition of the paucity of services that exist to address our current epidemic of disordered eating. At BodyMatters we provide a range of prevention and treatment services that fully integrate the spectrum of disordered eating behaviours that includes clinical eating disorders, unhealthy weight loss practices, ‘obesity,’ and body shame. Our services include counselling and treatment, education and training, advocacy and prevention, as well as consultancy. We are proud to say that soon we will be rolling out the world’s first successful long-term eating disorders prevention programme, which has been shown to reduce multiple risk factors in the development of eating disorders in teenagers, even after two years! We also operate within a health based paradigm – as opposed to a weight based paradigm – which for many people experiencing disordered eating and body shame often comes as a relief. Our approach is supported by an emerging body of research and we are particularly excited about what we are offering, given that there is currently no other clinic like BodyMatters within the Australasian region.
Ultimately our aim is to move into advocacy. Soon we hope to launch a non-profit advocacy group called BodyUnion, which will be funded in part, by BodyMatters Australasia.
In your years of clinical practice, what have you observed is having the most negative impact on young women in particular? Are these things getting worse?
Without a doubt, the bombardment of a thin ideal across a whole variety of mediums, which completely normalises what, for most, is not healthy. Of course this promotes dieting, which is the biggest risk factor for the development of disordered eating. This is further exacerbated by our fat phobic culture and scaremongering surrounding our current “obesity epidemic”, which links fatness to moral weakness such as laziness, slothfulness and greed.
We believe that when a culture actively promotes and normalises body hatred, we can expect an epidemic of disordered eating. How can people nourish and nurture their bodies in such a hostile environment? Upholding thinness as the only way to be healthy and beautiful is incredibly damaging to young women – we need to start recognising that body diversity is an issue of human rights and a range of body sizes normal within any given population. From the research it seems that women who are happiest with the way they look are more likely to commit to exercise and health-giving behaviours over time.
It is a common myth that if we shame people about their bodies (particularly about being ‘fat’), it will motivate them to adopt a healthy lifestyle. In fact the research just does not support this. What we do know is that body dissatisfaction is a significant predictor of sedentary behaviour and long term weight gain. When people are shamed about the size of their bodies, they are less likely to commit to exercise, often because they don’t want to be seen in public. Stigma and discrimination are some of the biggest predictors of mental and physical health problems, and the application of these to size is no exception.
You’ve been scathing of the current approach to ‘weight loss’ (including on my blog). Why have you taken such a hard line?
Weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry. Currently there is much money invested in promoting a ‘thin-at-all-costs’ approach to health. About 95% of research in the field of obesity is funded by private industry – including pharmaceutical giants that stand to profit from convenient research findings. That’s a massive conflict of interest! We recently attended the inaugural Obesity Summit in Sydney where professor after professor declared ‘conflicts of interest’ with weight loss corporations before presenting their research. One prominent professor confessed that he sat on the board of Reductil, Australia’s most popular weight loss drug, so it was no surprise that his findings supported a lifetime’s prescription of diet pills to maintain weight loss!
Corporations that stand to profit from weight loss and the promotion of a thin ideal are not only funding research, but entire university departments. Take for example The Centre for Obesity Research and Education (CORE), a department of Monash University. It is funded by Allergan, Australia’s largest manufacturer of gastric banding products. Allergan also manufactures botox and implants. How unsurprising, then, that a recent research study put out by CORE found that 14 year old girls are suitable candidates for gastric banding. It seems that gastric banding is increasingly becoming a cosmetic procedure –whilst its efficacy levels are still dubious over the long term and its (often permanent) consequences minimised. CORE does not even adhere to the recommended guidelines for bariatric surgery, operating on bodies that sit far below the recommended cut-off of BMI starting levels for bariatric surgery.
It seems that there is a vested interest in promoting conflicting, confusing, and ineffective weight loss approaches to health. If you can convince people that their bodies are ‘ticking time bombs,’ abnormal, repulsive, and then sell them weight loss solutions that don’t work, you’ll be laughing your way to the bank. Many weight loss companies deliberately adopt the line “we’re not a diet” when in fact they are, and it’s clear that diets don’t work. Yet what most people are unaware of is that adopting healthy eating behaviours and healthy lifestyle approaches don’t necessarily lead to thinness or weight loss either. It is increasingly recognised that non surgical weight loss approaches carry a 98% failure rate after 2-5 years. Anyone can lose weight, but what happens after the after photo? This statistic was recognised at both The Australian New Zealand Obesity Society Conference (2009) and the inaugural Obesity Summit (2010). Surgical interventions have shown somewhat longer term weight loss sustainability but with numerous health complications – many of which are permanent. It seems that Australians today are putting in the efforts to lose weight, but the weight loss solutions are not working – and many are actually causing harm.
The problem with dieting is that it actually puts people at significant risk of weight cycling, binge-eating, and future weight gain. Weight cycling itself has been demonstrated to be significantly more harmful than maintaining a higher but steady weight. The answer to our epidemic of disordered eating requires us to encourage health-giving behaviours, rather than focus on weight. The health-based paradigm establishes health as an ongoing, multidimensional process that involves psychological, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and social aspects. Health requires us to look beyond the number on the scale. Many people have relied on Body Mass Index (BMI) to inform them as to whether or not they are healthy, but in fact the research is clear that BMI is not an accurate indicator or measure of health.
I wonder why taking a health-based rather than weight-based approach to eating and wellbeing is considered progressive? Isn’t it obvious that this would be the best approach?
You would think so! However because so much research into eating and wellbeing is compromised or biased due to funding and researchers being tied to the weight loss and pharmaceutical industries in some way, most Australians have never heard of a non weight-based approach to health. There is a significant conflict of interest in ‘obesity research.’ Some would go so far as to call the field ‘Obesity Inc.’ This is further exacerbated by research into a health-based paradigm being limited – perhaps due to academic prejudice, politics, and difficulty in obtaining research grants for independent research -resulting in limited representation of the health-based paradigm in peer reviewed journals and ultimately positioning it as an approach to be overlooked. And of course we cannot overlook the billions of dollars per year- in the diet industry, beauty industry, and even medical industry- put into maintaining a weight-based approach to eating and well being.
Are you hopeful you can replace the entrenched ‘thin ideal’ for acceptance of the fact that you can be healthy regardless of size?
It is important to recognize that the research does show that health becomes compromised at statistical extremes. People who are at the statistically extreme ends of thinness or fatness are likely to be unhealthy, regardless of the reasons that led their bodies to exist in that condition. If one’s body size is at such an extreme state that they are unable to participate in health-giving behaviours, such as going for a walk, then they are likely to experience health problems. However, having said that, the range of body sizes and weights that people can exist at and still be healthy is incredibly diverse – and not restricted to current notions of BMI.
The size- diversity movement in other parts of the world (such as the USA and the UK) has started to make progress in terms of challenging the “thin ideal.” This means challenging the idea that ‘thinness’ is the only way to be beautiful and the ultimate indication of health. This is very promising. However the Australiasian community poses some unique challenges. Firstly, there currently is no organised size diversity movement in Australia- which is one thing we hope to coordinate ourselves. There is no doubt this will be a huge undertaking with our fat phobic culture! Furthermore, the thin ideal in Asia is particularly concerning and public health interventions that are mandated by the government very much attempt to prescribe an “anorexic mindset” in the population, by attaching shame to fatness and dictating a very rigid relationship with food and exercise. Despite these challenges we are hopeful that with education and understanding, as well as a bit of coordination, there will be increased community understanding that you can indeed be healthy at your natural body weight- whatever that might be.
Here’s a video interview with Sarah and Lydia:
See also ”Fat Acceptance: Meet the self-esteem warriors”, by Elizabeth @SpiltMilk published by Australian Women Online
How ‘playing the game’ contributes to a hostile working environment for women
Catching up on a pile of newspapers (new social media may have captivated me – sent my 1000th tweet on the weekend – but a stack of papers still gives me a thrill), I came across an article titled ‘The only way is up’ by Fenella Souter in The Age Good Weekend (May 1, 2010). I had to read it through a few times because I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Rebecca Smith – fake name because she’s “keen to keep her job”– is a junior associate in a small city law firm. She wants to advance in the company. To do that she watches cricket or tennis with the men in the boardroom, swears, talks badly about people, drinks with the men and doesn’t leave work early. They like her being “one of the boys”. But see what happens next.
At a commemorative dinner recently, she was fixing her collar and caught one of the senior partners starting at her across the table.
“Stop staring at my collar”, she chided.
“I’m not staring at your collar,” he said. “I’m staring at your tits.”
She was taken aback, but not astonished. There’s a steady stream of comments like that in the firm, she says. Usually the women try to ignore it or take it as a joke. “Mostly, the men don’t mean anything by it. They just say the first thing that comes into their heads,” Rebecca explains mildly.
Does she ever object? “One time I did say something and afterwards I walked into the boardroom and the managing partner said, ‘uh-oh, here she comes, the fun police.’ It’s like you’re some sort of extremist.
“I also want to become an equity partner of the firm one day and I worry that they would sit there and say, ‘Well, you know, Rebecca is a bit of a femo. If we made her a partner, she might start throwing her weight around and saying we have to do everything differently.’ So the more I can play the game, the better it is for me. I know that sounds like a complete sell-out.”
When I was a cub reporter on a country paper, working in a male-dominated environment, I encountered sexual harassment. Back then I didn’t really understand it as that or have the language to articulate it. I was barely out of my teens (actually I was a teen when I started work experience there). Sexual remarks, inappropriate touching, a ruler up my skirt, porn on the walls of the print room… I didn’t speak out. I wouldn’t have known if there was any recourse.
But Rebecca is living at a time when sexual harassment is recognised as inappropriate. Actually it is unlawful , (See Division 3. See also Dr Helen Pringle below). Sexual advances (like touching, grabbing) or sexual comments (that can be offensive and/or joking) that are unwelcome or inappropriate are included in sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment contributes to a hostile work environment. I’m not saying it’s easy to speak out, and often there are repercussions for doing so. But when women don’t object, it just means men continue to get away with “staring at their tits” and even admitting to it openly. Is wanting to get ahead worth putting up with this? Is it worth the price for new women entering the firm, who will also likely be subjected to unwanted remarks and possibly more?
Fenella Souter helps to identify a reason that young women like Rebecca play the game and keep the men in the boardroom happy and entertained. It is what American author Susan J. Douglas calls, “enlightened sexism”:
Enlightened sexism insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism… so now it’s okay, even amusing, to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women… [It] sells the line that it is precisely through women’s calculated deployment of their faces, bodies, attire, and sexuality that they gain and enjoy true power – power that is fun, that men will not resent, and indeed will embrace… True power here has nothing to do with economic independence or professional achievement: it has to do with getting men to lust after you and other women to envy you.
Girls and young women, especially, says Douglas, are persuaded that now that they “have it all”, “they should focus the bulk of their time and energy on being hot, pleasing men, competing with other women, and shopping…And is women are increasingly objectified…that’s okay because they’ve chosen to be sex objects…”
Souter notes, “Apparently, women have achieved such completely equal status, it’s safe to go back to celebrating our “femininity” and our sexiness, source of the new empowerment”.
In Getting Real, I cite a 2006 article in The Guardian titled ‘Today’s ultimate feminists are the chicks in crop tops,’ in which Kate Taylor points out the advantages of wearing a g-string to work. It will cause men in the office to “waste whole afternoons staring at your bottom, placing bets on whether you’re wearing underwear.” You should let them, says Taylor, because you can “use that time to take over the company while they are distracted.”
The focus on bodies, clothes and sex as where our empowerment lies is acutely dissected by Laurie Penny in a piece a few days ago in The New Statesman, in which she characterises Sex and the City 2 as:
…a pernicious strain of bourgeois sex-and-shopping feminism that should have been buried long ago at the crossroads of women’s liberation with a spiked Manolo heel through its shrivelled heart.
Any woman who claims not to enjoy Sex and the City is still considered to be either abnormal or fibbing, at least by a certain strain of highly-paid fashion columnist whose lives probably bear an unusual resemblance to that of the show’s protagonist, lifestyle writer Carrie Bradshaw. For the young women of my generation, however, Sex and the City’s vision of individual female empowerment rings increasingly hollow, predicated as it is upon conspicuous consumption, the possession of a rail-thin Caucasian body type, and the type of oblivious largesse that employs faceless immigrant women as servants…
The type of feminism that gives serious thought to whether a girl should buy her own diamonds has missed something fundamental about the lives and problems of ordinary women… A fantasy feminism of shopping, shoes and shagging is not an adequate response to a world that still fears women’s power…
Lindy West feels the same way, though employing somewhat cruder expressions (to warn more sensitive readers who may click on this hyperlink)
SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human—working hard, contributing to society…and rapes it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car.
And I can’t help but quote this SATC2 review as well: “the ugly smell of unexamined privilege hangs over this film like the smoke from cheap incense”.
In regard to the treatment of women in the workplace, American Apparel seems to think it is fine to use models depicting its own employees in sexualised photo shoots. While it’s good the Advertising Standards Board has acted on it, case report here there is nothing said in the ASB report about how the ad works to normalise the sexualised treatment of women in the workplace.
I’ve commented already on the Hooters Employment Handbook, in which their female employees have to agree that sexual joking is all part of the job and they won’t complain because it’s to be expected in their workplace.
If sexual harassment and objectification of female employees is going to stop, women need to take up their lawful rights and speak out. And they need to be supported, not penalised for doing so.
Call this flexibility? : Slave Worker Women
While we’re talking about women and work, here’s another item that caused me to do a double take.
I don’t usually read ‘The Deal’ magazine of The Australian, but it was lying around so I took a look.
In a piece titled ‘Women at Work’, (May 2010), Lyndall Crisp interviews ‘diversity expert’ Maureen Frank who calls for more flexibility and less tokenism in our corporate culture. She says women need to be courageous, think outside the square and “put together a compelling argument about how your flexible hours would work and then approach your boss.” So far so good. So how did she “buck the system”?
Almost 10 years ago, when she found herself a single mother of twin girls aged nine months, she had to reorganise her work schedule to spend more time with them. She’d arrive at the office at 4am, leave at 4pm and be working online at 7.30pm. [I’ve added the bold so you don’t miss it]… The cost of a full-time nanny left her, often, with only $50 at the end of the month. But it was worth it.
So Franks is working at least a 12 hour day, with three hours off. Gosh, all that free time to play with the babies! She’s then working again at 7.30pm. This is the deal women should fight for? This is how we are to see flexibility? This is the kind of arrangement that will attract women to go for high level jobs? So that they can be slave worker women?
I don’t think so.
Australian law on sexual harassment
Dr Helen Pringle, in the School of Politics and International Relations, UNSW, notes how the law on sexual harassment as it stands today got started:.
In Australia, the landmark in the recognition and treatment of sexual harassment was the case of O’Callaghan v Loder. Until 1983, discrimination laws did not explicitly cover harassment. The case concerned the NSW Commissioner of Main Roads Mr Loder, and a woman lift attendant in his department. Justice Matthews defined sexual harassment in this way: “a person is sexually harassed if he or she is subjected to unsolicited and unwelcome sexual conduct by a person who stands in a position of power in relation to him or her”:
If a complainant has been subjected to unwanted and unsolicited sexual conduct by his or her employer in such circumstances that the employer knew or ought to have known that the conduct was unwelcome, then it will amount to a contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act in the following additional circumstances: firstly, if the conduct was such as to create an unwelcome feature of the employment… or to be a ‘detriment’; or secondly, if the employer secured compliance with his sexual demands by threatening adverse employment consequences; or thirdly, if rejection of the employer’s sexual demands led to retaliation in the form of loss of access to employment opportunities; or fourthly, if rejection of the employer’s sexual demands led to retaliation in the form of dismissal or some other loss of tangible employment benefits“ (O’Callaghan v Loder (No 2)  3 NSWLR 89).
Although Mr O’Callaghan lost because she didn’t establish that Loder’s conduct was unwelcome,the case nevertheless set an important precedent. The unlawfulness of harassment is now set out explicitly in the Sex Discrimination Act (Cth), under Division 3.
Following ‘Santa’s Bitch’ and ‘Pussy Power ‘comes ‘High Beams’
Do you remember Supre’s ‘Santa’s Bitch’ t.shirts for tween girls at Christmas? That charming little tee which told girls they were Santa’s ho, entrenching and mainstreaming pimp culture in girl’s clothing? Take a refresher on it here . Supre told me – and others who complained – they would withdraw them. They didn’t.
Not that long after, they were stocking their racks with “Pussy Power” t.shirts for girls, complete with cute black kitten. That’s right girls, your power is in your genitals. A good strong empowering message for girls everywhere. Thanks Supre.
Now, for the trifecta, Supre has come up with this:
Girls are bitches, they are pussies, and their nipples are erect (maybe they’re not even wearing a bra)according to Supre. Supre seems to find no problems with drawing attention to a girls chest. That’s just what girls need isn’t it, more attention drawn to their breasts.
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