Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sick Of It All

At least I don't have it as bad as this poor kid, but I am down and out with some kind of cold/flu/black lung disease. However, my mucus-addled brain is perfectly suited to catching up on my favorite blogs (I'm talking about you, Jezebel and Digby) and commenting on some of the intriguing stories I encounter.

According to a March 16 article from the UPI, researchers found that the perception of being overweight among American girls raised the probability of suicidal thoughts by 5.6 percent, the probability of a suicide attempts by 3.2 percent and the probability of injury causing suicide attempts by 0.6 percent. "The prevalence of body dissatisfaction, among special populations of youths such as non-black girls, is significantly higher than the general youth population, even when the underlying weight is in a healthy range," study co-author Inas Rashad of Georgia State University in Atlanta said in a statement. The study, based on 1999-2007 data from the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System, is scheduled to be published in Social Science and Medicine.

I don't know what else could better illustrate the devastating consequences to self-perception and self-worth that are meted out by the stigma of fatness. It is only a deeply sick, cannabalistic culture that could engrain such a powerful reflex of fatty shaming that girls internalize the message so thoroughly as to despise their bodies to the point of suicide. I use the adjective "cannabalistic" because we are all culpable in cultivating and enforcing the stigma of fatness not only in social contexts, but also, most perniciously, in our own consciousnesses. Every time a mom stands in front of her bathroom mirror berating the size of her thighs as her young daughter watches from the open door, every time a young professional woman feels like a failure as she flips through the pages of her latest issue of Cosmo and compares her appearance to those of the models' Photoshopped body products, every time a guy worries about introducing his new girlfriend to his buddies because she is not shaped like the latest model of "Hot Girl" from the lad mags (FHM, Maxim, etc.), we are sustaining the ethos of self-enforced stigmas and denigration against fat/overweight/voluptuous/name-your-euphemism body shapes that feeds this culture of toxic self-hatred. A cannabalizing media and social culture promotes self-destructive, self-annhilating, and humanity-destroying behaviors because, while explicit enforcement of body image mandates (pay discrimination against overweight individuals, fat camps, harassment of the fat girl in school without the teacher stopping it) are present and potent, this kind of overt discrimination is far less efficient than creating an environment where individuals police and shame their own body shapes and appearances into submission. And then, with the people-flesh primed with fear and self-hatred, the cannabalizing consumer culture strikes for its feast selling the products of insecurity, from cosmetic surgery to diet plans to exercise programs to beauty magazines and their wares. Feast or famine, indeed.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Right to Bare Arms

The always brilliant Kristin Schaal has some fashion advice for our new first lady in a clip from the Daily Show. Check it out here:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pretty Stupid

A new study to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology entitled "Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that Objectification Causes Women to be Perceived as Less Competent and Less Fully Human" offers some interesting food for thought regarding how the lens of objectification affects perceptions of women's competence in social contexts. Much of the psychological research on objectification I have dealt with previously deals with the effect of objectification and self-objectification upon women's experiences of themselves, while this study provides insight into the social consequences of being a woman who is treated like a living doll.

Nathan A. Heflick and Jamie L. Goldenberg of the University of South Florida hypothesized that focusing on a woman’s appearance will promote reduced perceptions of competence, and also, by virtue of construing the women as an “object,” perceptions of the woman as less human. To test the hypothesis, Heflick and Goldenberg took a group of 133 undergraduates and assigned them to write a few lines about one of two celebrities: vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin or actress Angelina Jolie. Half of the participants in each category were asked to write “your thoughts and feelings about this person,” while the other half were asked to write “your thoughts and feelings about this person’s appearance.” The participants were then asked to rate their subject (Palin or Jolie) in terms of various attributes, including competence.

The resulting findings largely confirmed the theory: Those who wrote about Palin’s appearance were more positive in their assessments than those who assessed her qualities as a person, but they rated her far lower in terms of competence, intelligence, and capability, and were far less likely to indicate they planned to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket. The study suggests that their confidence in her abilities may have decreased the more they focused on her looks.

I find this particular line of research to be intriguing, especially considering the media's proclivity to sexualize any woman who comes even close to having authority over cultural and social structures. Michelle Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer and phenomenally successful professional who has the power to change the way that we see blackness and womanhood in America forever, is reduced to her "right to bare arms" and populist fashion choices. Despite my love-hate relationship with her over the years, Katie Couric is an established journalist whose spectacular legs should not have to be featured in every profile article about her from the election. And let's not even get started with the ball-busting and castrating nature that was ascribed to Hillary Clinton from the time she entered the public eye for daring to wear gender-neutral pant suits and not openly advertising her fuckability.

One by one, any woman in American political life who dares to make a place for herself in the power structure is subjected to the same horrifying body dissection and hotness assessment ritual that every Hollywood actress and musician must endure. It is very telling that our media culture, and therefore its consumers, see politicians and pop stars through the same lens of objectification. It doesn't matter why you're famous - if you're a woman in the public eye, your body and how you inhabit it is fair game and, in fact, is usually the first thing about you held up to public scrutiny, not your background or your policy positions. So, if you're considering a political or high-profile business career, then I'd advise you to get ahead of the media curve and try to pre-manufacture your appearance for consumption. Here are your choices: frigid bitch, slutty ho, or mannish dyke. Don't like your options? Sorry, those are the only sterotypes for women the media's got in stock. And if you don't fit easily into any stereotype, then forget the whole prominence and fame thing. Either you fit the mold or we find someone else who will.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Great news for me!! The University of Kentucky's College of Communications and Information Studies has accepted me as a graduate student in mass communication for fall 2009 and offered me a full graduate teaching assistantship. So I get my brain back to myself after making money for other people for the last three years! My research statement from the application can be viewed below as the first post on the blog, or you can follow the link in the Blog Archives to the post "About My Research Interests." I started this blog so that I would have a place to keep a running commentary on news issues related to my grad school research, so it's a good thing I actually got in, or else this blog would get really boring, really fast.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

You KNOW You Want To Be On Top

Try as I might to resist its siren song, the new season (excuse me, "Cycle 12") of ANTM has lured me in with its predictably psycho two-hour season premiere last night. And this season promises a whole new batch of crazies, chock-full of girls whose "personal stories" and "role model potential" have given Tyra new projects to groom in her image and thereby give her life meaning.

First off, we have Allison from New Orleans, who in her audition interview with Tyra and the Jays disclosed her jealousy of people that get bloody noses, as she loves blood and how it looks running down someone's face. Everyone living in the house with her should be advised to smile and nod when she talks while slowly backing away. Next up is London, the born-again Christian evangelizer who thanked Jesus profusely when Tyra called her name to live in the house. Yes, the Savior of Mankind had a direct role in your participation in a reality show, the producers can tell London as they pat her on the head. Plus, we've got the obligatory "issues" girls who Tyra puts on the show as "role models:" Isabella, who was booted last night, has epilepsy, and Tahlia has burns all over her body. Remind me again how a model with burns all over her body, however inspiring she may be to other burn victims, is supposed to get work in an industry where models are almost universally expected to have perfectly flawless skin? And last but certainly not least, we've got the all-purpose drama-rama role, the girl who is put in the house every cycle by the producers to instigate cat fights and shouting matches, played by Sandra, who had a riotous exchange with another girl already prior to a photo shoot. The other girl was so distracted and off-guard by her antics that she fucked up the photo and was sent packing before she even made it to the house. Imagine how much Sandra will be able to do to break her competition's will to live when she's actually living with them!

Even discounting the overall silliness of the whole "Goddess" theme of the first challenge, this cycle promises to be a new low in the CW's blockbuster series. Even the advertisers aren't impressed - most of the ad time was filled by the CW's promotions for its other shows (with 90210 and One Tree Hill 30-second spots making ANTM look like Masterpiece Theater by comparison). Speaking of ads, am I the only one who notices that the "My Life as a Cover Girl" ads, this time featuring McKey as the winner of Cycle 11, only show during ANTM breaks? Have you ever seen McKey's ads on the teevee at any other time?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

All-Consuming Desires

In her Feb/Mar 2009 feature article for the Stanford University Hoover Institution publication Policy Review, research fellow Mary Eberstadt makes some fascinating observations about the two great appetites at the root of most American neuroses: food and sex. The article describes a fictional archetype of a 1950s housewife, Betty, and her modern granddaughter, Jennifer, in order to contrast the rapid migration of morality codes from sex to food: "In just over 50 years, in other words — not for everyone, of course, but for a great many people, and for an especially large portion of sophisticated people — the moral poles of sex and food have been reversed. Betty thinks food is a matter of taste, whereas sex is governed by universal moral law of some kind; and Jennifer thinks exactly the reverse." She goes on to observe that, "Many people who wouldn’t be caught dead with an extra ten pounds — or eating a hamburger, or wearing real leather — tend to be laissez-faire in matters of sex. In fact, just observing the world as it is, one is tempted to say that the more vehement people are about the morality of their food choices, themore hands-off they believe the rest of the world should be about sex. What were the circumstances the last time you heard or used the word “guilt” — in conjunction with sin as traditionally conceived? Or with having eaten something verboten and not having gone to the gym?"

The transfer of restrictive morality codes from sex to food in American culture have created and intensified some fascinating disordered responses these dictates, especially in young people, including a few I'd like to explore: dieting behaviors and the epidemic of Internet porn usage. To me, these are two sides of the same coin - dieting and other disordered eating behaviors represent an extreme response to moral judgments about food consumption and its relationship to the body's appearance, and porn points to an intense reaction to the overwhelming sexual smorgasboard available for consumption without stigma. Instead of cloaking themselves in the language of sexual purity and chastity as their grandmothers might have, women who use disordered eating and dieting behaviors prove to themselves and others their worth and virtue, resisting the "temptation" of transgressive substances like sugar and fat. And rather than explore the freedoms and fantasies allowed for by the sexual revolution by pursuing their own experience of physical pleasure with another live human being, men, many of whom still profess faith to traditional family values, consume pornography online, indulging the very appetite they presume to suppress. In fact, a new nationwide study of anonymised credit-card receipts from a major online adult entertainment provider, Harvard Business School professor Benjamin Edelmen found that the states that consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption. The key difference between these twin responses is that, for most women, the shift of morality codes from sex to food means that there are significant consequences to succumbing to food temptations: gaining weight, losing control of one's body shape, receiving praise for weight lost and heaping disdain on weight gain, and losing the return on our significant investment of time and money into our bodies, as body image is the coin of the realm in a culture where food morality rules. For men, even those who profess the most conservative beliefs in their social contexts, an unlimited amount and variety of pornography is available online at any time, from anywhere, with no actual interaction with the people involved with the sex acts required. The transfer of moral opprobrium from sex to food has provided for a gap in perceived consequences where porn and hypocrisy flourish, as the anonymity of porn removes all of the social reprecussions that would come from a previous indiscretion such as cheating on one's wife or visiting a prostitute. So, women must now control our waistlines instead of our chastity belts, and men can indulge their sweet tooth for hot lesbian action without their wives leaving them. All of this attests to the power of stigma and guilt in shaping our responses to our desires - wherever morality codes shift, so goes our behavior. We are truly simple creatures, to shy away from the stick of cultural opprobrium for food choices and lurch for the carrot of fantasies fulfilled without consequences.

To close, a quote from the article from C.S. Lewis: “There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.”

The New Madonna and Child

This portrait of Michelle and Sasha Obama by Elizabeth Peyton, one of my favorite modern American artists, captures the subtle poignance of ordinary moments in the life of our new First Family that will change the way we view motherhood and womanhood forever. The Obama women are already well on their way to transforming the archetype of the American nuclear family.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bros Before Hos

The bottom image is a spoof of the top image, both photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair. Come on, you guys! For being the Judd Apatow darling funny men that Hollywood has been trying to sell us for the last two years, you could at least show a little skin. I give it an A- for concept, a D for effort. This could have been a really edgy visual commentary on the portrayal of male and female celebrities' naked bodies, but the boys chickened out. Typical.

UPDATE: Others agree!

Salon's Broadsheet March 2 round table

"Lynn Harris: Dodai at Jezebel is correct: "As any good comedian knows, you have to commit to the joke." This, in those terms, is an epic fail. So, wait: is it men who aren't funny after all?

Rebecca Traister: All this silliness does is amplify the point that men can become famous in Hollywood, and famous enough to be photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair, without having bodies that you want to see unclothed. There is not a similar path to success for Hollywood's women.

Sarah Hepola: OK, but honestly? I would like to see Paul Rudd unclothed.

Lynn: I was thinking the same thing, sistah friend!

Tracy Clark-Flory: Ditto.

Mary Elizabeth Williams: Between the hack work and the pawning of her photos, I guess Annie Leibovitz really is hard up. That this drivel is being peddled by the same woman who shot one of the most famous male nude photos ever -- the beautiful, vulnerable image of John Lennon curled up against Yoko Ono for Rolling Stone, just makes the whole business all the more cynical and pitiful.

Please. Parody something that's iconic and interesting and anybody gave a damn about the first time. But if you insist, for God's sake, have the cojones to show some cojones. (I will concede, however, that an unbuttoned Paul Rudd is never an entirely unwelcome image.)"

― Tracy Clark-Flory

Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte, March 3:

"If you challenged the strict gender stratification where women are for shutting up and being hot and men are for staying clothed and looking, and say, put lean, naked men in a picture to be gazed at by a famous lesbian, you’d have made the point, but it wouldn’t be funny, because there’s not gotcha there. And then a lot of people would be uncomfortable, because you revealed the lie of gender essentialism. But this isn’t funny, either."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Favorites from New York Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear

As usual, Matthew Williamson is not afraid of being generous with color, pattern, and shape. Super-shiny and out-of-this world looks from the show:

About My Research Interests

I am interested in several distinct yet overlapping topics related the areas of communication theory, gender communication, psychology, and rhetoric and imagery in popular culture. Because my education at the University of Oregon (UO) focused on both practical applications and theory of new media, my curiosity about the experiential quality of using computers and how people mediate their self images through new communication technology has continued to grow. My inquiry into this topic involves investigating the new ways that people instantly access vast amounts of information and the effects of this shift on mass communication audiences. In other words, how has the accessibility of information changed the way people seek, process, and organize information?

More specifically, I examine the rapidly evolving nature of representations of the self, often defined through reference to the body, and how these representations relate to the technological innovations and communicative capabilities afforded by new media. This topic could be more broadly understood as the social uses and effects of new vs. traditional media representations of the body. The idea of the disembodied self is fascinating to me, especially as it relates to the interactions between the individual consciousness and virtual physicality.

The problem of mediated consciousness and its effects on the body translates into an exploration of the current state of body image studies regarding traditional media technologies contrasted with the potential areas of investigation of body image in new media. In this comparison, I am interested in analyzing gender and race communication throughout broadly defined textual sources in the new media and how this kind of identity communication has evolved from its uses in traditional media to new media contexts. In essence, I am motivated to probe the question of what role new media will play in shaping images of ourselves.

This line of inquiry logically leads to an interest in the psychological ramifications of body image in the new media environment, particularly related to the nature of the relationship between the body and mind. If the means and media for communicating gender, race, and physicality are shifting with the advance of technology, then how will these developments change people's relationships with themselves, their bodies, and their identities? Of special interest to me is the psychological impact of new communication technologies on disordered eating behaviors and other body dysmorphic disorders, particularly in women.