The Portrayal of Women and the Power of Men

December 1, 2017
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We are living through a pivotal (and increasingly horrifying) time in our nation’s history. America is rife with political unrest, fueled by the staggering incompetence of government ‘leadership’, amid an outpouring of sexual assault allegations where powerful white men in business, politics and the media are at its’ very core.

Throughout history, women (and their bodies more specifically) have been viewed as a commodity: something to be bought and sold and ultimately owned, the female form used as a seductive tool to sell an image, products and sexual prowess. Girls are objectified from a very early age, forced to internalize and strive to satisfy and pique the interest of the male gaze. Women are taught to be sexy, yet chaste, the ultimate litmus of self-worth stemming from one’s ability to attract male attention and invoke female jealousy.

Our sons and daughters are inundated with these toxic messages and misleading imagery, planting the seeds of gender roles and inherent misogyny from the moment they can form sentences.

I have 2 young boys (preschool and 2nd grade) and have already noticed a marked reaction to gendered color preferences, activities and mannerisms, a mere glimpse of how girls are portrayed very early on; weak and vulnerable, second class, the ‘softer’ sex.

As a business owner and marketer (who also happens to be female) I have a responsibility to be thoughtful and intentional with the visual media and messaging I help to launch into an already crowded digital landscape.

Here is a sampling of questions I ask myself before taking on new work:

  • Is this ad/website/video/whatever perpetuating wasteful, harmful or misleading behavior?
  • Is our world a better place with this product or service in it?
  • Would I refer this product or service to my friends and family?

Photoshop is a tool, not a magic wand

When a female subject is photographed, there is an expectation that most of the ‘magic’ happens in post-production (aka heavy Photoshop use). Over the past several years, a number of celebrities and public figures have posted before and after shots of their extreme Photoshop experiences. When you see these images side by side the results are shocking: bodies are freakishly slimmed, shaving off bulk from waist and thighs, erasing ‘unsightly’ cellulite while accentuating breasts and ass—the perfect Barbie doll version of the original.

Our little girls are exposed to this garbage. Every. Single. Day.

Real women are compared to these artificial female archetypes. Every. Single. Day.

France is making progress and Getty is following suit

Distorted body image and poor self-esteem can lead to a harmful and lasting disconnect, opening the flood gates to eating disorders, trauma, self-hate and mental illness.

France, the epicenter of high fashion, recognizes the effects that these unrealistic images have on the population at large. The French government has identified these doctored images as a public health issue and has taken steps toward change. So, in France, any photographer who fails to include the “photographie retouchée” warning label on a retouched image will take the risk of being fined €37,500 (~$44,000) or 30% of the price it took to produce the ad in which the photo appears (please note that this ruling pertains to the alteration of body shape and not to skin, hair, clothing or the model’s surroundings).

It’s also important to note that, as part of this new French law, models are now required to attain a note from their doctor stating that the model in question is not dangerously thin. “Exposing young people to normative and unrealistic images of bodies leads to a sense of self-deprecation and poor self-esteem,” said France’s health minister, Marisol Touraine in May of 2017.

Getty Images, the stock photo behemoth, took this idea one step further, putting an all-out a ban in place. In September, Getty declared that it will no longer accept images “depicting models whose body shapes have been retouched to make them look thinner or larger”. Well done, Getty!

These efforts are indeed encouraging and I find it refreshing to see big players step up in an effort to dial back the objectification and fetishization of women’s bodies. But there is so much more that could and should be done.

Fighting the fight

When contemplating the endless issues plaguing our country, many of us have come to realize that a constant state of overwhelm and paralysis is no way to live. What we need is to realize where our strengths lie, make progress where we can and, above all, practice vigilance and persistence. I plan to leverage my business and prioritize the support women in business, fight rampant sexism and inequality in the professional space (and beyond) and raise my boys to treat all humans with kindness and respect.

What’s your fight? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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