Language, indubitably, creates imagery that becomes the basis for our actions and thus shapes our reality. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, feminist scholars grappled with questions regarding language, both transforming traditional forms and seeking literary forms—letters, autobiographies, novels, memoirs—most apt for the expression of their lived experiences; they questioned sexism in their discourse at that time.
In the same way, new forms of language, via multimedia such as viral images and advertisements, are shifting the medium and language of the feminist debate and conversation, critical to the health of our democracy. For more than two decades, the business model of journalism has been short-circuited by an explosive growth of technology, which has given way to multiple platforms that satiate 24/7 consumer demands. But even among the greatest influencers in American society, the media—the most powerful political and cultural tool at our disposal—is splintered by disintermediation and perpetuates impossible notions of beauty.
A progressive social change project, Stop the Beauty Madness, part of Be Who You Are Productions, Inc., is mobilizing to emulate the work of our 19th and 20th century sisters by questioning the role of women in this multimedia world.
In this new world, the campaign’s hope is that beauty be defined by whole-self qualities, not eye-to-nose and bust-to-waist-to-hip ratios, and women and girls will throw off their roles as sales-hypnotized consumers.
“All my life I had different labels put on me. I was always chunky, heavy, fat—you name it, all of those different types of labels. And interestingly enough, I was actually not terribly impacted by those labels. I had a good sense of self-esteem. And after I had my kids, I lost a considerable amount of weight,” said Community Relations Director and Senior Blogger, Lisa Meade. “I had been duped all these years into thinking one of the reasons into whatever category you want to pick was because of my weight. And even though I have lost all of this weight, I still didn’t fit in…You can always find someone to find fault with something about you. That was a pretty big awakening for me.”
Her examples, even a CEO of a corporation somewhere still worries about how her butt looks in her skirt, or whether or not her roots are showing. A sales clerk at a clothing store somewhere worries about her body as she hangs size two’s on the rack.
“It’s all of these messages around us—they’re in the magazines; they’re on the TV; they’re in the beauty aisles—it has become like white noise, and eventually with white noise, you stop hearing it. You stop noticing it. Yet it’s constantly there,” Meade said. “There’s no room for us to really appreciate and accept our bodies, and their beauty and their uniqueness.”
The entire campaign has thus far spent a mere $3,500, harnessing the power of social media and diversifying the media landscape. “Enough of the impossible standards. Enough of the ‘ideal’ image. Most of all, enough of the feeling of not enough when it comes to your own beauty. There also comes a time when an entire culture of women have had it—when blogs and ad campaigns and as-is selfie pictures start to change the rules of the game. That time is now. That culture is this culture,” the campaign reads.
In doing so, Stop The Beauty Madness has published a series of 27 captioned images of women and girls of varying ethnicities, ages, sexualities and religions. None of the photographs used in the advertisements represent the personal experiences or speak to views specific to the featured models; rather, they are purchased from model-released stock photos. The intent of each captioned photograph is not meant as a commentary on the personal reality of the model, but it does serve to bear a resemblance to authentic advertisements and explicate the realities of many women alike.
The campaign has been in effect for over a year. “We ran focus groups because we’re two white women,” Meade said of her and founder, Robin Rice. “This beauty madness probably looks very different for different ethnicities and for different personalities. So we really started to learn a lot…and how big this was. It really started to blow our minds, because it was much bigger than we originally thought it was.”
Dedicated to amplifying a range of females’ voices through satirical advertisements, the campaign enables women and girls of all kinds to become key actors, contributors to and beneficiaries of the media.
“I think the thing we all have in common is that we believe that the beauty industry has the golden ticket, that magic bullet, that if we just find the right thing—anything that we’re dissatisfied with about our bodies, whether it’s the cream that we put on our wrinkles or it’s the hair straightener, or any one of the number of products that they keep creating that just reinforces in us the belief that we’re not enough, and that they have the thing to make us enough,” Meade said.
Rooted in fundamental feminist theory, Stop The Beauty Madness’s mission seems to coincide with the words of French feminists Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray: “Women must write the body in their own language.”
But it’s not easy. The lack of women in media creates an inevitable absence of the female voice on key issues in national dialogue—such as the ways in which we objectify and typify the female body—or the way it should look.
A meta-analysis of a Women’s Media News (WMC)’s 2013 report suggests that women’s average monthly consumption of news through online, digital, e-edition and paper is 70.7 percent. Unfortunately, however, “there is still a gaping divide when it comes to the traditional gatekeepers and newer curators that tell the stories of women in the 24/7 news narrative of life and death,” according to WMC.
Perhaps this is why of Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” only 17 are women at media companies.
As full-time newsroom employment continues to decline, as does the number of women in supervisory positions across all job categories. While the numbers are down for men as well, the decades-long gender lag remains a troubling one. The percentage of women in all job categories is frozen at 36.9 percent in both 2012 and 1999. But there were 4,514 female newsroom supervisors in 1999 and down to 3,447 in 2012. In terms of overall newsroom employment, there were 14,971 women working full-time at daily newspapers in 2012, down from 20,323 in 1999. Consequentially, by a nearly three to one margin, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines in coverage of the 2012 presidential election. Men were also more likely to be quoted than women in the media, which was also the case in the coverage of abortion, birth control and Planned Parenthood, according to WMC.
Talk radio hosts are overwhelmingly male. Just 25 percent of Sunday television talk show guests are female, and women comprise only 14 percent of those interviewed and 29 percent of roundtable guests. The percentage of women who are television news directors is only 30 percent, and women made up just nine percent of the directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012. Online news has, too, fallen into the same rut as legacy media, with male reporters far more prevalent than female reporters.
The same report suggests that “girls as young as age six are starting to see themselves as sex objects” in part because of the way media typecasts our gender—in part because our gender’s voices are not speaking in the media.
But WMC says that 75 percent of women in 2012 are on social media and actively using it. 54 percent of female Internet users use social networking sites, are likely to intervene when they see language or images that they find offensive— such as preconceived notions of beautiful. Only 29 percent said they never take action.
By developing and strengthening regulatory mechanisms of the media to promote balanced and non-stereotypical portrayals of beauty, Stop the Beauty Madness is “rewriting” beauty, by not writing beauty.
“I don’t want my beauty definition to be your beauty definition,” Meade said. “I’m hoping for this beauty campaign to empower women to say, I’m going to discover my beauty, without anyone else telling me that it’s right or wrong or how I should fit. We’re all unique, and that is what makes us all beautiful.”
Stop the Beauty Madness invites everyone, including that 29 percent, to voice themselves.
Meade and Rice are hosting a Poetry Slam Contest with prizes totaling $1,000. Intended to empower both women and men to find beauty in the world around them, while immersed in a culture that sends every message to the contrary, participants are eligible for the top prize of $500, one of the five $100 honorable mentions, or a certificate presented to the top 20.
Additionally, launching on July 28th, the Stop The Beauty Madness campaign will feature weekly, downloadable audio conversations between Robin Rice—Creative Director of the Stop The Beauty Madness campaign, president of its sponsor company, Be Who You Are Productions, Inc. and internationally acclaimed author—and one of the campaign’s FrontLine Voices, sent directly via email. Finally, real women will be subjects and sources in the media.
Check out the full campaign here!