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A Hit TV Show Under Inspection: XOXO, Gossip Girl

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High society and low blows are back as teen drama GOSSIP GIRL continues its rein as a smash hit in its 4th season, giving millions of viewers a glimpse into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite. Here, we’re offering the inside scoop on this wildly popular series by using a critical eye to reveal the secrets the always-mysterious “Gossip Girl” will never tell.

-XOXO, Gossip Girl Revealed

The much-hyped “Gossip Girl” first aired in 2007 to about 2.61 million viewers every week, and continued to catch fire through season 2 as 3.19 million tuned in  to each episode of season. Hot young stars Blake Lively as Serena van der Woodsen, Leighton Meester as Blair Waldorf and Taylor Momsen as Jenny Humphrey helped rake in numerous awards for the risqué show, including Choice TV Show, Choice TV Actor, Choice TV Actress and more.

With all those viewers – most of whom are “impressionable young women” – it’s so necessary to look a little deeper at the content of this show, past all the seriously addicting storylines and beautiful people. Audiences are hooked on “Gossip Girl,” and there’s no arguing the show has some serious entertainment value. And that’s exactly why a critical look into this show is, well, critical. Here, I’m looking at just the first four episodes of season 1, focusing specifically on the leading ladies’ comments about their/others appearances, sexual activity and relationships beween the males and females, and the approximate height and weight of the leading actresses. Last, I’ll talk a bit about the possible implications of this show on female and male viewers’ perceptions of beauty and sexuality – especially its importance in their lives.

When “no” means “yes”

In Episode 1, we are introduced to stunning blond Serena van der Woodsen, who appears after an impromptu semester at boarding school. She returns to school to find her equally gorgeous best friend, Blair Waldorf, assuming the role of “Queen Bee” in Serena’s place. Later in the episode, the last of the three leading actresses, Jenny Humphrey, appears as the bright-eyed freshman willing to do anything to fit in with Serena and Blair, the most popular girls in school. Within 15 minutes of the first episode, Serena is found drinking alone at an upscale hotel bar. One of the leading male actors, Ed Westwick playing Chuck Bass, walks up to her and offers to buy her a meal as he flirts with her. The next scene features her eating a sandwich on a counter top, when Chuck begins spreading her legs apart and trying to kiss her neck.

As he continues forcing himself on her, she says “NO” again and again. As he threatens her not to say “no” because of the information he knows that could ruin her reputation, the audience is hit with flashbacks of a sexual encounter between Serena and Blair’s boyfriend. We see her on a counter, her skirt up around her waist, with her legs wrapped around her best friend’s boyfriend. As the scene continues, we witness the couple tearing each others’ clothes away as they have intercourse. As the flashback ends, Serena gathers the strength to push Chuck off of her and she runs away from the bar crying.

Besides the sexual nature of these scenes between sophomores and juniors in high school, all within the first few minutes of the first, highly acclaimed episode, one of the most disturbing aspects of this show is the fact that Chuck, the token “playboy” and “hot guy” of the series, is never so much as reprimanded for this sexual assault. Furthermore, in the second half of this episode, he tries to force himself on Jenny Humphry at a party as she cries “no, no!” – all without any repercussion. His attempts at rape go unquestioned, effectively normalizing and trivializing his seriously harmful efforts. Viewers can perceive this in several ways, and unfortunately these are some of the ways many viewers may have interpreted this scary scene: “If he is attractive and he finds you attractive, take his aggressive sexual advances as a compliment.” “Thin, beautiful girls are just that irresistible.” “Every girl deals with attempted rape every so often. Brush it off.”

The Object of Desire

Throughout the first four episodes, viewers are consistently invited to see the leading actresses as nothing more than body parts, i.e. sexual objects. In the only scene where the girls are found being physically active outside the bedroom – during a P.E. class, a song with very clear lyrics plays as the camera pans up and down their bodies: “Baby, where did you get that body from? Baby, where did you get that body from?” In Episode 4, as Serena walks away from a potential love interest, the camera zooms in on her derriere as the song, “Gotta Shake You’re A**” plays. In another example from Episode 2, we see Chuck, the “playboy,” wake up with two girls in his bed, cuddling him on both sides. In Episode 4, he hosts a party where girls acted as door prizes, boasting, “Guys, you have 500 chances to get laid!”

And the leading ladies of Gossip Girl perform the sexy role very, very well. Blair is shown sitting in a bustier and garters twice within the first 20 minutes of the episode. In Episode 2, she wears heels, a silk shirt and no pants as she walks around her house with her friends. When she is seen in clothes later in the scene, she quickly removes them to change her clothes, revealing a bustier underneath. When Serena is asked on a date by a new guy who admitted he thought she was rude upon first impression, she asked, “You asked me out on a date and didn’t think I was nice?” He replied, “No, I just thought you were hot.” Here, beauty is equated with sex appeal, and therefore the fact that these young teens are very sexually active is simply a no-brainer.

“95 lbs. of pure evil”

Hot and sexy are defined in a pretty narrow way for these Gossip Girls. Literally, very narrow.

  • In Episode 4, Blair is lovingly described as “95 pounds of pure evil.”
  • When Blair spoke about her mother grieving over her cheating father, she simply said, “Mom lost 15 pounds when Dad left her, so it’s been really good for her.”
  • When Blair sees her mother for this first time in weeks, the first and only thing she says is, “I lost two pounds while you were away,” to which her mother replies, “And you look wonderful!”
  • Later, Blair is asked to model for her mother’s fashion line. As she prepares for the job, she says, “Rules for a model the day of the shoot: No food or drink for 12 hours before…”
  • In Episode 1, Blair is trying on tight, revealing dresses for a party when her mother says, “You’ll never be more beautiful, thin and happy as you are right now. Make the most of it. Change your dress and put some product in your hair – the ends are dry.”

The only positive interaction Blair has with her mother is another comment based solely on her appearance: “Blair, you looked beautiful tonight,” her mother says after the modeling shoot. Not surprisingly, Blair is beaming after this. In Gossip Girl, a compliment regarding weight loss, “hotness,” or beauty is the greatest compliment of all.

These messages about weight and beauty are all the more loud and clear for viewers because these leading actresses are “it girls” on and off the screen. On the screen, classmates follow the girls around and serve them as needed. The only two women of color on the show are an unnamed Asian girl and an unnamed black girl who serve as “sidekicks” to the cool girls. Both appear several times throughout each episode, side-by-side with Blair, but only speak when spoken to. Off the screen, these “it girls” receive major media exposure regularly, with massive viewer fan bases who are regularly reminded of the benefits of looking and acting like Blake Lively, Leighton Meester and Taylor Momsen.

At 5’8” and 124 pounds, Lively (Serena) is on the lower end of a healthy weight according to World Health Organization standards. But her co-stars are a different story. At 5’5” and 95 pounds, Meester (Blair) comes in dramatically underweight, and Momsen (Jenny) is the lowest of all, at an estimated 108 pounds and 5’8”. What they don’t mention with the incredible sex appeal and motherly love these girls receive along with their incredibly thin bodies is the accompanying bone loss, malnutrition, organ failure, infertility, abnormal menstruation, fatigue and increased susceptibility to infection – not to mention death – that can come along with such low body weights.

Female viewers of Gossip Girl quickly come to know a world where beauty and thinness is rewarded with male attention, motherly love and overall popularity. For the leading ladies of this “Choice TV Show,” very very thin is in, appearance is everything, and showing skin is the key to success. In real life, let’s hope the millions of faithful viewers are savvy enough to recognize these harmful ideals and redefine female worth for themselves!

-XOXO, Gossip Girl Revealed

Gossip Girl is definitely not unique in promoting these harmful messages about women. The examples are endless, and one extremely visible example is making its much-anticipated debut next week, on Feb. 15: the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. UP NEXT: An in-depth look at the implications of the nation’s No. 1 sports magazine offering a full issue of nearly nude women.  When porn goes mainstream — like celebrating the magazine’s debut on the Today Show mainstream — there’s a problem here.

 

Media Ideals: The Real True Hollywood Story

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Well, after Lindsay’s last post on the sketchiness of the BMI, lots of people seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. As an incredibly unreliable method for judging weight, the BMI is a profit-driven standard that doesn’t tell us much at all about individual health. If you believe you are healthy based on other more reliable indicators (like activity level, physical fitness or your doctor’s opinion), then forget what the BMI says you are – underweight, overweight, whatever. It simply doesn’t hold up for way too many people. But understanding how unreliable the BMI is for determining a person’s healthy weight should motivate us to find more accurate indicators of health for ourselves and our loved ones — not to give up on achieving a healthy weight altogether.

We at Beauty Redefined believe a big part of the problem is that too many women have no idea what a healthy weight or size actually is. It should be no surprise that the vast majority of females as young as 3 choose an ideal body that is at least 10% underweight. With the help of for-profit media upheld by advertisers who make billions off unattainable beauty ideals, we have all come to believe a very distorted picture of what it means to look like a woman. The only weights or dress sizes we ever hear or see are for models and celebrities ranging from size 0-4, and we know that they are not representative of regular, healthy people. The average model is 5’11 and 117 lbs (which is drastically underweight, even according to the BMI). The vast majority of women we see in any form of media are underweight, not to mention digitally altered, softly lit, and styled by an entourage of experts from her head to her toes. But what about those female celebs who do appear to be of a healthy size and weight?

When It Comes to Size, These Aren’t Such “Little White Lies

If, by chance, the beautiful women we see in popular culture are not underweight, they often wholeheartedly profess to being a size or weight that is not reflective of their actual measurements! Take reality TV star Kim Kardashian for example. A little over a year ago, Kim blogged to her fans that she loved her cellulite and “va va voom” figure and they should embrace their own bodies. Just weeks later, she made sure the world knew that she was a “curvy” size 2 and no bigger. But Kim isn’t alone in claiming a size evidently much smaller than her actual self. After media controversy swirled around Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jessica Simpson gaining weight last year, both women set the record straight by simultaneously claiming they “loved their curves” and were very happy with their “size 2” figures.

Or take 5′ 9″ singer/actress Jennifer Hudson, who told reporters in 2007 she weighed 140 lbs., after dropping 30 since her American Idol days. She said that in a sea of size 2 celebrities, she enjoys representing the “real women” out there with her healthy figure. But after signing a contract with Weight Watchers in early 2010, she now self-reports to have lost 80 lbs. total, and wears a size 4- 6. If we do the math based on what she has told the press, that means the curvy singer would currently weigh 90 lbs. (170 lbs. during Idol, 140 lbs. in 2007, -50 with Weight Watchers in 2010 = 90 lbs!) Unlikely.

Take a glance at full-length shots of Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, or Jennifer Hudson, and then grab a pair of size 2 jeans. Something tells us these celebs are telling a dangerous not-so-white lie to the girls and women who adore them and who can’t help but compare their own real weights and sizes to these inaccurate claims.

The Camera Doesn’t Lie … Or Does It?

It doesn’t help that our No. 1 source of health information aside from doctors is women’s magazines, and those may be the worst offender of all in terms of representing extreme thinness and beauty ideals as “fitness” or “health.” Now add the little-known fact we try to share at every chance: No image you see of a women in media has gone un-altered. Photoshopping is, by all accounts, an industry standard, and the art of digital manipulation knows no bounds. When Oprah adorned the cover of a 1989 TV Guide with her head plastered on actress Ann Margaret’s (much thinner) body, that was only the beginning. Today, some models featured in magazines are not human at all, but parts of women digitally pieced together to create an ideal.

Oprah's head on Ann Margaret's body, 1989 TV Guide

But don’t forget about broadcast media! Did you know many celebrities will only be on camera with a filtered lens to blur away any “imperfections” like pores, moles, wrinkles, blemishes, or stray hairs? Were you aware that film can be stretched to create a taller, thinner image? And soft, flattering lighting is standard on the set of nearly every television show and movie? Shows like E! News, Extra, and Entertainment Tonight do not interview celebrities at press junkets without soft lighting, cameras with filtered lenses on hand. Even those “off the cuff” Q & A’s with your favorite celebs are manipulated to create an unreal ideal. And don’t forget about the entourage of stylists to create the perfect package – we’re talking wardrobe, hair, makeup, nails, eyebrows, etc. The final product, the only one we’ll ever see, is a carefully crafted ideal even our so-called “ideally beautiful” celebs can never meet!

No wonder our perception of “average” or “healthy” is incredibly skewed toward thinness and perfection.

And since we’ll see billions more images of women in media than we will ever see face to face, we must counteract those images with reality. What does normal look like? What do accurate weights and heights look like? We have a strategy for rejecting these lies, and it begins with looking each other face to face and seeing some honest, realistic numbers. For a much-needed glimpse of reality, check back this Monday, Feb. 7, to see our latest project, titled…

FACTS & FIGURES: 10 Girls Tell the Truth About Weight

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