In Defense of Beauty Redefined

This is the old version of our site. View this page at our new site: beautyredefined.net

Note to Readers: A website has published a piece on why “Redefining Beauty Campaigns Won’t Work,” focusing specifically on LDS-oriented strategies, and citing our website repeatedly as they misrepresent and distort our years of work. This was only the first in a two-part series on the topic and their readers are commenting like crazy. In an attempt to defend our work to reclaim “beauty” for girls and women everywhere, our initial response is below.  

We want to personally thank the author for not only attracting so much attention to our website and our good cause, but for providing a forum for men and women to critically discuss these issues! 

 

As the authors of the “Beauty Redefined” story you are referencing and the editors of Beauty-Redefined.org, we are compelled to respond to this posting. We are doctoral students with master’s degrees and double bachelor’s degrees in media studies and women’s studies, and our eight years researching this topic you flippantly discuss can be better served by explaining what “Beauty Redefined” aims to do in our own words. We have thousands of pages of research to back up our claims that what people perceive as attractive and beautiful has shifted with the way media has positively portrayed specific body types and shapes. From the “ideally robust” Lillian Russel at the turn of the century to the 1920’s flapper “boyish” ideal to Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis to Twiggy in ’60s, Glamazons in the ’90s and Angelina Jolie today. To claim we do not get a standard of what is normal and beautiful from media images that inundate our lives is quite a false statement.

Along with demonstrating the increasing prevalence of the thin ideal across all mediums, the past 15 years alone have brought a wealth of research on the effects of thin-ideal media on viewers’ body perceptions. These studies offer consistent evidence that exposure to thin-ideal television programs and magazines is associated with problematic body perceptions in adolescent and adult females, including body dissatisfaction, distortions in body image, internalization of the thin ideal, the drive for thinness, increased investment in appearance, and increased endorsement of disordered eating behaviors (American Psychological Association, 2007; Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008; Harrison & Fredrickson, 2003; Levine & Harrison, 2004; Myers & Biocca, 1992; Stice & Shaw, 2002).

Our work in providing media literacy for the only industrialized country without such literacy in public school curriculum will not “cause eating disorders to fade away,” and that is something we never claim. But teaching children and adults to look critically at media and understand the harmful and profit-driven nature of unrealistic ideals is a potential solution that a wealth of research shows us has positive effects, especially on young women – including a decreased drive for thinness, less motivation to look like the models and actresses they see, greater body satisfaction, higher self-esteem, etc. To discredit our work through a smear campaign that perpetuates serious misrepresentations of our years of research on behalf of men and women everywhere is doing a serious disservice to this cause, which you claim to defend as a vital issue.

Our message is NOT that “everyone is beautiful in their own way” as you assert, but that media depictions and definitions of what is beautiful and healthy are not attainable ideals, and in fact it sets up a false standard of average in our minds, which is reflected in the lengths so many females will go in trying to reach those profit-driven ideals. I’d suggest joining us for an upcoming presentation, even one of our religiously oriented firesides, to see and hear for yourself what impact the LDS church teachings have on our perceptions of female worth, physical appearance and priorities. The fact that SLC has been ranked the vainest city in the nation is the product of a variety of factors, including the fact that this is a destination for cheap plastic surgery for people from all over the country, the U of U pushes out many graduates of this field who stay here to practice, and the “mommy makeover” offered across the Wasatch Front as a cosmetic fix to years of having babies so young can be attributed to those rankings, as well. If it is true that the Mormon culture compounds this issue with media messages to make girls and women more susceptible to harmful media messages, then slamming our critical and necessary academic work is a serious step in the wrong direction.

Our purpose is not to attack “skinny” or creat “fat acceptance” in any way. It is to show people the changing definition of beauty in media through the past several decades and demonstrate the simultaneous health crises for females. Numbers of diagnosed eating disorders have soared to new highs in the past 25 years, with the incidence of bulimia in U.S. women tripling between 1988 and 1993. Approximately 10 million women are diagnosable as anorexic or bulimic, with at least 25 million more struggling with a binge eating disorder (National Eating Disorders Association, 2010). On the other end of the spectrum, obesity rates are at an all-time high and it has been called an “epidemic.” Though these two extremes in the current status of women’s health might seem opposite and unconnected, I argue that they may in fact both be related to the same phenomenon: that many women have come to accept a distorted idea of what physical health entails. We attribute this rampant misunderstanding of what defines fitness to a dominant ideology that equates health and fitness with mediated beauty ideals characterized most prominently by thinness. This type of awareness, along with an understanding of critical media literacy and the reality of how profit-driven media ideals of beauty and health truly are, is a very promising step toward reframing the way people see and value women. It is all about getting PAST appearance obsession and focusing on actual health and productive pursuits, not defining new physical beauty ideals.

I suggest who has read this post read up here at beauty-redefined.org, where we publish our research on sexual objectification in media and its dangerous consequences, women’s magazines and their conflation of “health” and “beauty” in the No. 1 source for health information for women outside the doctor’s office, and other pertinent and academically sound research. The full version of our story in LDS Living Magazine can be found in the hard copy of the magazine, not the blurb cited in this story.

16 Responses to In Defense of Beauty Redefined

  1. Brian F. says:

    Wow, this is some interesting background to the blog today. She seriously has some sort of axe to grind. I think she has her preconceived notions of what your research is, and will not listen. The comments on that site have turned increasingly negative.

  2. Jon L. says:

    The media can play a big role in influencing our perceptions. We are what we think about most. Obviously we think about what we feed our mind and that is what we observe through the media. With that said we, as a society, if we’re not careful can develop false perceptions and expectations on what is beautiful and what is not. I do feel it is important to be healthy, although that does not translate into being skinny. I have met people that are very healthy and that run marathons although they are far from skinny. Beauty is not one mold that one must fit in in order to achieve it. If we embrace who we are and continue to strive to be our best self then our beauty will radiate to others. That comes with a healthy “self love” of who we are (I do not mean conceit or pride). With that we can turn around and love others more fully despite their differences and imperfections. That is true beauty.

    I feel that the Kites are spreading a powerful message 🙂

  3. Sunny says:

    Marintha stated multiple times that she has no problem with your desire to combat the negative ways women are objectified in the media, nor is she trying to discredit your research. The post is not about that. The message of the post is simply that “redefining beauty” is not the answer. The answer is to stop making beauty or how we are perceived by others the focus of our thoughts.

    As I pointed out to you in the comments on that thread, your attempt to say that you also try to shift away from focusing on appearance was disproved by your own words in the LDS Living article. Our exchange follows:

    Me: “The message I’m getting from the OP is that telling women they can be beautiful is problematic (besides the fact that it’s simply not always true) because it reinforces the idea that beauty=worth.

    This idea that beauty should be desired and is related to our worth or spirituality is perpetuated in the LDS Living article in which you (or your sister) suggest that in order to not make appearance more important we focus on forgetting ourselves and doing service. This is immediately followed with,”the best way to improve your appearance is to have a little more light in your countenance! Service in any capacity fills us with love and light that radiate from within and draw people near.” This is a confusing message at best. Don’t focus on appearance, focus on others so you’ll look better and they’ll want to be around you! Huh?”

    Lexi: “We are working to expand people’s definitions of what constitutes a beautiful woman by encouraging people to focus on more than whether or not a woman measures up to beauty ideals we’ve very likely internalized from media.”

    Me: “Trying to expand or redefine definitions of beauty is problematic because it still makes beauty the important thing. Using spirituality, service, virtue, or any internal characteristic as a path to beauty is problematic because it still does put the emphasis on the outward, or that these things matter in relation to how others perceive us. These things should matter for their own worth in our lives, not as a tool to make us beautiful, desirable, or anything of that nature.”

    The post is not meant to infer you should stop trying to counter the objectification of women in media. It is saying it is enough to stop there. We don’t need to carry it to the next step where we try to help women feel valued for their beauty, inner or otherwise. It is a step in the same direction that got us where we are… to look for worth in how we are perceived, to be turned inward, concerned with self.

    Further the post had more to do with statements made by others that equated spirituality with being attractive or desirable. Again, the problem is that we’re still sending girls the message that the important thing is to be desired and even our spirituality can be a means to that end.

    Your treatment of Marintha here is unprofessional, comes across as quite catty, and reads as though you two have not yet entered into the world of academia wherein research is systematically questioned and ripped to shreds. You are intensely quick to cite your various studies, degrees, and “years” of research, yet doing so amidst a seemingly hysterical defense of your work would make it seem you have not yet really had your ideas challenged in all those years.

    • The previous exchange on facebook with Marintha is incredibly relevant to this discussion. She clearly posted this piece as a response to that exchange. Nothing at all here was intended to sound catty, and I really don’t see where it could have. We’ve had our ideas challenged plenty, and have always taken the time to respond and defend our work, as any academic or person earnestly devoted to a cause would do. This is another one of those situations, and a defense is very warranted. Maybe even a “hysterical defense.” Haha.

      I do want to point out that the last sentence of your first paragraph is EXACTLY the focus of our work. Everything we do centers on turning the focus away from appearance. Obviously appearance is an important aspect of life for many people, so to disregard that fact altogether would be a disservice to this cause. Thus, making a point like service bringing light to one’s countance that radiates and draws others in, is a true and uplifting way to integrate that point. Thanks for making that statement, even if you didn’t realize that was at the heart of our work. I hope you’ll continue to share that message.

      • Sunny says:

        Being privy to the same Facebook page you’ve quoted, it’s also clear that Marintha’s comments were deleted (by her) from that page. I don’t see the post as a continuation of that or of the “vendetta” you mention. That does not match the behavior of someone who would delete comments they feared had made someone else uncomfortable.

        Again, while your work was linked to in the post, it really wasn’t about you. Others were quoted and it wasn’t about them either. It’s about an idea (that idea being that a focus on beauty as a way to improve a sense of worth is problematic, even if it’s just a little bit). And again, to say you take the focus off of beauty, but then bring it back to beauty as a desirable focus is the very problem I’m referencing. You and I obviously disagree on this point. That’s fine. As long as you can realize that the post was about this idea, NOT about your work to counter the objectification of women in the media.

  4. Sunny says:

    Also, to post a Facebook exchange on a public/professional(?) site without the participant’s permission is really, really weird.

    • I do believe the previous facebook exchange I had with Marintha is an important piece of this story. I know she had never heard of my work before she saw it on that facebook page and made a very malicious comment, and knowing that we had some previous interaction is very telling about why she wrote this piece. However, I understand your point about not transferring a facebook exchange (though that was a public forum of its own) to another public forum, so I’ve deleted that part of this piece.

      • Sunny says:

        I think deleting that was a good step. Only Marintha can answer for sure, but I really don’t think this post was a response to the Facebook exchange simply because the post is not about you the way you seem to think it is. I hope that becomes clear to you at some point as it seemed to be clear to most commenters today on BCC who were not referencing your work either. The thread was about the ideas being presented in the post. The thread was only about you inasmuch you chose to turn it into that. I wish you well in your endeavors to help women recognize the sexualization and objectification of females in the media images all around them.

        Here’s a thought: Instead of the focus on beauty, why not “Redefining Worth” and a clear message that beauty =/= worth, therefore we don’t need to find other ways to feel beautiful, nor equate virtue, service, etc., with beauty because beauty simply isn’t the answer.

  5. Sunny says:

    One more thought… I posted earlier on your site and there was no moderation to comments. To see that you have initiated such at this point would lead one to believe you are going pick and choose comments to your favor. I hope that is not the case, as that would be unfair to your readers and lend itself to the notion that you are dishonest in your representations.

    • We’ve always moderated comments, including earlier when you posted. No unfairness here!

    • Jon L. says:

      Sunny, you seem to be operating from a very negative space. I feel that instead of trying to learn and understand their perspective you decided long ago that you were not going to agree with any of it and fight against it. Many people will not take your comments seriously because you don’t seem to bring any concrete facts or points to the table. If you have that attitude just ignore this site and leave it alone and focus on what you DO support, not on what you DO NOT support. Just a thought.

      • Sunny says:

        Jon,

        They purposely linked this defense on By Common Consent’s thread in order to draw attention/traffic to this thread. The conversation is about BR’s reaction to that original thread and the ideas presented in it which seem to have been missed. That is all. In that context, the only pertinent “concrete facts” are comments from that thread and this post/thread. I’m not having a discussion about the “concrete facts” of media and body image. The discussion was never about that.

      • Jon, thank you for your comments! We purposely linked this defense to that website because our name, organization, and writing, were linked to lies about our research. When false claims about our work, repeatedly linked, are made in the public sphere, the only appropriate move would be to provide readers with accurate information. Thank you for supporting our cause!

  6. Lori G. says:

    “I feel so strongly that I need to add my two cents worth on this subject.

    My two teenage daughters and I closely follow the research being done by Beauty Redefined and truly feel empowered by the authors’ message. It has been the basis of very candid discussions within my own family and with other young women that I work closely with. We are enlightened and educated by the authors and are incorporating this knowledge into our lives. We are grateful for the forum that these two women have provided to share their years of research via this website and through their presentations. We are realizing that the beauty standards set by the media are too exceptional and unattainable for even the celebrities themselves, who have been digitally manipulated in order to be featured on the pages and covers of magazines and billboards. Comparing ourselves with and trying to compete with the media’s preset and unattainable definitions of beauty is a pathway to failure. There is an absolute need to redefine beauty in more ways than just appearance and the authors through Beauty Redefined have given us all a ray of hope. You are truly uplifting!! Thank you!!”

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