Photo credit: Oprah.com
Oprah, a media mogul, entrepreneur, philanthropist, etc is also well known for her fluctuating weight. Media coverage focused on her body was trending through the years of her “struggle” or “battle” with weight issues. In a recent article “How Did I let this Happen Again?” Oprah writes out about her journey being medicalized for her weight gain. I was amazed that all the concepts and phrases mentioned in class in relation to obesity and the medicalization of addicts were commonly found when researching on Oprah’s weight history. Hitting rock bottom, prescribing weight gain via severe diets and other connections to body image and health are part of the narratives of many people who are diagnosed as obese.
As discussed in class with our guest speaker Melissa Campbell, fat bodies are objectified in mass media. They are alienated from the “real self” and are prescribed as deviant, hence the desire to attain slimness and therefore normalcy. In the controversial article “Oprah’s Weight Struggles a Microcosm of America’s Obesity Epidemic”, Jimmy Moore explores Oprah’s weight struggles. Criticizing her as negative, unable to commit and therefore lazy, Moore even goes so far as to diagnose Oprah with food addiction.
Below are phrases that I found in the article that refer to Oprah’s weight “struggle”.
– Weight demons
-“Off the wagon”
-“..addiction under control…”
Photo credit: cartoonstock.com
As we see, all these words in the end characterize the “obesity epidemic”. These problematic phrases use rhetoric that demonize, blame and medicalize people who are obese. Instead of celebrating the bodies of plus size women, media discourse works on shaming and displaying fat bodies as incomplete people. When I say this, I refer to this statement that declares Oprah’s history with her body as a “…sad but true story of a woman who has it all but can’t seem to figure out why she can’t lose weight.” Although this woman has power and fame, she is portrayed as not fulfilled.
However, new media is focused on empowering women who are labeled as obese via blogs, tumblr, and other forms of visual media. Fat fashion communities such as Manfattan were created to allow people to curate their own experiences as well enable role models into mainstream media that are not limited to sizes 0-4. This online community also works to break from the typical visual description about fatness and a space to share resources (where to purchase clothing, DIY tips, and sharing pictures). Changing the discourse on the “obesity epidemic”, fat fashion communities are not medicalizing their bodies as abnormal and therefore needing treatment via diets or weight loss surgeries. They are creating a community that does not discriminate and objectify fat bodies.
Feeling comfortable in your own skin is difficult in a society that defines beauty by commercializing “femininity” (example: generating $$$ from lipstick, corsets, high heels, plastic surgery, weight loss surgery (WLS). While riding on the train, I saw an advertisement a couple of days ago that was promoting weight loss surgery. It showed you’re typical before and after pictures and phrases that read “No scarring!” but nothing on the health risks that constitute for “looking health”. The medicalization of obesity is led not only by surgical intervention, but also governmental initiatives and public discourse involved in the “public health crisis” (117 Throsby).
Karen Thorsby examines in her piece “Happy Re-Birthday: Weight Loss Surgery and the ‘New Me’” the methodology behind weight loss surgery (WLS) as an alternative way of surveillance and disciplining the body. With eighty percent of women participating in WLS as an alternative from dieting and other health interventions, we can understand how this disproportionately affects women and their bodies. With the common debate that “dieting does not work” among people who are at high levels of obesity, this gives way for those undergoing WLS to commit to surgery (122). Throsby explains how surgery is observed as “opting in” to lose weight which constitutes those who choose WLS as the “subjects in the ‘war on obesity’ rather than as vilified objects (120). The decision to “opt in” surgery is often understood and regarded as a shift from being passive to taking action in one’s health (122). WLS centers also encouraged the rhetoric of “rebirth” in terms of the physical and mental transformation of the subject post-surgery. This implies that the body has been trained and disciplined to have self-control over their appetite. This behavior in relation to the body becomes normalized and embodied through proactive discourse on WLS. Deciding to go into surgery does not only change the body but is also understood as the “beginning of a new me” (122).
The discovery of the “real self” via WLS, dieting and other measures taken to meet the social standard of fit and healthy is highly problematic. Not only is this rhetoric reinforced by governmental action for social justice in the ‘war on obesity’ (led by Mayor Bloomberg in NYC) it also generates money to the culture industries that govern it. The treatment of the “fat body” as an alien life-form that has no restraint in their consumption of food places the blame and responsibility for fatness on the individual. But what characterizes this obesity “epidemic” in the 21st century is the increased role of governmentality from public officials. Tony Blair’s speech on living well described obesity as a “collective price for the failure to take shared responsibility (123 Throsby). Blair and other public officials like Michael Bloomberg are approving self-care not as merely an individual matter, but also as an essential form of active citizenship. With this type of discourse, surgery and other forms of self-transformation becomes a form of social participation. It eases people into taking measures (extreme or minimal) to fit into the category of a productive and fit citizen.
The dieting industry also plays a dominant role in our society’s ‘living healthy’ discourse. Almost every pop culture magazine has had a headline on healthy eating via a variety of diets. Interestingly I came across a blog called Junk Food Science that stated “fatness is not a risk factor for heart disease or premature death” . Findings such as this were shared in a recent American Heart Association meeting and debunked what we all thought was common knowledge on the harms of fatness. It is also stated this relationship between fat and unhealthiness was created by diet books, not scientific books. Currently, the net worth of the US weight loss market is $60.9 billion dollars and has been increasing every year. The estimates from Marketdata Enterprise Inc. include diet practices from commercial weight loss chains, diet pills, diet trends, diet websites and diet food home delivery service. This is the profit that comes from the medicalization of obesity.
Susan Bordo’s “Are Mothers Persons?” delves into the contradictory rhetoric that exists around the bodily integrity of women compared to men through the legal system. With criticisms in social media that feminism is not needed, people fail to realize that women still do not receive equal pay for equal work and women’s reproductive rights are still being controlled by patriarchal law. One of the most expansive inequalities regarding women bodies and autonomy lies in the legal and social discourse of reproductive control. Examining the “legal double standard” regarding women’s bodies, Bordo reveals the attack on women’s personhood.
In the United States there is a long history of the non-consensual medical and legal interference of women bodies. Through the frequent practices of non-consensual sterilization, forced C-sections and abortions, women have been subjected as mere physical entities with no will or power to determine their reproductive fate. A court case between Angela Carder and the George Washington University Hospital revealed that a forced cesarean was practiced on Carder who was ill. This was carried out by the doctors and staff who did not agree with the practice but were required to do so by their hospitals regulations to perform C-sections on fatally ill patients. The court sided with the hospital stating that “…the woman’s right to avoid bodily intrusion could justifiably be put aside, as she had at best two says left of sedated life,” (77 Bordo). Angela Carder and her baby died after the operation was performed. In this case, a living persons will was ignored over the fact that she was pregnant, in which she was lawfully considered as life-support for the fetus. Pregnant women are also criminalize and suggested to have morality issues (or seen as selfish) for not allowing doctors and court ruling to invade their body on behalf of the unborn child. Another controversial case regarding Rennie Gibbs reveals the attack on women, especially after miscarriages.
The increased rate of eugenics practices on women of color and poor women via sterilization during the Great Depression is part of history that is not mentioned in the textbooks. Mostly state sponsored forced sterilization was mainly experienced by women of color and poor women who were deemed unable to care for their children, or to prevent genetic defection. Most women experienced involuntary sterilization was directed towards the “mentally defective” and “feeble –minded” (75 Bordo). These categories of “unfit” parenting are based on stereotypical and racist discourse on ethnic minorities.
As a result of reading Bordo’s chapter, I have come to the realization that society needs to be more supportive of motherhood. Not through imposing medical intervention, criminalizing or treating potential mothers and mothers as needing to be heavily supervised by law. We need to understand that forcing pregnant women to “undergo medical treatment sets an unsavory precedent for further invasion of women’s privacy and bodily integrity,” (81 Bordo).
Phot Credit to strongfamiliesmovement.org
While skimming through Allure magazine, I came across a poll taken by the makeup brand L’oreal Paris. Under the picture of a new variety of lipsticks it stated that “75% of women believe that wearing lipstick improves their confidence.” How convenient that the same brand that is selling lipstick is also promoting the social “benefits” of wearing their product. I’m not opposed to wearing lipstick and the big picture of three glorious lipstick colors did catch my eye at first. What is problematic is the statement that lipstick gives a woman confidence. What this notion does is give women the idea that lipstick, fashion, losing weight or whatever else is on the front cover of these magazines defines the normative femininity.
With headlines like “Cure dark circles” these entertainment magazines create a form of “self-policing” as well as place certain individual responsibilities as a means to present oneself as a “good citizen” (471 Oulette and Hay). In this type of environment, if a woman has dark circles the blame for looking tired and sleepless is on her.
Still flipping through the pages of the magazine, I reached a page titled “Vicious Circles”. Tired of hearing how others interpreted her dark under eye shadows; the author heavily relied on concealers. With comments like “Rough night”, “Have you tried Ambien” or my favorite “Smile-it can’t be that bad”, all suggested that there was something wrong with her and diagnosed her with insomnia. Dark circles are a human condition and can be hereditary, but I guess some people might forget this with the fully make-uped and often photo shopped faces displayed on every page of the magazine. You are drawn in by the advice bubbles on how to reduce your dark circles so as to appear energized and happy. Quick fixes such as taking an antihistamine if your allergies bring on dark circles become part of your daily routine to keep up with this identity. You so don’t want to be diagnosed with insomnia or depression by your peers and are encouraged to utilize what society has to offer you via over the counter drugs, make-up or even surgery.
This critiquing of the self and others in society is even more potent among people labeled as “addicts”. Interventions, reality shows and make-over TV are also modes of governmentality that lecture us on being self-sufficient citizens through health discourse to encourage productive citizenship (103 Daniels). An addict is usually described as someone who looks tired, pale, unmanaged and like they don’t care about their appearance. These arbitrary characteristics of an addict become the way in which society spots out addicts begins a trend of discrimination based on looks. With shows like Intervention on A&E and other culture industry resources reinforcing the portrayal of an addict, this becomes a form of discourse that we use to understand the body and the self. The identity of self becomes based on an imaginary norm and people who are deviant from that norm are not accepted as productive citizens.
I always used to watch What Not to Wear and a couple of weeks ago came across an interview with Stacy London. I saw a whole new side of her that I have never seen on the show. She talked about how her skin disorder, psoriasis, led her to fashion and loving the idea of self-transformation. Now she is in the business of transforming other people’s wardrobes and bodily transformations through the show.
The promise of reality TV shows such as What Not to Wear not only promote better clothing but also link their agenda to self-esteem, health, productivity in the dating world and relationship with family and friends. As Ouellette and Hay stated in Makeover Television, Governmentality and the Good Citizen, makeover TV functions to make “active and healthy citizens…” as part of a reinvention of the neoliberal government. The notion of being a “good citizen” is tied to the individual being responsible for their own governmentality. When the proper ‘citizenship’ is not practiced, the blame is placed on the individual. This form of policing though is framed by the surge of reality TV and other forms of media that have are part of the growing culture industry. The most commonly implied critique by the two fashion gurus of What Not to Wear was that when the nominated persons were credited for working in successful jobs or being dedicated to their family (example: mothers), their wardrobe did not present them as the good citizens that they are. This indication of failing to present and show society that you are a good citizen, even though you are a productive member of society is problematic according to the growing culture industry. So the hosts create a proposition that they will lead the participant from failure to success. This discourse continues throughout the show hoping that the end result will fulfill and complete the participant.
Reality TV shows like this also frame their solutions to the participants of these shows in a white framework. The dispersal of a What Not to Wear in India extends the role of Western media and reality TV in neoliberal reforms in the US across borders. This becomes problematic as it encourages Western hegemony in the non-West and extends the white frame-work of media gradually promoting a form of Eurocentric global governance.
The commercialization of women’s health is prevalent in media discourse as shown in the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.”. We have seen that the combination of neoliberal globalization and women’s health issues has led to strong rhetoric on raising awareness around these issues. Although this is needed, what many feminist scholars have been critiquing is how women’s health issues, breast cancer in particular, have been reduced to the symbols and rhetoric of slogans such as “early detection.cure.prevention” (“Pink Ribbons Inc.”). Yet we realize through the narratives of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer that it is not as easy as the slogan says.
There is a chance for one in eight women to have breast cancer in her lifetime and about 39,510 women die from breast cancer each year in the United States. Being a woman is the most influential factor in being diagnosed with breast cancer. During Regan’s era there was increased pressure on corporate philanthropy which has led to cause marketing. Cause-marketing is a process that allows companies to associate to a cause that their buyers would potentially care about resulting in increased sales. Foundations like the Susan G. Komen foundation and Avon foundation for breast cancer are the most dominant in breast cancer related cause-marketing. In fact, as I was doing some online research about the commercialization of breast cancer while listening to Pandora, I instantly heard an advertisement of five hour energy drink’s collaboration with the Avon Breast Cancer Foundation. In this promotion between October 1st and December 31st, 2012 for every bottle of “Pink Lemonade” sold, five cents will go towards the Avon foundation. Millions of dollars have been raised through the Avon foundation and the Susan G. Komen foundation yet where has that money went since there is still no cure. Women are continuously being treated through the “slash, burn and poison” approach and treatment for breast cancer has not really progressed over the years. Although early detection is imperative, it is not always the best way in “fighting” breast cancer. A cure is still needed and cause-marketing efforts have been good at raising money towards this cause. Yet these same institutions are concerned with framing breast cancer in the media as feminine, pink and “pretty” which diverges the goal of actually finding a cure. An Avon representative in the film stated that “…when you show the face of cancer only in anger, then people will think it’s hopeless…”
There is a need to repoliticize how breast cancer is portrayed in the media. There must be a re-focus on the much needed cure for breast cancer and not so much its pink products. I can’t help but think that the amount of money used to create these pink products could be used directly towards the research in finding the cure and funding other institutions committed to women’s health like Planned Parenthood that provide mammograms for all women.
Below I have a link to a video that shows the problematic relationship between commercializing and commodifying breast cancer.
It was a cold gloomy day and Keeping up with the Kardashians was on. After getting into a good fifteen minutes of the episode I caught onto something that was thought provoking. Kris Jenner, the mother and business women in the TV show wanted to get more plastic surgery done to her breasts, but this was not the interesting part. While waiting to be consulted on her plans for surgery, Kris Jenner was looking through pornography magazines to evaluate and aspire how her breasts should look. I had never been to a plastic surgery office and only know from other TV shows that they usually mark up their clients with a big black marker to show where they will nip and tuck them. We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is culturally produced. Yet how far are we willing to go to reinforce the ideal beauty standards that dominate our culture. Beauty standards change within each decade and with the popularity of cosmetic surgery it can be reinforced.
I am not going to argue whether cosmetic surgery is right or wrong, but I do know that watching pornography movies or magazines to aspire a particular beauty standard is problematic. The norms that are behind producing beauty standards are created by all kinds of present-day media and other methods of imposing beauty standards. Shows like “Extreme Makeover” (not the home edition), or “The Swan” are ways in which the media internalizes the normalcy of going under the knife to look beautiful. When these norms become internalized, it can be often referred to as “disciplinary body practices”. These practices can vary from putting on makeup, coloring hair, shaving legs, and cosmetic surgery. The American Society of Plastic Surgery report shows that in 2011 “breast augmentation has been the top cosmetic surgical procedure since 2006”. This increasing trend can also be found among women who get genital cosmetic surgery such as vaginoplasty.
We also need to keep in mind how expensive and time consuming tending to these beauty standards takes. Millions of dollars are spent by women restructuring their body while risking their health. The known risks for silicone gel filled breast implants include interfering with a mammography which can delay cancer screening results, permanent scarring, pain and stiffness felt in the muscles, etc. Yet these surgeries are still in high demand in order to meet norms on femininity and female sexuality.
Having explored the feminist take on street harassment I was intrigued to look in organizations such as Hollaback and Right Rides that aim to mitigate street harassment. I began my research as any other technologically savvy person would, I used Google. Hollaback performs a great social service to the various communities that it serves internationally as they encourage women to share their experiences of street harassment and turn an isolated experience into one that can be shared. Thinking back to when we read Alondra Nelson’s The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, the Black Panther Party gained a community of supporters through providing social services such as free health clinic access to the Black community. Although the social aims of these two organizations differ, they followed the same strategy in creating a community of social activists.
To be honest, when I first heard about Hollaback I failed to see how radical this organization actually is. It’s not that I never experienced street harassment, in fact I am very bothered by it and it’s probably one of the main things that affects my mood and sense of security throughout the day. After hearing more on the occurrences of street harassment and specifically learning that its offenders exercise harassment as a form of dominance and power over women, I had experienced the same intellectual sensation when I learned about feminism. I knew I was being objectified and that the act of street harassment was wrong but the line between what morality and human rights I have as a woman and what happens in society was blurred. To put it simply, street harassment became a norm even though I always felt strongly about taking action against it. What seemed to a subtle and rather simple form of action, going online or on the mobile app that Hollaback has and sharing your story has turned into a collective movement before my eyes.
The more I learned about street harassment, the more I became aware of how often it happens, especially in NYC. After looking more into Hollaback, I realized that the power of collective action in this movement against street harassment is imperative. We don’t all need to start publishing books of feminist theory in order to make a positive and feminist change in our society.
P.S I also mentioned the organization called Right Rides in the beginning of this blog post without speaking about its goals. Right Rides is an organization that aims to provide women and LGBT people with safe and free rides home in order to combat the occurrence of sexual and gender based assault.
As a video blog assignment, I made this video supporting the Hollaback! initiative to end street harassment. The main issue with streer harassment is that it is not mitigated in an effective through the legal system in New York City, which allows the police to develop a case only after repeatedly experiencing streer harassment! Through the power of narratives, Hollaback!NYC and other Hollaback branches advocate for women to share their experiences with street harassment and create awareness on how frequently this phenomenon actually occurs.
In Kahn and Kellner, social media is treated as the key to “understanding and shaping the political and cultural life of the present age,” (89). The internet has become a place where political and social discourse is unfolding and is challenging the top down system of epistemology (Daniels 2009, 102). With the advent and prevalent use of the internet and social media, it has allowed feminism to branch out and take form as cyber feminism. As Nouraie-Simone pointed out it has given women who feel repressed and voiceless in their society an area in cyberspace to free their thoughts and experiences. Cyber feminism is argued to have enabled the democratization of feminist thought globally. Kahn and Keller laud in particular the subculture that is forming around blogging and how it is used as a place to debate, comment, and critique feminist works and issues. This blog for instance is a perfect example of the “virtually democratic” use of the internet. Nouraie-Simone explores how blogging has given Iranian women a space of their own to express their thoughts in a safe and comfortable manner that most likely won’t get persecuted.
Not only is the internet a place for self-expression via blogs but social media websites have also transformed the ways in which people identify themselves and interact with each other. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter require one to maintain a virtual self that works to make a social profile for everyone who has an account. This trans-formative aspect of the internet and how it has shaped its users is examined and critiqued in the documentary “We Live in Public” and Nathan Jurgenson’s Surveillance and Society. These pieces work to raise awareness of the cost of such “freedoms” that the internet offers.
In “We Live in Public”, surveillance is used as a hegemonic force which Josh Harris, a social media tycoon, uses “surveillance culture” to control the population that he has allowed into his domain. Harris uses biopower and the concept of the omniopticon in an underground society called “The Quiet: We Live in Public”. Biopower is used by Harris in order to have control over the bodies, thoughts, and personalities of the participants he is allowing into his project. The cameras that he implanted in the underground society were monitoring the showers, sleeping pods, bathrooms, and all other areas in the underground space.
Through this form of digital culture via cameras and the internet, one observes that the embodiment of women was highly stereotypical. A particular scene of the film showed a woman being sexually harassed while naked in the shower by one of the male citizens of Quiet. Harris and other onlookers were merely standing around and watching as this went on without doing anything. Harris seemed pleased and was laughing as this was happening. This haven that Harris created still contained the real world systems of oppression and affected women by sexualizing them. Harris referred to technology as a “new boy in town…” expanding the system of patriarchy through patriarchal media production.