Tuesday, October 29, 2013

'Am I pretty' and 'am I ugly' videos

We have recently noticed an increase in the number of “am I pretty” and “am I ugly”, videos on YouTube. A search for the single term “am I pretty or ugly” brings up over 25,000 videos. Looking, in the vast majority of cases, at the faces of girls aged 9-14 left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

“I have a question,” says one girl, “People tell me this all the time, so I dunno. Is it true? People say I’m ugly. So tell me, am I?”

Many questions are constructed with contrived indifference e.g. “I mean, you can tell me the complete truth,” another girl says. “I get called ugly and pretty a lot. My parents call me pretty and boys call me ugly, but I don’t care because they’re boys.”

Unfortunately, asking questions on any social media platform leaves the asker open to a wide spectrum of comments/answers; ranging from kind and comforting to unkind and unashamedly cruel. The unkind (most common by far) category includes comments that provide a long list (I won’t repeat any here) of aspects of the girls appearance and/or attitude that were wrong and required fixing.

I would go so far as to suggest that the catalyst that gave birth to the “am I ugly” phenomenon is our culture’s obsession with appearance, youth culture in particular.

While cultural focus on physical appearance is nothing new, the growth of digital and social media has allowed it to morph into something far more powerful and potentially dangerous.

By asking faceless strangers to rate their appearance, the girls are effectively, knowingly or not, asking the world (YouTube) to both define and validate them.
Many of the comments reviewed could adversely impact the girls; breeding negative body image and insecurity. All this as the girls approach or go through puberty, tackle the challenges of acquiring an education and well before they have come to know who they are as individuals.

From what we have seen, there is little scope for happy endings.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ready meal portion size increase

The British Heart Foundation Portion Distortion report made the headlines this week.

The report compared current portions sizes with the 'typical weights and portions sizes of foods eaten in Britain’ in 1993.

The report is particularly significant, because it focusses attention on the UK’s growing obesity problem.


• Individual shepherd’s pie ready meals has increased by 98%.
• A portion of peanuts is 80% larger.
• Frozen chicken curry (individual ready meals) are 53% larger.
• A family pack portion of crisps has increased by 50%.
• Individual chicken pies are 40% larger.
• Meat lasagne (ready meals) for one are 39% larger.
• A portion of garlic bread is 30% larger.
• Sweetmeal biscuits has increased in size by 17% (consuming one biscuit a day would result in an individuals consuming 3,330 extra calories per year.
• Plain bagels has increased by 24%.

Some portion sizes were found to be smaller e.g. a standard bar of milk chocolate, vanilla ice cream and oven chips.

*Portion sizes sometimes varied across different brands


Monday, October 21, 2013

Body image and middle age women

A new US study of 1,789 middle age women (50 years old and above) has found that 88% of the surveyed women were dissatisfied with their body (various aspects).

Researchers (Gender and Body Image study - GABI ) then decided to focus in on the 12% who had indicated that they were happy with their body size; i.e. their current body size was the same as their preferred body size.

The objective, of studying the small 12% ‘satisfied with size’ subset, was to learn the secrets of their satisfaction.

“Of course, the fact that so few women are satisfied with their body size is concerning,” explained study author Cristin Runfola. “But we were interested in how some women remain happy with their size and shape, given ubiquitous social pressures to retain a youthful thin appearance, and the influence of a multibillion dollar anti-aging cosmetics industry.”

Researchers discovered that the ‘satisfied with size’ group tended to eat healthily, have lower body mass indices and followed a regular exercise regime.
Being satisfied with their body size did not mean that the women studied were satisfied with all aspects of their physical appearance.

“They are not impervious”, stated co-author Cynthia Bulik, “to dissatisfaction with other aspects of their physical appearance; especially those aspects affected by aging.”

The appearance of their skin (80%), stomach (56%) and face (54%) topped the list of physical features that the group were most unhappy with.
Interestingly, undergoing cosmetic surgery did not directly influence how satisfied / dissatisfied the women were. This implies that size plays a significant role in how a woman appraises her overall appearance.

"Our findings underscore the need for a multifaceted approach to studying and assessing body image in women as they mature, as their bodies undergo constant age-related change," concluded Cynthia Bulik.

Source: Journal of Women & Aging October 2013.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Charlotte Church discusses sexualised music imagery

In our last blog we discussed good and bad messages that extend out from celebrities into society at large. E.g. Miley Cyrus’s highly sexualised music videos and recent stage performance.

Our celebrity culture insures that celebrity messages have immense influence on attitudes and behaviours; particularly on the young and the (not so young) impressionable among us.

In a similar vain, Charlotte Church voiced her concerns about sexual imagery, in a speech (John Peel Lecture at the annual Radio Festival in Salford) that was broadcast on Monday’s BBC Radio 6 Music programme.

Talking from experience, Charlotte revealed a past in which she was pressurised into wearing suggestive outfits, in order to sell more of her music.
In the speech, Charlotte stated that the music industry must take responsibility for the acts they elect to feature e.g. those who use “soft porn" to boost their profile and gain publicity.

Excerpts from Charlotte’s speech:

"The irony behind this is that the women generally filling these roles are very young, often previous child stars or Disney-tweens, who are simply interested in getting along in an industry glamourised to be the most desirable career for young women.

"They are encouraged to present themselves as hyper-sexualised, unrealistic, cartoonish, as objects, reducing female sexuality to a prize you can win.

“The culture of demeaning women in pop music is so ingrained as to become routine, from the way we are dealt with by management and labels, to the way we are presented to the public.

"You could trace this back to Madonna, although it probably goes back further in time. She was a template setter. By changing her image regularly, putting her sexuality in the heart of her image, videos and live performance, the statement she was making was, ‘I am in control of ME and my sexuality’.

"This idea has had its corners rounded off over the years and has become 'take clothes off, show you're an adult'…

"As Tony Hall, the BBC's director general, announces the new iPlayer channel for Radio 1 the question must be asked: should programmers take into consideration the image of an artist when deciding whether to play and promote their music? There are countless examples from the last few years of songs that have been in high rotation, that have little to no artistic worth, but are just plain rude.

"If there are no sanctions put upon music that is written so zealously about genitalia, or uses soft porn in its promotion online, what is to stop artists feeling that making their music and videos more sexy will undoubtedly drive up their online views and subsequently encourage more radio play."

Charlotte scathingly summarised the music industry as "a male-dominated industry, with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality". She also added her support for age-rated music videos.


Friday, October 11, 2013

'Be smart, be thoughtful and be generous'

Miley Cyrus has been the topic of many conversations, blogs, tweets and newspaper articles in recent weeks. Her raunchy dance routines, on stage twerking and a music video in which she swings naked on a wrecking ball, have given Miley Cyrus a great deal of publicity.

In the vast majority of instances, public opinion has been negative; ranging from mild disapproval to fervent disdain.

“She use to play Hanna Montana”, one 12 year old girl told me. “I don’t think she is a good role model any more. I think she has let her fans down”.

It is easy to find celebrities that say or do things that send out the wrong message. A message that I would not want my children, or anyone else’s children for that matter, to pay any attention to.

It is less easy to find a celebrity that has taken the time to compile and deliver a positive, empowering message to children and teens. Ashton Kutcher’s recent speech at the Teen Choice Awards (below) falls into this category:

“There are some things I want to share with you guys, because it’s helped me be here today…

“First opportunity. I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work.

“When I was 13 I had a job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof. Then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant. Then I got a job in a grocery store deli and then I got a job in a factory sweeping Cheerio dust from off the ground.

“I have never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job and every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job. I never quit my job until I had my next job. So opportunity looks a lot like work.

“Number two, being sexy The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart and being thoughtful and being generous.

“Everything else is crap. I promise you. It's just crap, that people try to sell to you to make you feel like less. So don't buy it! Be smart, be thoughtful and be generous.

“The third thing is something that I just relearned [from something Steve Job said]

“When you grow up you tend to be told that the world is the way it is and that your life is to live your life inside the world.

“Try not to get into too much trouble maybe get an education, get a job and make some money and have a family.

“Life can be a lot broader than that when you realise one simple thing. And that is that everything around us that we call life was made up by people that are no smarter than you. You can build your own things you can build your own life that other people can live in.

"So build a life, don’t live one; build one. Find your opportunities ...”


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Negative body image monologue

We are not born with a positive or negative body image. As we live our life, going about day to day activities, we slowly acquire it. Body image is birthed from our interaction with others, the media and society at large.

For many people the outcome of this process is the development of a negative body image; a self image that can range from mild dislike to disgust. It can involve your whole body or aspects of it.

Body image, whether it is positive or negative, begins in the mind. As humans we tend to dwell on emotive thoughts, negative thoughts in particular. We, often unintentionally, allow negative thoughts to run amuck in our minds, circling round and around until they become an internalised monologue.

By monologue, in this instance, I am talking about that negative speech that you recite to yourself daily, often many times a day.

Here are 3 steps that can help you to stop or reduce your tendency (learnt) to negatively monologue to yourself:

1. Recognize and analyse
Become aware of your inner body image related monologue. Accept that you have them, a very important step, and become familiar with them.

Notice if there are any common triggers and pay close attention to them, particularly those that regularly occur. Take a note of the words that you use and the associated emotions and actions that follow in their wake. Is there any commonality?

2. Non judgemental
Take a non judgemental, without prejudice and impartial approach to yourself and the situation. Don’t expect perfection; be kind, forgiving and respectful to yourself.

With this approach it will be possible to explore the causes and devise ways to improve your negative body image. It may initially involve avoiding triggers e.g. certain people, TV programs or magazines.

3. Patience
When you become aware of your negative monologue, deliberately divert your thoughts to something less negative (something that you accept/like about your body) or to something unrelated to your body.

Changing the way you think about your body is not easy and you will need to be patient.  Happily, the more you do it the easier it will become and the result, a happier you, is well worth the effort and perseverance entailed.


Thursday, October 03, 2013

The 4th Trimester Bodies Project

The 4th Trimester Bodies Project is a photo documentary by photographer and mother Ashlee Wells Jackson.

The Project says Ashlee is “dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought to our bodies through motherhood childbirth and breastfeeding”.

After a difficult pregnancy and childbirth experience, Ashlee described her body as being “devastated”.

Months afterwards, she was still “unable to accept the changes and the new body that I was carrying around”.

Ashlee continues:

“It was during that time that my mind and my heart really opened to the fact the so many other women were walking around feeling exactly as I was.

“We embrace the changes throughout our pregnancy, we’ve birthed our beautiful babies, but the scars, stripes and stretches that remain were foreign to us”.

Ashlee hopes the project will change the unrealistic post pregnancy bodies that our celebrity obsessed culture crave. Also, that society and particularly mothers will acknowledge and honour motherhood and the bodies that the status (joyous for most) brings.

“We live in a society obsessed with perfection, the goal of this project is to shift that focus to the beauty of who we really are”, she said.

The 4th Trimester Bodies Project will involve taking pictures of numerous mothers across America. The project’s ultimate objective is to produce a tasteful image based book and online gallery complete with community that depicts real post baby bodies.

The project’s message will resonate with every woman who has ever experienced the joy of motherhood, only to realise soon afterwards, that their body had changed, in ways that they might not have envisaged or desired and are finding it difficult to adjust to the ‘new me’.

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