CSUN welcomed award wining college lecturer Dr. Jean Kilbourne, who spoke to audience members on the impact of society’s obsession with weight and the role that advertisers and media play in contributing to the fascination with being thin.
“American pop culture seems to have the ability to make women anywhere and everywhere feel absolutely terrible,” said Kilbourne, during her speech on Tuesday.
Her presentation, “Slim Hopes/Still Killing Us Softly: Advertising, Gender and Obsession with Thinness,” was brought to the campus with the help of the Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating and as a part of the University Student Union’s Leadership and Life Skills Institute under the theme of, “Being Comfortable With Who You Are.”
“My argument today is not just that the image makes us all feel bad and causes problems as we attempt to emulate it, but that it does even more damage than that.” said Kilbourne. “It really afflicts a kind of cultural trauma, one that contributes to a sense of disconnection that many women and certainly some men feel and experience.”
In today’s society, we are busy with images that have the power to dictate to the audience what is and what is not considered beautiful, “the first thing that advertisers do is surround us with ideal female beauty,” said Kilbourne.
Airbrushed images are now what many young girls and women have come to judge themselves by.
“We end up comparing ourselves to an image that is completely artificial, absolutely constructed and has nothing to do with human beings,” said Kilbourne who pointed out the fact that a majority of the photos we see have been digitally altered in one way or another.
Kilbourne pointed out that former supermodel, Cindy Crawford, was quoted as saying, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”
Kilbourne did acknowledge that there are stereotypes out there about men that can have a negative effect on them but pointed out that they are not constantly, “criticized, scrutinized, and judged,” as women are.
“There are stereotypes that harm men but they tend to be less personal and less related to the body,” said Kilbourne.
There is no denying the impact media has on its audience, said Kilbourne. Within three years after the arrival of TV the number of teens at risk of having an eating disorder more than doubled said Kilbourne.
“There’s a lot of contempt for women who do not live up to the standard, which is all of us as we age,” said Kilbourne. “The greatest contempt is for women who are considered to be the least bit overweight.”
Food is another pawn used by advertisers to make us feel bad about ourselves.
“We are encouraged to hate our bodies and to feel disconnected and then we are offered food as the solution,” said Kilbourne. “Ads often encourage very unhealthy attitudes towards food.”
During her presentation, Kilbourne showed several advertisements that conveyed how food is often used as a substitution for relationships.
One ad begged the question, “Does quality time have to be spent with a person?”
Another ad said, “Every taste has a feeling.”
“These ads are often funny and they can seem trivial but some research suggests that subliminal content in food advertising contributes to eating disorders by deeply confusing sex and hunger, not just sex and hunger but connection,” said Kilbourne. “So if food is sex it’s the good girls who don’t eat.”
“Its influence is quick, it’s cumulative and for the most part it’s subconscious,” said Kilbourne in regards to the affects of advertising.
“Eating disorders and the obsession with thinness is a major public health problem,” said Kilbourne. “What will solve it is prevention.”
One possible solution offered by Kilbourne was taxing of the diet industry.
“We did this with cigarettes and made tremendous progress by raising the tax and then using the money for prevention and education,” said Kilbourne.
Kilbourne, who has been studying these various issues since the 1960s, said that prevention needs to begin as early as kindergarten and that media literacy is key in schools, “helping our kids to be critical viewers.”
“Women must support each other. Stop talking all the time about dieting and thinness and challenge these images,” said Kilbourne. “Something like JADE on a campus like this is wonderful.”
June Kwon, president of the Women’s Studies Student Association, shared Kilbourne’s sentiment.
“This really shows that this is something we need to fight for. We are so bombarded with all these images coming from every direction. We have to learn to love ourselves and our bodies,” Kwon said.
“I think it was very successful. Our goal was to touch the campus community, staff and students,” said Dorna Basiratmand, a JADE member.
“One of my goals with my work is to bring these images out into the open and make them conscious because doing that reduces their power and it gives the power back to us,” said Kilbourne.