Woman's Health - Manufactured images of women spark uproar

Manufactured images of women spark uproar

Jean Gottlieb

(NC)—This fall, model Filippa Hamilton lost a lot of weight. Fast. So much was removed from her frame that her head was actually wider than her waist. Well, actually, it was digitally removed from her photograph posing for Ralph Lauren jeans.

The distorted image caused quite the uproar, with spokespeople for Ralph Lauren quickly issuing an apology:

“After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.”

“It's not artwork,” contends Merryl Bear, director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, www.nedic.ca. “It's propaganda made to sell an idea. While these images don't cause eating disorders in girls and women, research repeatedly shows that they do lower viewers' self-esteem and body satisfaction.”

Girls with lower self-esteem and body satisfaction are less likely to do well at school, engage in social or physical activities, studies show. It also may lead to harmful eating and exercise behaviours in the belief that managing their weight will change their lives.

Recognising the public health concerns raised by increasingly manufactured and unreal images of women and men, local and national governments in Britain, Spain and here in Canada, are struggling to find an appropriate response.

“It needs to be multi-layered,” Bear points out. “The advertising industry has to be held accountable for their messaging, and we need to teach critical media literacy” so that how messages are constructed and the purpose behind them are better understood.

With this in mind, NEDIC teamed up with Dove Canada to develop Beyond Images media literacy curriculum for Grades 4 – 8 (available at www.nedic.ca). It teaches children to understand how and why media messages are created, and then to make their own.

With kids then creating and posting online their own take on a broader understanding of beauty, Bear hopes that the industry will see that gross distortions of models' bodies are passé.


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