I was always that kid who asked, “why?”
Why are we here?
Why do people from other parts of the world look and talk differently if we all originated from the same place?
Why do we have to go to school for 8 hours a day?
And, why has a woman never been president?
So when I was invited to join the Keep it REAL 3 day challenge as part of a global effort to demand REAL photos from the media as opposed to the digitally altered elongated legs, cinched waists, and perfectly symmetrical, creaseless faces we have come to accept as normal, my mind started to wander down the rabbit hole of why? Why is the media creating complete illusions and passing them off as realities?
Keeping in mind the average teenager ingests 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption each day*- while a now 65% of women admit to disordered eating*, rates of eating disorders amongst college age students have tripled since the 80’s, and an increase of 119% has been seen in the number of children under the age of 12 hospitalized for eating disorders from 1999-2006** – I wondered, is this really all the media’s responsibility?
The answer I arrived at is as complex as it is disturbing.
My education about eating disorders is wide and varied starting with friends and family members who’ve battled the dis-ease, to readings in psychology class, and most recently from my husband who founded and runs Newport Academy, a treatment center for teenagers with mental health, substance abuse and behavioral issues. While people with eating disorders can suffer from body dysmorphia(the illusion that they are bigger than they are), in many cases in the minds of eating disorder sufferers, controlling what enters their bodies is the one thing that they can control when their internal emotions feel so out of control. When people experience varying degrees of discomfort whether it be extreme abuse to common insecurities, they seek ways to escape from the present moment. In essence, eating disorders are similar to other forms of escapist behaviors like drug, alcohol, work or sex addictions.
So, where does the media come in?
Far and wide media survives on advertising dollars. I had an English Professor at the University of Colorado who sat us down on the first day of school and told us that advertising is the world’s greatest evil. At the time, my innocent mind thought his words were a tad extreme, but now a decade later, holding a much clearer lens, I must acknowledge that it is an enormous obstacle to our ability to reside in the present moment. And, the present moment is the only place where genuine happiness and fulfillment can exist.
The premise of advertising is to make you feel like you are not whole and complete as you are, and the minute you buy whatever is flashing across the screen, folded in the glossy pages, or splashed across the billboard, then (not NOW) you will be happy.
It’s a dynamic with seriously high stakes. The beauty industry alone boasted sales of $170 billion worldwide in 2007 and even in the recession, has continued to increase, while the weight loss industry took in a cool $61 billion in 2010.
The reality is, as long as we stay discontented with who we are and remain focused on attaining a false illusion of happiness, we will continue to breathe life-blood into this system, keeping it alive.
The thing that is important to recognize is that this “evil media” – magazines, television and Internet advertising – is actually, in part, all of us.
No, we don’t all work for the Self, Glamour, Vogue, CBS, NBC, TBS, or Internet advertising sites, but we all survive by providing a “good” or “service” that will be sold to someone else. Whether it’s a clothing or cosmetic line, a grocery chain, an electronics warehouse, a taco stand, a guitar shop, an organic garden, bottle water, or even a yoga class, it will be advertised as a solution – something that will enhance your life in some way.
We live a consumer culture. Sure we didn’t invent the wheel, but we are all making it spin. As a civilization, the way that we survive is by consumption. So if everyone shops, everyone does well, right?
Historically, yes, that is how it has worked. But what we are learning, from important documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth, Fuel, King Corn, Tapped, and many others that we don’t have unlimited resources available to us on the planet, and the current rate of consumption we are operating at is polluting our oceans and ecosystems at a completely unsustainable rate.
Just like the over consumption of alcohol is merely a symptom of underlying issues, so is the issue of photoshopping females to an impossible standard of beauty.
It seems to me that photoshopping, while a direct threat to girls’ and women’s self esteem and happiness is a symptom of a much greater problem. The problem is our entire system of commerce is dependent on people feeling like they are not “good enough” just as they are.
Take a second to process that.
Our financial prosperity is directly linked to the construct there is something missing, something incomplete, and unfulfilled with us ALL THE TIMES.
I know. Heavy.
While I certainly do not have the solution to a worldwide system of commerce that has conditioned us to reject the present moment in favor of an illusion of future contentment that lies in the purchase of more clothes, more shoes, more bags, more cars, more products that will make us taller, smaller, skinnier… I do know it’s time to ring the alarm about where we are headed with our current system, and begin to make mindful changes where we can, starting with demanding more authenticity from our ourselves and the media which represents us. Do you think it’s too much to ask for one UNphotoshopped image per issue?
** National Association of Eating Disorders