Final Project: Have Social Media Campaigns Succeeded in Redefining Beauty?

The American culture we are apart of, specifically in the fashion industry, has created a society that values thin, caucasian, Photoshopped models much more than a more accurate and realistic portrayal of the human body. The physical and psychological effects of such a society are tremendous. As a result, many body positive social media campaigns have sprung up in recent years attempting to widen the image of beauty and redefine its standards for both men and women.

So how much have these campaigns succeeded? Are they enough? In some ways, we really have begun to see major changes. In order to understand how these campaigns are designed, it is important to first understand what they are up against. Here is a look at some of the popular “body trends” that have recently been popularized by platforms such as Instagram and Twitter:

  • #BellyButtonChallenge
    • This summer the #BellyButtonChallenge began in China. Thousands of social media users began uploading pictures of themselves attempting to complete this ridiculous challenge. The goal is to “reach your belly button from behind to show a good figure”. belly-button
  • Thigh Gap
    • One of the most well known trends, the “Thigh Gap” is promoted as being a desirable trait for women to possess. It is defined as how much space (if any) exists between your upper legs when you stand with your feet together. Although this is physically not attainable for many due to their pelvic and bone structures, people have become obsessed with trying to achieve skinny, “model-like” thighs.

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  • Bikini Bridge
    • A “bikini bridge” is the space between a woman’s swimsuit and her stomach when she is lying down. Photos of women with flat stomachs, skinny thighs and bony hips have taken sites like Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest by storm.

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With such unhealthy trends in mind, it comes as no surprise that many social media campaigns have been created in an effort to mitigate the damage they cause. Here is a look at some of the most prominent campaigns, as well as some of the tangible effects these campaigns have successfully had:

  • #CloseTheThighGap
    • Jen Sinkler, a fitness magazine editor and writer, is especially passionate about this hashtag. The movement is designed to bring awareness to the dangers of the thigh gap trend, even using anatomical examples to prove the trend’s impossibility for many people. On her blog, Sinkler presents three different body types (mesomorph, endomorph, ectomorph) and explains how your body type coupled with the four pelvic types (gynecoid, android, anthropoid, platypelloid) all play a role in whether a thigh gap is even an achievable goal. Sinker’s blog post on #CloseTheGap also features screenshots of conversations on social media that poke fun at the ridiculous nature of body trends. For example, she posted this picture from her Facebook feed: MollyDemQuadzIn providing this picture (along with other similar ones), Sinkler encourages people to realize the absurdity of body trends, hoping to use humor as a way to both raise awareness and change cultural standards and norms.
  • #Fatkini
    • Starting back in 2012, the #Fatkini movement has gone viral. The hashtag is linked to posts featuring women of size taking selfies in their bathing suits. Instead of fat shaming these women, their pictures are celebrated all over Twitter and Instagram. The movement was started by Gabi Gregg of GabiFresh. GabiFresh is a personal style blog that aims to show women how it is possible to be stylish no matter your size. Gregg’s hashtag generated so much buzz that she has now designed three collections of fatkinis for Swimsuits for All.
  • #ImNoAngel
    • A hashtag and social media campaign started by plus size company Lane Bryant, the goal of #ImNoAngel is to redefine what society considers to be sexy by having women of all sizes submit photos of themselves using a “personal statement of confidence” with the hashtag. Through Lane Bryant’s Tumblr page, people are able to view all of the submitted photos. On the site, people are also able to click on the individual profiles of each model used in the formal shoot and learn more about their personal background and story. 863bb4d0-c3b4-0132-9a57-0e01949ad350
  • The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty
    • Probably the most well known on this list, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is one of the most widely talked about social media campaigns that has ever been created. Not only does Dove create positive body image commercials and social media posts, but they also do groundbreaking research on body image. Using the data collected from this research, Dove is able to build successful self-esteem and inner beauty campaigns which have made an enormous impact on our culture. One of the most recent examples of Dove’s activism is #SpeakBeautiful. According to Dove’s research, 8 out of 10 women have seen negative comments about other women’s looks on social media. 4 out of every 5 negative tweets about beauty and body image are written by women critiquing themselves. With this in mind, in collaboration with Twitter, Dove launched #SpeakBeautiful to encourage women to be more positive when tweeting about beauty and body image. Specifically, launching during the 2015 Oscars, technology from Twitter began to identify negative tweets about the body and respond in real-time to encourage users to think more positively. Jennifer Bremner, Dove’s Director of Marketing explained, “Ideas and opinions about body image are now fluidly shared every second through social feeds, and sometimes we do not fully realize the resounding impact of the words in even one post…We can positively change the way future generations express themselves online.”
  • Lose Hate, Not Weight
    • Spearheaded by lecturer, activist and author Virgie Tovar, Lose Hate, Not Weight (LHNW) seeks to de-center self-hatred and the “I am never good enough” mindset in order to recenter people around ideas of self-care and self-love. In support of Tovar’s message, women have taken to Instagram, posting pictures of themselves in order to reflect the powerful message and take proud ownership over their bodies.

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  • #LessIsMore
    • Eating disorder survivor Erin Treloar started this hashtag as part of a petition to expose the fashion industry’s heavy reliance on Photoshop to create “perfect” images that are physically impossible. Treoloar also founded RAW Beauty Talks, an initiative to encourage girls to find confidence in their bodies.
  • The What’s Underneath Project
    • Started by Style Like U, this project consists of videos of subjects talking about themselves and their relationship with their bodies, as they slowly undress themselves. The goal is to redefine the ways in which we see other people’s bodies, going below the surface (both literally and symbolically).

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I could continue my list of campaigns like these for pages and pages. The point is that these campaigns exist and they do actually work. With this in mind, perhaps a solution to the “social media problem” can actually be found within social media itself. If platforms like Instagram and Twitter have the power to completely change young women’s behavior and self-esteem, I think we should use these tools to reverse the same effects and empower women to feel comfortable in their own skin, no matter what color, size or shape it is.

Recently, many news stories have come out that substantiate this argument and prove that social media can be an effective means of eradicating negative body image for women. For example, this past summer Laura Berry, a consumer shopping in Topshop, a multinational retailer of clothing, shoes, makeup and accessories, took to Facebook after being outraged at the mannequins she saw in Topshop’s store. She wrote, “Every day I am surrounded by strong women and men who struggle with the daily battle of body image… Young women aspire to the somewhat cult image your store offers… Yet not one mannequin in your store showed anything bigger than a size 6.” After this one post was made, it wasn’t long before tons of people on the Internet supported Berry and created hashtags that sparked a Twitter revolution. Opinions on the issue began pouring in protesting the ridiculously thin looking and disproportional mannequins.

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The activism did not stop there. The original Facebook post, which received over 470 shares and 830 comments forced Topshop to acknowledge that as a global fashion powerhouse they have a responsibility to their consumers and that the mannequins needed to be replaced. Topshop responded to the post saying, “We have taken yours and other customers’ opinions and feedback on board and going forward we are not placing any further orders on this style of mannequin.” This is a prime example of just how powerful social media campaigns can be. In this case, Berry’s one Facebook post did not just draw attention to the issue, but actually made a concrete change in a company that directly impacts women’s self-image.

Stitcher, an on-demand Internet radio service that focuses on news and information radio and podcasts, features an “Everyday Feminism” Podcast that has different episodes on different topics. I listened to Episode 37 entitled, “Evolving the Body-Positive Movement” which included Everyday Feminism editor and body image activist Melissa Fabello speaking to her guest Sandra Kim about the body-positive movement’s growth and the power of social media in facilitating change. One of the main points that Kim brings up relates specifically to how the accessibility and prevalence of social media plays a huge role in how effective it is. That is, because we are already checking and using social media constantly, it makes sense that these same platforms are the best place for people, especially adolescents, to educate themselves and empower others to do the same.

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http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/everyday-feminism-podcast/e/ef-37-evolving-the-bodypositive-movement-with-melissa-a-33580524

Before social media, outlets like magazines, television shows, movies, etc. were our only chance to see widespread action for body positivity. This did not work to our advantage, however, as most of the images we saw on our screen featured the thin, white Photoshopped models I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Therefore, it was really when social media began to gain popularity that we were able to talk back and have more meaningful conversations both on and offline about the types of bodies that we were placing so much value on. It became so much easier for women to rebel against or challenge beauty ideals. No longer did people have to feel alone when challenging certain beauty norms because there were entire communities online dedicated to the same causes they felt passionate about.

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With all of this in mind and thinking back to the question I asked in the title of my post- “Have Social Media Campaigns Succeeded in Redefining Beauty?” I definitely would say that the answer is “yes”. Thanks to campaigns like the ones I described above, in addition to others inspired by celebrities, social media has created a world that allows for meaningful conversation. The important thing is that often it doesn’t just stay conversation. It has the ability to have a powerful influence and make impactful changes in both the way our society functions and behaves towards others.

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Class Debate: Do Online Comments Do More Harm Than Good?

When Web 2.0 was released, the version of the World Wide Web that emphasizes user-generated content and interactive capabilities, it revolutionized the entire Internet world. Instead of just passively reading websites of information online, users were now able to interact and collaborate with one another in a virtual community dialogue. This concept is important when considering the question, “Do Online Comments Do More Harm Than Good?”web

My simple yes or no answer to this difficult question is “No.” There can certainly be arguments made for both sides but based on my personal experience with the Internet and comments sections, as well as my knowledge of the history of the Internet and social media, I would definitely argue that comments play a vital role in the virtual world today.

Many bloggers struggle with whether or not they should turn off the comment feature on their blogs. In my opinion, however, a blog isn’t truly a blog if it does not allow the two-way communication that comments afford. Blogging is not just about publishing content for readers to scroll through and read, but instead, it is about allowing a platform for a community to come together and share thoughts and opinions on the content provided. If bloggers are solely interested in posting content to assert their beliefs and disable the ability for people to voice their own opinions it is very unlikely that readers are going to find this blog desirable.

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A one-sided argument also does nothing for the reader. In order to fully understand the complexity of the issue at hand, it is important for people to grasp both sides of the debate. Therefore, let’s say User A writes a political blog. User A is Republican and all he posts on his blog is pro-Republican standpoints. If User B reads User’s A blog without any context or prior knowledge of the issue, he or she isn’t truly able to gain an unbiased understanding of the topic. They need to be exposed to the other side of the argument as well. With this being said, in silencing the comments section of a blog or a website, people are being denied the ability to form their own true opinions about topics.

Comments also function as social currency. The more likes and comments a post gets, the more it is likely to be seen and shared by more people. If a certain post has a lot of comments on it, it is for a reason. It says something that so many people wished to voice their opinions (no matter how long or short) about a particular topic.

Living in a country with free speech and the right to express our opinions publicly, shutting down comments on the Internet seems like a backwards, and even oppressive, idea. The Internet has become such a free, interactive, and user-generated content based community that needs comment sections to continue. Yes, comment forums have gained a reputation as being a haven for Internet trolls. However, we should not let these people ruin the positives that having a forum for discussion creates online. In my opinion, the good here outweighs the bad.

http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2012/11/25-websites-with-the-best-comments-section/huffington-post

Question for debate:

  • In class we looked at how ISIS and other terrorist organizations have used Twitter and other social networking platforms to disperse propaganda. With this in mind, do you think that it is a violation of free speech to try to censor or delete these sort of accounts? Why or why not?

Journalist Profile: Gloria Steinem

Biographical Background:

Gloria Steinem is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she became nationally recognized as a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement. She was a columnist for New York Magazine and a founder of Ms. Magazine. In 2005, Steinem, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan co-founded the Women’s Media Center which is an organization that works to “make women visible and powerful in the media”.

In the early 1960s, Steinem did a piece called “A Bunny’s Tale” in which Steinem was employed as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club. In the piece she detailed how women were treated at such clubs and looked to shed a light on the exploitative working conditions of the bunnies and the sexual demands made of them.

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When Steinem developed Ms. magazine, it was during a time when few women ran magazines, even though readership was mostly female. They were only permitted to write stories about fashion, cooking, cosmetics, or how to “get a man”. Its 300,000 test copies sold out nationwide in eight days and within weeks it had received thousands of subscription orders and reader letters.

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Steinem is a prominent political activist and has been involved in many political campaigns. Additionally, she was one of over 300 women who founded the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) and delivered the speech “Address to the Women of America”. She also addressed the first national conference of Stewardesses for Women’s Rights. In 2015 she joined the thirty leading international women peacemakers and became an honorary co-chairwoman of 2015 Women’s Walk for Peace in Korea.

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Steinem currently travels internationally as an organizer and lecturer. She is also a media spokeswoman on equality issues

http://www.biography.com/people/gloria-steinem-9493491

Interview Questions

I could go on and on about Gloria Steinem’s accomplishments as a powerful figure in the women’s movement. She has been so incredibly successful in many different arenas and continues to work today as she feels as though, “The idea of retiring is as foreign to me as the idea of hunting.” After learning so much about Steinem and her career, if I was given the opportunity to interview her or ask her a few questions, these are some topics I would be interested in hearing about:

  • A lot of your work focuses on the women’s movement in the 1970s. To what extent are you happy with the progress you have seen since that time? Do you think that it is easier for women to achieve their ambitions than it was back then?
  • Why do you think people are so afraid to be labeled a feminist?
  • What female celebrities or famous figures in the media today do you think are positive role models for young women? What about how they present themselves makes you feel this way?
  • What is your opinion on the currently popular Shonda Rhimes shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder) in terms of their portrayal of women and minorities?
  • Who are your main sources of inspiration today? Who have they been in the past?
  • How do you think the journalism field has changed with the influx of new technologies and popularity of social media? What role do you think these changes play in women’s everyday lives?

I actually did try emailing Gloria Steinem’s office to get some answers to these questions but received this reply: 

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Photo Assignment: “Women Dress to Impress (Men)”

These images follow the series of events that transpire when a college female is invited to a party by a male student. They are intended to reveal a great deal about modern-day gender roles and expectations. They also suggest that the way in which women choose to present themselves highlights the objectifying culture our society embraces today, much of which is perpetuated by our heavy investment in social media.

Not a Pretty Picture: How Instagram is Changing Women’s Self-Understanding

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Instagram, the mobile photo and video sharing social networking platform with over 400 million monthly active users, allows people to upload content to a “square shape” and then apply digital filters to each image. Hashtags are used to help users discover related photographs or users with similar interests. As we learned in class, Instagram was launched in 2010 as a free mobile app that has quickly gained popularity and has completely transformed the social media world. What seems like an artistically designed creative space, has actually evolved into a cultural practice that can reach unhealthy limits. Not only can we physically put filters to edit photos on Instagram, but the effects that photo sharing apps like Instagram have on people’s perception of reality is warped and ultimately a “filtered” version of reality.

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Thinking about my beat (the objectification of women in the media) I first did some background research on Instagram and its users. I found that about 68% of Instagram users are female, while 32% are male. Instagram has 432,000 more daily users than Twitter and while the average Twitter user of the same period spends about 170 minutes viewing content, users on Instagram spend about 257 minutes accessing the site using their mobile device. Needless to say, Instagram has a huge audience with just as wide-reaching effects.

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So how does Instagram affect people, specifically females? In recent news, Instagram star Essena O’Neill spoke out against social media and its deceptiveness. Considered “Insta-famous” with over 800,000 followers, O’Neill’s photos appear to be effortless shots. For example, one of her pictures which got 23,000 likes and 3,479 comments simply appears like it was a standard picture of O’Neill lying on her side on her towel at the beach. In her 18 minute YouTube video published on November 2nd, O’Neill explains how that picture was actually taken and retaken over a hundred times in similar poses until her stomach “looked good”. In order to get her message across, the Instagram celebrity recaptioned her old pictures to reveal the work that went into “creating” them.

Her use of the word “creating” is important because it reveals how her pictures were not truly genuine and natural. For example, on a selfie O’Neill posted she recaptioned the photo, “…I put on makeup, curled my hair, tight dress, big uncomfortable jewelry… Took over 50 shots until I got one I thought you might like, then I edited this one selfie for ages on several apps- just so I could feel some social approval from you. There is nothing real about this.” Her new caption gives Instagram users a new perspective on how blindly we take images we see on social networks and mediated forms of communication to be reality. It also brings attention to how her motivation was social approval. O’Neill fixed herself to look a certain way that she thought other people would approve of and would prompt them to click the heart button on Instagram. This definitely sheds a light on how one innovative app has truly transformed virtual reality and in the process, hurt many individuals’ self-worth and self-esteem. It’s definitely not a pretty picture!

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/fashion/essena-oneill-instagram-star-recaptions-her-life.html?_r=0

Data Visualization: Objectifying Stereotypes of Women in the Media

I hadn’t really thought about it much before but data visualization seems to be an up and coming and popular format to grab readers’ attention. In my opinion, the popularity of these kinds of projects comes from our own laziness. Instead of reading through a dense article, our society has become so visually focused that we crave the instantaneous digestion of information.

Projects like the one found on stereotropes.bocoup.com (below) gives readers what they want in a fun and interactive way. The main page of the site explains, “Stereotropes is an interactive visualization experiment… specifically, this project focuses on gender and the differences between words and associations for male and female tropes”. Using data from television, film and literature, the analysts who put together the projects on this site were interested to see the association between certain stereotypes and language used.

I was particularly fascinated by the troupe called “Femme Fatale”. French for “fatal woman”, the stereotype of this kind of character is a mysterious and seductive woman who uses her beauty, charm and sexual allure to get her way. The data visualization the analysts created examined what kinds of words and physical features were most commonly used in conjunction with this type of woman and which were not at all connected. One of the most popular words was “raunchy” while one of the less popular words was “sweet”. If you scrolled over the words, you could see what other stereotypes these words were also commonly associated with.

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I found this kind of visualization to be pretty effective and made the data easily digestible for users in a fun and interactive way. With this being said, I do acknowledge the shortcomings with a piece like this. In this particular case, readers are not given enough context about the how the data is collected and therefore many of the statistics and facts could be misinterpreted if not read properly. With this being said, although aesthetically engaging, I find that data visualization projects are definitely less emotionally connected than traditional journalism. That is, because they are so focused on data and statistics, there is not much room to explain the “so what” of the topic or to fully explain why the data is so important. People might get get so caught up in playing around with the graph that they forget the larger context of the issue at hand.

http://stereotropes.bocoup.com/tropes/FemmeFatale

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