Monday, 4 October 2010

Jean Kilbourne {Killing Us Softly 4}

I find it really hard to believe that I hadn't heard of Jean Kilbourne until this morning when I discovered her via a post on the Hardy Girls Healthy Women blog which named her their SPARK Ally of the Day for 1st September (coincidentally that was also my birthday :-)

Jean Kilbourne's film 'Killing Us Softly' was first made in 1979 and this year 'Killing Us Softly 4' was released [trailer]. The films take a look at how women are portrayed by advertisers in terms of their bodies, their role in society and how they relate to men - Unfortunately Jean's view is that in the 30 years between the first and the fourth film the situation has got worse rather than better, particularly regarding how girls are sexualised by advertising at a younger and younger age.

In this earlier video Jean discusses 'Killing Us Softly 3' and makes the important point that although we are completely surrounded by advertising we all "feel personally exempt from the influences of advertising". For me, Jean also hits the nail right on the the head when she says "Advertising is the foundation of mass media. The primary purpose of mass media is to sell products" but alongside selling product the adverts are also selling us what it means to be normal, in terms of how we look and behave, and what our values are.

The wonders of modern technology mean that I very rarely get subjected to TV ads these days but I totally flipped out when I saw this advert for Reebok trainers recently ... disembodied women skipping around in hotpants and miniskirts while they hoover and photocopy their way to a better toned butt ... woohoo for girl power! The problem for anyone who is critical of adverts like this that objectify womens' bodies is that they are passed off as harmless fun or 'a giggle' ... when I see media stunts like this one where a 3D billboard is used to promote Wonder Bras I have a serious sense of humour fail.

I decided a few years ago that I would buy fewer magazines but I'm a complete packrat so I have a large number lying around - every now and then I go through a pile and rip out any images I find artistically inspiring ... one of the things I also look out for are positive messages in adverts or articles - somehow the act of removing them from their original context gives me a great sense of satisfaction and I like the fact that I can re-use them for my own creative purposes without any connection to whatever product the company who paid for the ad was trying to sell to me. In a very small way it feels like a political act every time I do it ... in your face advertisers!

this is me [close up]

When I was about 20 years old I developed what I think of as a fairly mild eating disorder - at one point I was weighing myself every morning and every evening, I regularly told my Mum I didn't need dinner because I'd be eating at my boyfriend's house and I told my boyfriend I'd already eaten before I got to his house. At the time I didn't think I had a problem and even now I wouldn't describe myself as having been anorexic but looking back I can see that I would probably be diagnosed as anorexic given that I was missing meals, lying to those around me and weighing myself pretty obsessively.

Wow, this is awkward ... when I started writing this blogpost I didn't realise that I would end up admitting to myself (and the rest of the world) that 16 years ago I suffered from anorexia (I still think it was a mild case though) ... a big part of me is very tempted to delete the last two paragraphs but a little voice inside is telling me to hit the publish button. Heck, what's the worst that can happen ... if the sky falls in then I can always come back and delete the post. I think that the thing that's driving me to (over)share this with you is that I know I would be that size 8 girl again *in a heartbeat* if I had the chance ... and that means all these years later I still feel pressure to be thinner than the size 16 I currently am. The pressure feels like it comes completely from inside me and that it's purely my own failure and my personal lack of discipline which stops me from losing weight ... but I also know that if I think about what I want to look like it is someone from the pages of a magazine or from a television show or movie who I am subconciously measuring myself against.

I don't really know where I need to go with this but I'm grateful to Jean Kilbourne for leading me to face up to something I've been downplaying the seriousness of for far too long. {deep breathe, and I'm hitting the 'publish post' button}


  1. thanks John x ... it's the first time I've realised something important in the middle of writing a blogpost ... I feel like a proper blogger now ;-)