National Edition

Lois M. Collins: Media portray girls and women as body parts

Published: Tuesday, July 9 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

If I have managed to teach my teenage daughters nothing else before I send them out into the world of work and adventure and one day families of their own, I hope they have the message that they are more than their legs, their cleavage and the curve of their waists.

Neither of my bright, funny daughters is a single, carefully made-up eye or a set of full lips, although that's not the story they're being pounded with on a daily basis by far too many magazines and advertisements, movies and TV shows.

While females, by definition, are not any of those pieces alone, it is too often the way they are portrayed.

Body parts. Not complete people.

The dehumanization of females is a contemptible aspect of our culture. And I'm stunned at how little I noticed it until someone was kind enough to point it out to me a couple of years ago. It changed the way I view many of the messages our culture sends. It even changed my buying habits. I don't buy from companies that demean girls in that fashion.

When men are portrayed in those mediums, the people presenting them usually at least do them the courtesy of showing a chunk big enough to be recognizable as a face. If they're portrayed in part, it's most often to emphasize clothing, like a pair of jeans or shoes, as a marketing ploy. It's not usually a trying-to-be-titillating come-on.

Not so with girls. Tons of movies do quick cutaways to nearly bare body parts, wiggling hips, erotically posed pieces of femininity.

Those same clips portray girls as something to be used and of little importance.

In that depiction, the highest calling for a girl — or perhaps it's just her inevitable destiny — is exotic dancing or being an arm decoration for a successful guy. Some of the time, the piece of girl is in a dumpster, tossed away by some predatory creature.

Did I mention that it enrages me?

Even mannequins are sexist, the boy figures shown in work-worthy or athletic poses. The girl figures have thrust hips, the clothing draped over them pulled tight and clipped out of sight to emphasize curves and seeming sensuality.

My girls don't quite get why it's such a big deal to me. They have grown up in a sea of body-part music videos, partial-people advertisements and a hyper-sexualized society. They don't wear T-shirts with crude names for body parts or obscene stick figures, but they're not shocked by them, either. They've seen too much — had, in fact, seen most of it by the end of grade school, courtesy of adults and teens who don't seem to share my hatred of the one-dimensional depiction of what womanhood is.

I want my girls — and your girls and their cousins and the children they don't even know by name — to know that girls can focus on so many things besides whether boys think they're "hot." I want boys to know it, too.

It is when they are helping others, or doing their homework, or trying yet again to figure out that algebra assignment that they shine in different ways. One child may have a great laugh that makes others happy and the other a heart for anyone who's hurting. They all have different passions and talents and aspirations and it is when they demonstrate those things that they are at their most beautiful.

No one, male or female, should be presented as pieces. They should be celebrated for the sum of their parts, too large and joyous and complex to be seen at a single glance. Growing and glowing and trying to reach a potential too big for such small-minded media to wrap its collective brain around.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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