Women sizing down: Media making all sizes acceptable

Compiled by Mandy Morgan

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Oct. 29 2012 3:03 p.m. MDT

This frame grab provided by WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., shows television anchorwoman Jennifer Livingston Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, during her broadcast responding to a viewer who wrote her an email criticizing her weight. Livingston says she thought nothing of the email. But she's angry that some children may not know to do the same when they're criticized, or worse, by bullies. (AP Photo/Courtesy WKBT-TV)

Uncredited, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Jennifer Livingston has been in broadcast journalism for 15 years and has received her share of criticism and feedback from viewers as a public figure in the media. However, the email she received in October from a viewer about her appearance and image as a role model was different, and she reacted.

"The truth is, I am overweight," she said in an on-air response on Oct. 2. "But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don't know that? ... You don't know me, so you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside, and I am much more than a number on a scale."

The status quo for women, especially those in the public eye, centers around the idea that thin is in and that there is no other way to be. However, more than one example has been made by women in the public recently, stating that there is more than one way to look and that looks are not everything.

Lady Gaga, internationally known pop star, responded in September to claims earlier in the month about gaining at least 25 pounds by posting pictures of her current, slightly curvier figure on her website, littlemonsters.com. She announced her disinterest in what the media had to say about her appearance, and after revealing her struggle with eating disorders since the age of 15, invited fans with fellow struggles to step out and share their stories.

"Lady Gaga is telling those fat shamers that it's not okay, that we're not having it anymore, and I think she's going to help a lot of people," Dr. Robyn Silverman, a body image expert, said in an ABC News article about the star's struggles.

However, it isn't just happening to public figures; many characters on television shows and in movies are "stepping off the scale" and presenting confident, out-of-the-ordinary perceptions on the appearance and confidence of women, according to a New York Times article "Female Stars Step Off the Scale."

"Self-acceptance has become a new form of defiance on television, especially among younger female comedians," the article states. "Partly that's because it's refreshingly unusual. There's little comic shock value left in profanity, obscenity or intolerance, but it's still quite rare and surprising to see a women not obsess about her waistline."

Both Mindy Kaling, on "The Mindy Project," and Lena Dunham on "Girls" play characters on television who are completely unconcerned, and undeterred, when it comes to their weight and any comments made about it. And in the world of movies, Rebel Wilson plays the plus-sized girl who gets her guy in this year's movie "Bachlorette."

A problem to arise from this revolution is the impression and implications that come from defining what a real girl's body looks like — that it is not all right to have a thinner, smaller figure, that it makes those women more unreal.

In a 2011 study looking at the effects of TV shows that try to improve body image, it was discovered that the opposite often took place. Participants who watched both a reality show about helping women feel confident with their bodies ("How to Look Good Naked") and a reality show about models (“Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model”), had significantly increased body anxiety and weight dissatisfaction.

“Because the focus is on the body, you become more aware of your own concerns and how you feel about your body,” Viren Swami, leader with the study, said. “The women (on ‘How to Look Good Naked’) all have problems with their bodies and are trying to improve them. The implicit suggestion is that you should be doing the same.”

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