Beauty Ideals and Body Image in a Multicultural-Multifaith Society

Guest post by CYH volunteer Suemiya Nsair. Suemiya also shared this resource as an example of something they used in the workshop.

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Photoshop disaster: Real-life model (at right) next to her digitally-altered image. Image from: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/11/30/142943151/they-aren-t-that-thin-digital-retouching-gets-graded (RICHARD DREW, UNKNOWN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Photoshop disaster: Real-life model (at right) next to her digitally-altered image.
Image from: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/11/30/142943151/they-aren-t-that-thin-digital-retouching-gets-graded (RICHARD DREW, UNKNOWN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Metro Vancouver – This particular workshop came about as a result of some kids in a youth group asking their volunteer coordinator what defines someone as being “beautiful”. Taken aback, the coordinator requested if the question could be clarified. And so they asked whether there was a standard hair texture/colour, skin colour, eye colour, height, weight, etc. which would define someone as “pretty” or beautiful, as if there were a perfect formula. Ooohhh, so we’re talking about physical beauty?! In order to better address such inquiries, a workshop was requested!

The purpose of the workshop was to challenge the predominant narratives of gender representation, beauty ideals, and body image in the media and how this ties into the youth’s experiences of living in a multicultural, multifaith society in a city as diverse as Vancouver.

One of the resources utilized was Jean Kilbourne’s media studies on the female body image in advertising and the various other resources she has compiled and made available online. In Kilbourne’s films, she informs her audience that the objectification of someone, of literally depicting them as an object, allows for the expectation of near impossible standards of beauty, and the subsequent proliferation of a plethora of ills, including social, physical and psychological. There is no denying the large part in which these depictions play out in the media and affect people of all ages, genders and ethnicities.

Be media aware. Photo by Check Your Head volunteer

Be media aware. Photo by Check Your Head volunteer

Being media-aware is an effective way to decipher all kinds of media, like advertisements, movies, internet,  and television programs, to become better informed of what products, ideals or messages are being conveyed through these mediums, including “photoshopped” images in ads. Keeping in mind of course, who is behind developing such media and what is the purpose?

We are surrounded and bombarded by media of all kinds every day, so it is essential that we empower ourselves to consume media critically and intelligently. And finally, keeping in mind that in a city as diverse as Vancouver, as well as elsewhere in the nation and the world for that matter, diversity rules and that is what makes us beautiful.

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