Posted on December 16th, 2011 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Featured, Learning, News, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Uncategorized
Tagged with Belief, consumer culture, ethics, identity, morality, politics, questioning, Religion, tolerance, transformation, women
This is Part II of The Media My Daughter Witnessed series illustrating the effect of the media on my daughter and in this piece, on women in general.
I am not a female dog, or any other kind of animal, nor do I want to be considered a monster. I am a woman—flesh and blood, human, intelligent, witty, fantastic, and definitely not a derogatory name of any sort.
Why am I am on my soapbox? 'Tis the season to shop and I thought about shopping at Victoria’s Secret the other day, but, after I saw their latest ad, I thought, maybe not—I don’t want people to think I’m a bitch. With women in barely anything, as usual, accompanied by Jeremy Amelin’s tune, Imma Bitch, the theological feminist in me is quite angry at what this commercial conveys.
It is unclear to me if this ad is supported by Victoria’s Secret, or, if the ad is posted by someone else who has taken artistic license as so many do on Youtube. However, it doesn’t matter, because whomever has posted this has an issue with women.
What confuses me is this—do I want to be considered a bitch if I wear Victoria’s Secret clothing? I think not. Isn’t being a bitch considered derogatory, referring to a woman as unkind, mean, and just undesirable? If I am wearing an advertised sexy Victoria’s Secret bra and panties, but I am considered to be a bitch and a monster because of that, doesn’t that create a conundrum? A dichotomy? An oxymoron of sorts? A female dog in a bra and panties just doesn’t seem appealing—but, maybe it’s just me.
I am continually frustrated at what the beauty industry tells myself, my daughter, and all women what we should look like, what we should wear, what my body should look like, how my hair should shine, what make-up I should use, what jewelry will catch people’s attention, what shoes will make my legs look more sexy, what jeans will hold my chub, what shirts will accentuate by breasts, and so on. Last I looked, I had a brain and could think for myself. Last I looked, I wasn’t a bitch.
I find this commercial especially degrading because it is the ultimate objectification of women on a grotesque level. Victoria’s Secret objectifies women all the time, but this ad, I feel, is even worse because of the music that accompanies it. The derogatory nature of the song, along with the images of beautiful women clad in barely anything, creates and exacerbates a long lasting image and idea of women that our society in general carries—women are only good to look at, otherwise, watch out. It was Eve’s fault, right?
The beauty industry pounds us daily with images of what we should look like. The fact is, my body, all of our bodies, are a gift from God. We are gorgeous because we are made by God. The beauty industry does not make me, or you. We make ourselves. When we walk down the street, we are not made by the products we use, or the clothing we wear, but we are made by a higher being who planned exactly what we would look like, sound like, act like, and be like. For me, this is reassuring. This theology gives me a sense of who I am and grounds me not only in my faith, but in me. I am Karen Leslie Hernandez. I am not Karen Leslie HernandezMaybellineVictoriasSecretCalvinKlein. Nothing in the beauty industry can teach us who we are; no clothing, no make-up, no shoes, nor any kind of perfume will make us sexy, or desired.
This is a difficult lesson to teach our children, especially to our young girls. The competition between teenagers, especially, to have the latest beautifying objects and things in life are overwhelming. It is difficult to not play into this notion, when everyone else does. The good news is that at age twenty-one, my daughter Katy, has developed a style all her own. Yes, she uses make up, yes she likes nice clothes, yet, she has an understanding of how ridiculous the beauty industry is and how they target us as women. That is a gift I could give her—the gift of awareness.
As little girls we see women and want to be like them. We can’t wait to wear make-up, high heels, and pretty clothes—we are even encouraged to play “dress-up.” Somewhere along the way though, we, as young women, lose sight of that innocence we carried with us for that short period in our younger years. That innocence that didn’t care if we had cellulite, or our knees were bruised up, or our hair was a fright, or we had a blemish, or what our weight was, or that we were pretty like all those airbrushed models, or we had a butt like Jennifer Lopez. We simply didn’t care.
Where does that change occur when we suddenly do care? When do we start to pay attention to the commercials we are bombarded with that dictate how we should look? When did we, as teenagers or women, open a magazine and think, I will never look like that and suddenly feel inadequate? When did five year old girls start dieting? When did teenagers start getting boob jobs? Lisa Bloom covers all this in her new book entitled, Think: Straight Talk for Women To Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. She mentions much of her ideas in a recent Huffington Post piece. Funny thing is, women are not inadequate because we don’t look like the women in Vogue, or Cosmo, or in ads from Victoria’s Secret. I know I’m not inadequate - are you?
Here is a great commercial from Dove on the effects of the beauty industry on our girls and women that illustrates how quickly the change occurs and what it can do to us.
As girls, teenagers and women, we will continue to be bombarded with these images; it’s what we do with them that matters. We can only teach our children to truly love themselves as they are and how God made them, but as women, we must try to live by example. I admit it—that is not easy. I wear make-up; I like cute clothing; I like smelling nice. I even own a few Victoria’s Secret bras, not because they are sexy, but because they are well-made bras. Yes, I am a walking contradiction. But, at least I can admit it. I guess that’s a start.
In comparison, here is this commercial.
This ad completely objectifies men and uses cursing as well—because, you know, men curse, so, it seems Calvin Klein felt the need to keep to that standard as well. The “F” bomb is dropped eight times in fifty seconds. I wonder—is this necessary to sell underwear? Apparently Calvin Klein thinks so. This commercial not only objectifies men but it also is crass next to the Victoria’s Secret commercial, which plays into the feminine mystique of a woman with the images, and the evil side with the lyrics of the tune. I can imagine that if you are a man and you are not built like the men in this commercial, then you would most likely feel somehow inadequate. But, maybe, if you buy that underwear, you suddenly won’t. Just as if maybe if women buy the Victoria’s Secret apparel, they will suddenly become powerhouse, hot bitches.
I remember a trip to New York City when Katy was in second grade. On practically every billboard in Times Square there was someone, a man or a woman, clad in underwear. I am not a prude, but I felt I needed to shield Katy from these ads, with the extra large breasts and penises glaring in the New York sun. The human body is a beautiful thing; it would just be nice to leave a little to the imagination, especially for our growing children.
I am not sure that many realize or even care that the advertising of beauty products and “sexy” clothing items affects us greatly. I always hear people saying, “Sex sells,” as if this is a norm. The reality is though, that it is a norm; how unfortunate. How does this selling of sex affect our children? How does this affect our children’s ability to distinguish their beautiful bodies from those in magazines and television ads? The even bigger questions are, how many women and men have eating disorders because of this kind of advertising? How many women and men physically harm themselves because they feel they cannot match themselves to the “perfect” bodies and faces in these advertisements? Does selling sex contribute to prostitution, the sex trade, the selling of sex slaves? Am I reaching here? I am not sure. What do you think?
Image courtesy of www.wikimediacommons.org
I am a Theologian with a focus on Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism. I write, teach and lecture on Islam, Christian-Muslim relations worldwide (past and present), Jesus in the Qur'an, Al Qaeda, Islamophobia, and theological responses to terrorism. I have a Master of Sacred Theology in Religion and Conflict Transformation from Boston University School of Theology, '11; a Master of Theological Research in Christian-Muslim Understanding from Andover Newton Theological School, '07; and a BA in Peace and Justice Studies with a concentration in Islam from Wellesley College, '05. I've published with the Women's United Nations Report Network, Onislam, The American Muslim, and The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. Along with Palestine/Israel, Turkey, and Spain, my experiential/research work includes traveling to and living in India three times looking at Christian-Muslim-Hindu relations, as well as Muslim women's lives in the slums of Mumbai. I also had the privilege to serve on three panels at the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne, Australia in 2009. From what I can tell, I am the only Theologian that is a woman, a Latina, and a Catholic/United Methodist, doing this type of work in the United States. In my spare time, I spend time with my daughter when she is home from college, practice yoga, read, love the theatre, and run with scissors whenever possible. I am also Associate Director of Communications with State of Formation.