Women' studies hosts film screening on beauty in media

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Caroline Kenney

Does America have an unhealthy obsession with beauty? The 2007 documentary America the Beautiful, directed by Darryl Roberts, set out to answer this question.  
The Women’s Studies Program screened the film on Monday, February 24, coinciding with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The goal of the film was to bring light to the unrealistic standards for physical beauty in American society.
“Walden Behavior Care chose the film and the Assumption College Women’s Studies Program supported their efforts to increase awareness of how profitable businesses and the media influence self-confidence and worth based upon unreal and unattainable expectations,” said Suzanne Lewandowski, Academic Secretary for the History, Math, Computer Science, Women’s Studies and Medieval and Early Modern Studies Departments.
The documentary is filled with testimonials of young girls who proclaim that they think that they are ugly. When they are asked what has led them to this conclusion, they shrug, saying that they just think they are. 
The film attempts to locate one source of the girls’ self-esteem issues: the media. Dr. Anne Becker, one of the sociologists interviewed in the documentary, explains her study in Fiji comparing before they had televisions and after. In the three year span after they had been introduced to such constant access to the media, eating disorders went up 11 percent from a previous level of zero percent. Becker reported that the parents in this community were outraged saying that television had eroded their culture dramatically. 
“The media is not the cause of eating disorders. It does facilitate it, however,” said Laura Roias, Director of the Walden Behavioral Care’s Worcester Clinic. 
The film speaks to the growing number of young girls that are diagnosed with eating disorders. Oprah said in an interview that girls as young as five are dieting and the biggest fear in young girls today is getting fat as opposed to cancer or losing a parent. In addition, one in four college students have an eating disorder and 91 percent are dieting. 
“It is sobering to think about the statistic. I live in an LLC apartment so it’s strange to think that judging by this statistic, one of my roommates would have an eating disorder,” said sophomore Molly Sweeney. 
“These behaviors often last for a lifetime and cause physiological, emotional and psychological changes if not diagnosed and treated. An eating disorder is a serious illness, not a diet choice. It was my hope that America the Beautiful would open the eyes of students to the manipulation of self-image caused by the beauty industry,” said Lewandowski.
The film then attempts to further the discussion asking who really benefits from the media’s representation of the perfect woman. The answer provided is the advertisers, the magazines, the plastic surgeons, diet companies, fashion designers and cosmetics companies. 
For the documentary, Roberts interviewed many editors from well-known magazines, asking if they’d considered using “plus size” models. 
“We’re not social workers and it’s the responsibility of teenage girls’ parents to lift their self-esteem. We’re just here to make a buck,” said an unnamed editor, according to Roberts’ Huffington Post blog.
The documentary works to address the fact that there are no benefits to society with these messages pushed through the media. The examples the documentary provides are through the experiences of 12-year-old model Gerren Taylor, who has no other ambitions but to be in the modeling world. That is until she was told by a Paris modeling agency that she was not skinny enough, her face was too round and her hips too wide. 
“Health isn’t an option in this business,” said an anonymous model in regards to being skinny. 
“Plastic surgery is a woman’s best friend,” added Maggie Williams, a 15-year-old aspiring model interviewed in the documentary. She then proceeded to list off all of the things that she thinks is wrong with her body. 
The documentary offers a list of examples of people who resorted to plastic surgery. In an attempt to highlight the bizarre aspects of the plastic surgery craze, the film discussed owners having operations done on their animals. This included breast reductions, eye lifts, fat removal and even “neuticles” (testicular implants for dogs). 
On a more serious note, the film emphasized the many cases in which these surgeries ended with complications or even resulted in death. 
“It is sad to see the extreme measures that people take to be seen as beautiful,” said sophomore Anthony Iannone, in reaction to the horrors of plastic surgery illuminated by the film. He further said that every girl is beautiful in her own way and that she shouldn’t have to go to such lengths to show it.
The film covers a wide range of issues that the Americansociety deals with regarding the obsession with physical beauty. America the Beautiful highlights child models, risks of plastic surgery, unrealistic advertising and unsafe chemicals in cosmetics. It is an illuminating film and was a fitting choice for the beginning of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
 “There are local services here on campus designed to help [students] navigate food related difficulties they or a friend are having. The Assumption College Student Development & Counseling Center (508-767-7409) and Walden Behavioral Care at 35 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602 (508-796-5797 or Info@waldenbehavioralcare.com) have knowledgeable professionals who are trained to help with food and related disorders,” Lewandowski concluded.

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