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Attempt to redefine beauty falls short

May 15th, 2009     by Teresa Chun-Wen Cheng     Comments

I just stumbled across the National Organization for Women Foundation’s Love Your Body 2009 poster campaign. And I was especially disappointed and miffed with one of the results.

The poster campaign’s goal is to “challenge the media’s use of violent, drug-addicted, starved, surgically-enhanced images of women and to fight against industries that profit from women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies.” Contestants from all countries are invited to submit poster entries that “demonstrate beauty is not limited by body size, body type, ethnicity, age or physical appearance” (umm, too bad the website is entirely in English, which severely inhibits potential participants from non-English speaking countries). So, this poster was the 2009 winner of the university/college category.

Ummm, come on. Really? The entire concept of this poster is based on the problematic “female washroom” symbol. All of the women are wearing dresses as if that was what was normal. This is so dangerous, especially when the campaign is about beauty. I am surprised that the organizers chose something that so essentalizes what it means to be a woman for their national campaign. I love dresses, but not all women do, nor should they be made to feel like they should.

Also, the colours of the women are a little funny. How come the women are strange shades of purples and aquas? Using non-skin colours seems to just be a nice way of brushing the racialization of beauty under the rug. I, for one, am not forgetting the fact that skin tone and all its accompanying implications is still a very real and determining factor in the way a person is treated, whether it be in sex work or the modeling industry. The idea of race is erased by the callous use of fun and bright colours. Women of colour exist! We must be represented, especially in campaigns of positive self-image and empowerment.

There are definitely other problems and potential discussions surrounding the poster (including representation of disability and problems with representation in general), but to show that I’m not a total party pooper, I will say that I quite liked the grand prize winning poster. Simple and poignant message. Aesthetically appealing and effective. Ultimately, I can apply this message to myself. See? I don’t and won’t always just critique the crap out of everything. I can do fuzzy and warm feelings too.

Tags: body politics

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