There was an Internet debate raging last week centered on a young Duke University co-ed who was outed as a porn actress. It seems she had been flying out to the west coast to shoot hardcore porn scenes as a way to pay for her education.
Much of the discussion focused on whether being a porn actress was empowering or demeaning. Is this young woman demonstrating and exercising her sexual independence or is she willingly participating in an exploitative and damaging activity?
The whole debate got me thinking about how women are portrayed in mainstream media and how women consume those portrayals. I have never been a fan of the advertorial “women’s” magazines like Cosmopolitan, Style, Vogue etc. I have always believed that they contribute more to the unhappiness of women than pornography ever will.
Why? Because they are infinitely more accessible to women, more readily consumed by women and they have an obvious and negative effect on the how women feel about themselves. Their pages are filled with images of stick figure models and Photoshopped ads that sell a definition of beauty that is unobtainable for nearly all and unhealthy to boot.
Past research has shown that women who are regularly exposed to media portraying the ultra-thin, supposedly beautiful ideal are more likely to suffer lower self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, and depressive moods.
The really scary part comes from a recent study that suggests that these negative effects on women and their perception of how weight affects beauty begins with as little as 60 seconds of exposure.
(For those of you who don’t want to read, here is a short video report on the study.
|Ann Taylor ad model before and after photoshopping|
And we wonder why young women are cutting themselves, are suffering eating disorders and are lying down in cancer-causing, radiation emitting beds in an effort to feel empowered and beautiful. We wonder why heavier girls are having sex sooner in an effort to feel desired. We wonder why women gulp diet pills that have no proven effectiveness yet sell millions of bottles. It is, in part, because of these magazines and the advertising that occupies most of their pages.
The World Dictionary definition of “exploit”: to take advantage of (a person, situation, etc), esp. unethically or unjustly for one's own ends
Does pornography exploit or promote the exploitation of women?
If you answer that question in the affirmative, then I think you must also agree that these mainstream women's magazines and media outlets, and the advertising they run, are exploiting women as well. The fashion houses and makeup companies that shuttle out these rail-thin waifs and Photoshopped fantasy images are exploiting women. They are not only preying on their fears and insecurities, they are feeding them. They are cultivating an illness so that they can sell the snake oil cure.
If that isn’t exploitation, then what is?