{ thinking out loud about the things i care about }

Photoshopping & Body Image on SheThought.com

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SheThought, a blog for, by and about women and critical thinking, is fast becoming one of my most favourite places on the Internet. The contributors include a variety of people from different backgrounds from science to arts and varying exposure to the online or offline feminist movement. The one thing they all share is a desire to think rationally, to be thoughtful about issues and ideas, and to embrace open discussion and civil, constructive conversation.

Recently, contributor Ben Radford had some thoughts on the reactions to a poll on girls and what they think about Photoshop and fashion photography. I had time to participate and ask questions in comments — which is not something I usually do — and though I haven’t had the opportunity yet to look up some of the studies he pointed me to, it’s on my To-Do list.

The idea that being surrounded by images of unrealistic female bodies has impacted the female gender’s collective cultural body image is one of those things that everybody “knows” in the same way that everybody “knows” images — especially fashion and celebrity photos — are heavily altered and Photoshopped, but where did these ideas come from? Is there valid data to support these “known” facts? This is a legitimate question I hadn’t spent much time thinking about: I assumed somewhere, someone had done the legwork and filed it away as fact before disseminating it to the masses. As I become increasingly interested in the skeptical movement I’m discovering this isn’t always true. I’m still learning what differentiates a good, scientific study from a less solid one so I can be better equipped to spot faulty methodologies that lead to incorrect assumptions. The last thing women need is to put our efforts into fighting the wrong battles, and if this is potentially one of them I think it’s valid to look critically at.

Having said that, I still think there is value for everyone in our culture in seeing a broader representation of body type and beauty in all media, from fashion magazine to movies to television. I have no studies of my own to back up that thought, only the anecdotal knowledge that TV characters like Criminal Minds’ Penelope Garcia who illustrate happiness in life and love isn’t dependant on your waist size can be important cultural role models that we can use more of. And while I’ve always thought the fashion industry gets too much blame when it comes to body image issues, I also believe there’s no downside in people of all shapes, sizes and colours seeing themselves represented there more often. If fashion is art, then the bodies that wear it are canvases, so why stick to a one-size mentality? Wall art comes in sizes that vary from hand-held to house-sized, so why can’t haute couture?

I definitely recommend adding SheThought to your reading list: there hasn’t been a post yet I haven’t found interesting, and while I have focused here on a feminism-related article, I love that this is a place for women to speak and be heard on topics that aren’t necessarily “women’s issues”. It’s a place for and about women, but it’s not all “about women”. Women think and have opinions about everything from science to politics to comedy, and not all of our online spaces have to be about the experience of being a woman all the time.

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