Keep it real challenge: Photoshop’s impact on body image

By Armelle Djoukoue

With the advent of Photoshop in the design industry, it has been easy for the media NOT to keep it real. Photoshop has allowed advertisers to give cover models a little superficial nip and tuck or body sculpting where it doesn’t really exist. These false images can affect the way readers see beauty in an unrealistic way, impacting self-esteem and their own body image.

The more women and girls watch television or look at magazines full of unattainable and idealize images of women created by “photoshopping”, the more anxious and insecure about their appearance they become. The pressure to attain the “perfect body” has women now spending millions of dollars a year on unnecessary plastic surgery and harming their bodies by becoming anorexic or bulimic.

In recent years, researchers have tried to understand the determinants of body image disturbance among young women. High exposure to media has been shown to have a large impact on women’s self-esteem in western societies. Nowadays, with the use of Photoshop, women have been tricked into thinking that flawless beauty does exist. But in reality, this type of perfection is simply unattainable. Even celebrities have imperfections, but that’s not what we often see in the magazines.

Some celebrities, such as Brad Pitt and Kate Winslet, have taken action against digital altering of their bodies. Brad Pitt broke one of Hollywood’s golden rules in a recent issue of W Magazine by revealing all his flaws and wrinkles. He even personally requested to be photographed by Chuck Close, who is famous for his extremely detailed portraits that reveal all skin flaws. Winslet was also one of the first to break ground when she took action against GQ magazine for digitally altering her body in its photographs that made her look unrealistically thin.

Perhaps if more celebrities become more secure with their own body image and demand that their photos be printed without photoshopping, everyone else will follow suit. And more women and girls will realize that there is no such thing as “perfect” beauty.

For the past three days,The Keep it Real Campaign sponsored by Miss Representation has been asking advertisers and the media to do away with Photoshop and print at least one unphotoshopped picture of a model. One photo may not be enough to fix someone’s self esteem, but maybe it will help advertisers understand the damage that they are doing to the physical, emotional, and mental health of many women and girls when they don’t keep it real.

One Sticky Note At A Time

By Carolina Costa


“Love your body and treat it well!” or “Beauty has no color” were some of the messages posted on sticky notes around the UMKC campus during the last week of February. The Women’s Center along with UMKC students and the Counseling Center participated in the Operation Beautiful project to recognize Eating Disorders Awareness Week. 

Sticky notes could be found in rest rooms, classrooms, vending machines and hallways. The positive body image statements were aimed to encourage everyone in the community to accept themselves just the way they are. Operation Beautiful was an effort to counter the negative and abusive messages sent by the media about body image, which promote unhealthy and unrealistic standards of beauty.

In addition to the sticky notes campaign, the Women’s Center encouraged students and staff to take part in the “I love my…” picture project. Members of the UMKC community completed the sentence and were happy to take their pictures to support a positive body image.

Endorsing honest beauty standards and cultivating a high self-esteem are key components to the development of healthy communities and lifestyles and the first step to achieve success in personal growth. Operation Beautiful tackles the root of negative self-talk and poor self-esteem. With a simple message on a mirror we can change the way we look at ourselves and help each other reach our goals.

Although most sticky notes are now gone from hallways and doors, I hope the message Operation Beautiful has brought to UMKC stays among its students and spreads across the Kansas City community. Thank you to everyone who participated! I hope you had a great time changing the world one sticky note at a time!




For more information about the UMKC Women’s Center and our upcoming events please visit our website: or call us at (816) 235-1638

Join us to celebrate 40 years of telling our stories with the UMKC Women’s Center!

Barbie’s Not-So-Positive Influence

Photo by Matthew Rolston

By Emily Mathis

One of the most read blogs on our site is from a while ago and is about Barbie’s positive influence. While, I agree that Barbie has some positive effects, I wonder if they outweigh the negative effects she has on body image? Recently I came across this picture and article about the amount of plastic surgery this woman would need to look like Barbie.

I found the picture thought provoking. What messages and images are we sending to little girls and boys, for that matter, about what a female’s body should look like? Are there women out there striving for this unattainable ideal?

I am left feeling confused. Should we discourage playing with one of America’s favorite toys? Or should we hope that messages of body acceptance are loud enough to get through?

I think of all the hours I spent playing with Barbie when I was young. Then I think about all the struggles I have had with body image throughout my teens and now into my twenties.  Is there a correlation?

According to the article, which mainly focuses on how Barbie affects plastic surgery numbers, there is a correlation between our culture’s distorted view of beauty and the ideal body and plastic surgery rates. With 5% of plastic surgeries being done under the age of 20 and over 13 million body parts being altered last year it seems that something or someone is having a major effect on women’s lives.

Barbie has been around since 1959. That’s over 50 years of girls and boys who grew up with Barbie. If you look at all the different Barbies, they all are thin and perfect. This can set a very unrealistic ideal for what a woman should look like. And it doesn’t just affect girls. Young boys who see their sisters or playmates playing with the doll may grow up to think that is what a woman should look like.

Female body image is a precarious thing. Besides Barbie there are the Disney princesses, who are also very beautiful by society’s standards and thin as well. Fairytales and Barbie are strong influences in young girls’ lives. I can’t count how many times I played with my Sleeping Beauty Barbie doll or how many times I watched Cinderella. Luckily, I never considered plastic surgery but what about the girls and young women out there with access to plastic surgery who think that looking like one of their childhood playmates is the key to getting everything they wanted?

I am not blaming Barbie or the princesses for all of this but I think they play a role in rising rates of plastic surgery and eating disorders. I think that there needs to be a serious look at what images and messages are being put out there. It seems like Barbie gets a lot of play while messages of self-love and body acceptance don’t.

With eating disorders posing a constant threat and general dissatisfaction with their bodies, can young girls and women really afford to have Barbie as any kind of a role model?

Dying to be Perfect

By Devon White


Young people today live in a society where body image expectations are high and their physical appearance holds more importance than character and skill sets. The perfectionism pushed onto women from the media pressures them to live up to images that are impossible to attain outside of photoshopping and a 24/7 make-up team.

Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. is internationally recognized for her pioneering work on the image of women in advertising and her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising. In an effort to combat negative images and unrealistic stereotypes, Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” video series helps to shine a much needed light on the impossibility of women and girls who strive to be like the models and celebrities that they see in advertising and the media. As noted on Kilbourne’s website, “The average American is exposed to over 3,000 advertisements a day and watches three years’ worth of television ads over the course of a lifetime.”  We need to challenge these negative comparisons by empowering both women and men to advocate a healthy body image by loving their bodies unconditionally. Kilbourne says, “Women learn from an early age that we must spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and above all, money striving to achieve this look and feeling ashamed and guilty when we fail. And failure is inevitable because the idea is based on absolute flawlessness.”

Projects like “Killing Us Softly” and BlogHer’s “Own Your Own Beauty” remind us that authentic beauty needs no software or a team of make-up professionals.

Gerren Taylor: Size 4 and Too Big?

Image from

Are you too big to model?  How would you feel if you thought you weren’t fat, but people in the fashion industry felt you were?  What if they told you that you needed to lose weight in order to save on a couple inches of fabric? What if they told you all of this and you were only a teenager?

Well listen to this story. 

Gerren Taylor had it all as she walked the runway for the first time at the Los Angeles Fashion Week in 2003.  Only 12 at the time, she went from being a school girl studying pre-algebra, to becoming one of the world’s youngest Supermodels the industry had ever seen.  She was everything the modeling and fashion industry desired, tall, thin, and photogenic. Gerren was booked by designers Tracy Reese, Tommy Hilfiger, and Betsy Johnson in a heartbeat.  Many stated that her long legs and confident walk resemble that of Naomi Campbell.  She was a “big star” that had a bright future as being one of the top models in the business.

But at 14, her dream came to a screeching halt when people in the fashion industry called her obese, at 6 feet, 120 lbs, and a size 4.  She was told that in order to continue to model, her frame should only measure 35 inches around.  Gerren was 38 inches.  This was the end of Gerren’s career as a model, and it was the beginning of another sad story about a young girl who hated the way she looked.  In an interview Gerren expressed her feelings:

“At first, I was like, Whatever!  So I went to Paris and London to see if maybe I could model there.  And they said, ‘No, you have to be a size 0, or negative.’ I didn’t even know negative existed.  After that, I came back to the States and I was really depressed.  I developed an eating disorder and wasn’t eating.  It was really hard for me and I thought I was ugly.”

Many women and girls like Gerren who are models experience issues with their bodies based on what the industry views as perfect, which is to be super thin.  According to USA Today, body-image researcher Sarah Murnen, who is a Professor of Psychology at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, discusses how body image in the fashion industry promotes ‘thin is in’.  However, what they fail to mention, (or purposefully left out) is that because this image is being portrayed as the ‘ideal’ image, the majority of girls and women begin to hate the way they look.  Due to this dissatisfaction, girls and women start participating in very unhealthy behaviors, like illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia that damage the body.

In order to bring more awareness to this issue, on October 20, 2010, the Women’s Center will be showing the documentary, America the Beautiful, that takes a critical look at our nation’s obsession with beauty.  This film, produced by Darryl Roberts, takes us on a journey through Gerren Taylor’s career from the beginning when her career flourished, to its ending when she hit rock bottom. In addition to following Gerren, it also focuses on plastic surgery, the cosmetics industry, and other related factors that facilitate women and girls in their often extreme pursuit of beauty. A discussion will follow the movie screening led by staff from UMKC Counseling, Health, and Testing.

Australia Makes Body Image History

Image from Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign

In the past week, Australia announced the first body-image initiative in the world. According to a recent article, the initiative is a voluntary code that media and modeling agencies, as well as others, can choose to adhere to.  This code includes guidelines that promote healthy body image, such as limiting the amount of altering that is done to photos, as well as not hiring ultra-thin models. By doing this the companies and agencies will be recognized as being “body image friendly.”

This initiative is just one step toward the changes that need to take place to improve how women feel about their bodies. Taking on media, according to the article, was the first part of the Butterfly Foundation’s outline in a comprehensive plan to take on poor body image. The Butterfly Foundation is an Australian eating disorder awareness and prevention group who partnered with the government on the initiative. They had also outlined the need for changes in school programs and also suggested getting communities and parents involved in implementing changing how they talk about appearance in order to promote a better body image. The Voluntary Code Initiative is one of a kind for its outlook on addressing body image: “Negative body image and associated issues of low self-esteem, poor self-confidence and eating disorders are serious health and societal issues that need to be addressed in a comprehensive way across our society.”

I think this Australian initiative is a great idea. I wish the U.S. and other countries would support something like this that could make a difference on a large scale. The initiative is voluntary which leaves room for non-compliance but just imagine what would be possible if other governments got behind something like this? Maybe we wouldn’t Photoshop already tiny models or perhaps we would require greater diversity in people used in advertising as well as greater varieties in clothing sizes.

It looks like Australia is taking a great step forward in combating media’s negative influence on women’s and men’s body image, while the U.S. or at least one of the U.S.’s leaders in the fight against body image problems is taking a step back. Recently, the New York Magazine published Dove’s casting call for models for the new add campaign, which says that they only want “real women.” It seems, however, that their definition of “real” is lacking:

Well groomed and clean…Nice Bodies..NATURALLY, FIT Not too Curvy, Not too Athletic

Great Sparkling Personalities. Beautiful Smiles! A DOVE GIRL!!!
Beautiful HAIR & SKIN is a MUST!!!

This is a sad and frustrating development, seeing as how Dove had been a huge advocate for diversifying models as well as promoting healthy body image through their campaigns and by sponsoring camps around the country. While, this ad does not completely wipe out all the good work they have done in the past, I can’t help but feel disappointed that even companies who are supposedly committed to changing the way we think about beauty, are falling short. It seems like we have something to learn from Australia’s example.

Is Spain moving in the right direction on issues regarding body image? What could we learn?

By now, you’ve probably either read something or heard something about a recent decision by Spain to curb the amount of advertising for cosmetic surgery, weight-loss pharmaceuticals, and certain beauty treatments on their airwaves.  According to a recent article, this decision was based on the government supported effort to help combat “forces that push girls into anorexia or bulimia.” The ban prohibits the broadcasting of advertisements which promote “the cult of the body” before 10 pm; although, according to the article, even stricter measures which were proposed did not pass. This newest law from Spain follows another that took affect  a few years ago, which tries to mandate that models who are perceived as too thin be prohibited from Spanish runways.

In a recent report I heard on the radio about the latest ban (sorry, can’t remember which show, and can’t find it on the web so far), a couple Spanish teenagers commented on the pressure they felt to be thin in their culture. It sounded like a very familiar story.

Although such legislation undoubtedly ends up serving a lot of good, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with it. On the one hand, I wonder if somehow it goes against the principals of free speech; and on the other, I wonder if the ban really goes far enough. I’m pretty torn on the issue, actually. The best-case scenario would be for the companies pushing the products in question to take responsibility for their actions and cease all advertising for such products. If people are interested in finding a particular product or service, they’ll find it. But, so far, we all know that advertising for these products is still out there.

I’m curious as to what our readers think about this ban and if this might be something we should be considering here in the U.S. as well. I also wonder if it’s appropriate to leave products like diet pills so prominently display in the isles with their super-attractive advertising, often featuring well known people who lend their names to boost sales of the product. Maybe these non-essential sorts of pharmaceuticals should also be banned?  If there are any thoughts out there on this topic, please share them with us.

Thin Images

As one might expect, the topics of female body image and eating disorders is an oft discussed topic here at the Women’s Center.  We already have several entries in our blog achieves which deal with these topics.  These articles cover a range of more specific issues tied to eating disorders and body image, and if you’re looking for statistics, The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness provides a thorough list at their website. We have heard many of these statistics before, and what’s more, the overwhelming majority of us know someone with an eating disorder. What we don’t often see, however, is the role these disorders play in the day-to-day lives of those who are actually suffering. We may see how the disorder governs actions while in public, but we don’t see what is behind the suffering, nor do we see how such disorders come to dictate nearly every aspect of the lives of those who are afflicted.

For me, this last point was driven home recently when I learned that a close family member, whose eating disorder I’ve known about for many years now, decided to enter into a treatment facility. As she works through the healing process, she has begun to disclose aspects of her life that were completely hidden to even her closest friends and family members. It’s not just that she has suffered for so long, but that she has done so in silence.


Coincidently, when she decided to enter treatment, I was reminded of a documentary I had heard about called Thin, which was made by photographer Lauren Greenfield in 2006. She also published a book of the same name in 2006, which deals with the issue of eating disorders and body image through photos. My wife got the film for us to view a few weeks ago, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do. Even more, I strongly urge you to encourage the men in your lives to watch it as well, especially if they are unfamiliar with eating disorders and the suffering they afflict. It’s one thing to read statistics and medical literature on the subject, but it’s another thing altogether to see the images and hear women talk about how an eating disorder has completely taken over in their lives, leaving them unable to function normally in society.

Another problem that seriously depressed me during the film was that insurance companies often only pay for a limited amount of treatment, meaning that whatever issues you might have which are manifesting themselves as an eating disorder better be curable in six months or less; otherwise, you better have a plan B!!! As for the family member I’ve mentioned, they live in another country which has socialized medicine. If it takes six months, or six years, her insurance will continue to pay for treatments until she is either healthy again, or dead. Yes, this sounds kind of morbid, but I think my point is pretty clear. As this society becomes increasingly image-conscious with every subsequent generation, as a society, we might need to seriously rethink how we will fund treatment, since as a country we seem to be failing miserably in this area. But even once we do properly fund treatment, we will still not have gotten to the root of the problem, which may even be beyond repair.

The video above is Part 1 of the film Thin.  It is in 11 parts, but all there. You can also find it from online movie rental vendors as well any good local vendors. Seeing these women, and hearing their stories is far more powerful that any words I could pull together here.

Eating Disorders: Getting Past the Myths

Many people are aware of the serious nature of eating disorders, but sometimes stereotypes and myths can distort our perception of the illnesses.  We think that individuals with eating disorders should look or act a certain way because of what we see or read in the media or what is most often discussed in conversations.  Although, some of this information can be true, oftentimes, they are just myths that can lead us away from completely understanding the illness.

 A recent article addresses some of the myths and stereotypes that are perpetuated about eating disorders.  One common misconception is that all people with eating disorders are women. Although women make up the majority of the cases, an estimated 5-15 percent of people with eating disorders are men. Another common myth is that people who have eating disorders are really thin. We often envision emaciated images of young women when we think of someone with an eating disorder.  These images are extreme and unfortunately have created a stereotyped image of a person with an eating disorder.  In reality, people with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.  Finally, many people often blame the media for causing and perpetuating eating disorders by advertising images of idealized beauty. While this is certainly a problem and something must be done to educate advertiser of the damage they are doing, we cannot forget that an eating disorder is a mental illnesses and the individual’s psychological and social problems must be addressed through intense therapy and intervention. Helping an individual overcome their own negative body image and low self-esteem gets to the root of the illness and will have better solutions for someone who already suffers from an eating disorder than simply removing distorted advertising images from the media.

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that are difficult to understand.  But by dispelling the common myths and stereotypes, we can better understand the illnesses and how to help the people who are suffering from them.

The Dangers of Eating Disorders During Pregnancy

pregnant-bellyAs I reported in a previous blog, eating disorders are dangerous for women.  From another recent article, I learned that they are especially dangerous for women who are pregnant.  According to the article, generally, it is difficult for women who have eating disorders to get pregnant because most of the time they are not healthy enough to ovulate; nonetheless, about 15% of pregnant women are thought to have an eating disorder.

Eating disorders affect the health of the mother and also the baby.  Women who have eating disorders often become weaker when they are pregnant because the fetus takes all the vitamins, minerals, and calories from the mother. The fetus also takes calcium from the mother, which can lead to osteoporosis later in her life. Babies suffer too when a pregnant mother has an eating disorder.  The most common problems are low birth weight and preterm labor. After the babies are born, mothers with eating disorders do not produce healthy breast milk, which is vital to a newborn’s healthy development. 

Studies have also shown that eating disorders can be passed on to children. Mothers have been known to pass their obsessions on to their children by restricting food and being critical of the child’s weight.  Children pick up on this and can potentially develop an eating disorder too. 

Eating disorders are dangerous to women, unborn babies, and families.  This is why it is so important that intervention take place, so that eating disorders do not become a disease that runs through the family.