Gerren Taylor: Size 4 and Too Big?

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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.

Is TV Glamorizing Teen Pregnancy?

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I watched the season premiere of MTV’s Teen Mom last night and it got me thinking about all the TV shows out there that are making it seem like all these teens are having sex.  I began to wonder if some of these TV shows were even helping to “glamorize” teen pregnancy.

Between 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and ABC Family’s show The Secret Life of the American Teenager, it seems like there is more teenage sex and pregnancy on TV than ever.

I’ll admit that I watch Gossip Girl from time to time and obviously I am admitting to watching Teen Mom, but I draw the line at the Secret Life of the American Teenager; however, from what I hear, it is very popular with younger girls and contains a lot of sex and switching of partners. Um, I am pretty sure that most of those characters aren’t older than 16. Is that realistic?

While some may argue that the media and society are making a problem out of nothing, I would disagree. Granted you can’t blame TV shows for American teens having sex and getting pregnant, but you can look at how maybe some of these shows are making it seem “cool” to be pregnant or, at the very least, creating teenage ambivalence towards getting pregnant.

According to a study released in January, teen pregnancy rates have risen three percent after a decade of decline. In addition to that sad news, I recently read an article that talks about how some teenagers (1 in 5 females and 1 in 4 males) would be “happy” if they or their partner got pregnant.  There is something wrong with these statistics.

Although, many people feel that preaching abstinence is the best form of birth control for teens, it seems not to be entirely effective.  We should also choose to inform them about sex and preventive measures and follow up by making contraception easier to access. A lot of people disagree with comprehensive sex ed and making birth control and Plan B available to teenagers, but the facts are staring us right in the face, so they may need it. 

But another part of slowing this trend down involves de-glamorizing teen pregnancy so that if you provide easier access to contraception and information about safe sex to teens, they will want to use it. Shows like Secret Life of the American Teenager and even Glee can make being a teenage mom look much more glamorous than the reality of most teenage parents. These shows and the attention that people like Bristol Palin get are not helping teens understand that starting a family at 15 and 16 is not easy and that it’s often best to wait till you are older to become a parent.

Now I am not at all saying that being a teen mom is always a bad situation and that it never ends up good, but I think there has been a recent shift in how we portray being a teen parent that is doing more harm than good. And now with Forever 21, a very popular clothing store for teens, putting out a Maternity line in the states with high teen pregnancy rates, it would seem that marketers are taking notice of this trend and are helping make it “cool” to be pregnant.

After watching the premiere of the second season of Teen Mom, I think I would say that it does a better job of showing teen pregnancy in a realistic way.  It certainly doesn’t make it look easy or “cool” and maybe it’s not a bad thing for teens to watch, but I get the feeling that maybe teens are missing the point. And really, with all of the sexualized shows out there for teens to watch, can we really expect them to think differently?

Need a Break From Twilight?

For all of you out there that may be a little tired of all of the Twilight hype, I thought I would suggest some alternatives with some feminist flare.

If vampires are what you like, consider reading the Vampire Academy Series. This series has 5 books currently, and the 6th and final one will be released on December 7th. The main character, Rose Hathaway, is as anti-Bella as you can get. Rose is a butt-kicking, no crap taking, says and does what she wants heroine.  The author of the series, Richelle Mead, created a world very different from that of the sparkling amber-eyed Twilight vamps.

In the Vampire Academy series there are two different types of vamps: the Moroi which only feed on humans voluntarily and are not immortal, and the Stigoi which kill humans and are immortal. Rose, the heroine of the novels is a Dhampir–half Moroi vamp, half human. Dhampirs are trained from childhood to protect the Moroi. Rose’s best friend is Lissa, a royal Moroi, and together they navigate their way through senior year at St. Vladimir’s Academy, a vampire school. Throughout the books Rose goes through normal teenage ups and downs of friendships and relationships, while also fighting the Stigoi, figuring out her bond with Lissa, and trying to figure herself out.

This series could not be more different from Twilight.  Although both have vampires and are each being made into movies, that is where the similarities end. Rose is strong, brave, and independent, which is the very opposite of Bella’s clumsiness, fragileness, and constant need to be saved. While the series still lacks some diversity, I feel it does a better job of presenting relationships and what it can mean to be female.

If vampires are not your thing, there is a series out there for you too: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The Trilogy includes: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Written originally in Swedish, they have been translated into English and are making quite the splash over here. One of the main characters, Lisbeth Salander, is being called a modern day feminist heroine.

This series is mysterious and suspenseful, with twists and turns that will keep you hooked, along with family dramas, love, and adventure. These books have been made into three very successful Swedish films that are already being released in the United States.  As if all of this isn’t enough of a reason to read the most talked about series in the country, the Women’s Center will also be hosting a discussion of the books in October! So read them now and come join us to discuss Lisbeth Salander as a feminist heroine.

While some of you may want to just watch the movies and skip the books, I would have to tell you that you would be missing out. Everyone knows the books are always better than the movies.

Plastic Surgery Shouldn't Be the Answer

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I don’t know if you can pinpoint exactly when plastic surgery became all the rage. Maybe it was when The Girls Next Door became a hit on E!, showcasing three very blonde and surgically altered women living the life of luxury in the Playboy mansion. Or maybe it was when shows like Extreme Makeover came on the air, giving one lucky person a chance to undergo numerous procedures to drastically alter their appearance. But maybe the most recent trend of young women getting plastic surgery is a result of the young Hollywood starlets like Ashlee Simpson and Heidi Montag going under the knife.

I don’t doubt that in every culture women do something that they think makes them look better or helps them fit their culture’s idea of beauty.  But when I think of doing something to improve your appearance, I think of maybe trying some new diet or exercise fad or buying new makeup or the latest trend in fashion to try and fit in; I don’t, however, think about electing to have surgery to alter my appearance permanently.

That seems to be the trend though – young women getting plastic surgery, some as young as 18. According to reports, an 18 year old from Australia recently elected to get a tummy tuck, a boob job, and vaginal rejuvenation after the birth of her child.  Apparently she did it to “feel her age again”. There are more articles that talk about how many young women (under 25) are opting for plastic surgery, from the less invasive Botox to breast implants and nose jobs. And some have multiple procedures done.

What’s so disturbing about young women who undergo multiple surgeries is the reason that they have for needing them. Take Montag for example, she had a reported 10 surgeries this last go around that ranged from a brow lift to additional breast implants to “back-scoping” and liposuction (that’s not including her first trip under the knife to get a nose job and breast implants). She now says that she is the “ideal woman”. Whose ideal is she referring to?

So many young women are electing to have plastic surgery to modify themselves to fit what they think is the “ideal” woman. Putting aside arguments that everyone can chose what they do with their body, which is true, you have to wonder why they believe that surgery is going to instantly fix their body issues and make them beautiful? Somewhere along the line it became acceptable to change yourself surgically rather than to accept yourself as you are and embrace that which makes all of us beautiful. This problem goes beyond just lack of self-esteem and clearly highlights the need for a change in our world’s standards of beauty and lack of teaching young women to love themselves and to embrace individuality.

A Disturbing Trend

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In a recent column in the New York Times, writer Maureen Dowd discussed a group of young men who were setting up a “fantasy draft league”.  However, this league was not for football or basketball, but for young girls in their community.

Apparently the boys set up a ranking system for how “hot” a girl was and then placed each girl in categories such as “Southside Slampigs”, which means they thought the girls would be fun sexually.  The boys then proceeded to concoct ideas about having “sex parties” in which they would score points based on sexual conquests. How is it that the nation became aware of this? The boys published their “league” on the Internet, along with many sexually charged comments on the girls, who were reportedly from neighboring prep schools.

 The league was caught before it could go any further.  According to one school official:

 “It was a regrettable and hurtful activity,” Neil Phillips, head of the Landon Upper School, said through a spokeswoman. “As educators, our role is to help boys learn from their mistakes and make better decisions going forward.”

 Will that be enough?

 You might wonder why something that happened last summer is making so many headlines recently.  That would be because the school in question, Landon, is also the alma mater for George Huguely V, who just this past month was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Yeardley Love.

 These are not the first times that the Landon school has had troubles. According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, there was a scandal involving 10 Landon students who cheated on their SATs.  Another incident in 2007 involved a Landon graduate who was at Duke University, also a lacrosse player like Huguely, who was accused of rape.

 Reading these articles and seeing the tragedy of Yeardley Love’s death, makes you wonder why this school’s alumni seem to have trouble differentiating between right and wrong and treating women as people not prey? In my view, paying 28,000 dollars a year for prep school should mean paying for a well-rounded education that included teaching these young men that girls are not “fantasy” sex objects. It seems that Maureen Dowd was right when she wrote: “Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.”

American Apparel: Too Thin and Too Sexy?

I doubt that I would have heard of American Apparel if it weren’t for the fact that I pay a little attention to fashion.  There was also a lot of media coverage about how they were a small fashion company who made simple clothes right here in the good ol’ U.S.A. But more recently, I have become aware of the company because of their oversexed ads and lack of clothing for plus size women.

Obviously the point of advertising is to get attention, which the American Apparel ads do; but at what cost?  Most of their ads feature female and male models that look way to skinny even with the added pounds of a camera and who are scantily clad and in compromising poses.  Most of the time, I ignore the banner ads on websites or in magazines, but the ads for American Apparel are bordering on obscene. The most obscene ads aren’t even fit to be posted with this article, but if you’d like to see for yourself, a quick Google search or browse through the American Apparel website will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.  For a lot of people the ads are an annoyance and further proof of an industry that is obsessed with being thin, but what about the teens and young adults who are struggling with their own body image and are already being accosted with images of sexuality wherever they go? For them, these ads just reinforce those false ideals that they should look a certain way and that they should be overtly sexy.  No wonder teens are sending each other sexy pictures on their cell phones; they’re taking a cue from their favorite retailers.

If the offensive ads weren’t enough of an issue when it comes to disliking the American Apparel brand, there is the recent article about a plus-size model and adult film actress, April Flores, who asked an American Apparel employee why they didn’t make clothes for plus-size women.  She was answered with a curt “That’s not our demographic”. While the AA brand does produce a plus-size clothing line for men, they don’t for women. Why not? I guess that some in the fashion industry don’t feel that the larger buyers out there are their audience; however, I would disagree with that thinking.  When one third of teenagers are overweight or obese and would definitely purchase the “cool” brand if it came in their size, I would say that places like American Apparel are missing out.

Shouldn’t there be some responsibility on the part of American Apparel and some of the other major fashion brands to not exploit sex, especially when it comes to the young models they use.  And wouldn’t it make better business sense if they catered to all demographics, and not only the thin population? While some may argue that it’s just a fashion brand and that it doesn’t have that big of an effect on the youth of today, I would say that, although, American Apparel may not be solely responsible for our over-sexualized society or our lack of acceptance of plus-sized women,  they are certainly adding to it in a major way.

The New Barbie?

Nicki Minaj is a new, emerging rap artist. She calls herself the new “Barbie.” Some little girls are now calling themselves Barbie because they look up to Nicki. Is this the kind of role model you want your daughter to be idolizing?

I’ve noticed that some girls want to call themselves “Barbie” like Nicki does, but at the same time, they also want to claim that they’re not fake, but real and different from all the other girls. How can you call yourself a “Barbie” but also claim to be “real” and “different” from other girls?

A Barbie is a child’s toy. Barbies are manufactured in factories and are all the same. To me Barbie is fake and plastic. Why would you want to be like a doll, when you can just be you? We need to teach our young girls that they are already beautiful and do not have to be like Barbie with long legs and an hourglass shape. Beautiful women come in all different shapes and sizes.

For generations, Barbie has been the doll that many little girls have wanted to be just like. Barbie’s unrealistic body type – busty with a tiny waist, thin thighs, and long legs – is reflective of our culture’s unrealistic feminine ideal. Girls at an early age get trapped by this narrow definition of beauty and being female.  I really think that Barbie, as a symbol of the perfect female, is the reason some girls become anorexic or bulimic.  They become desperate to obtain Barbie’s (and society’s) unrealistic and unattainable idea of beauty.  

Now we have Nicki Minaj referring to herself as Barbie and perpetuating the idea that ideal beauty is on the outside.  She is just creating more insecurity in our young girls who just want to fit in and be current with all the latest fads. What we need are more positive role models to show girls that beauty is on the inside.

I understand that my opinions about Barbie are not shared by everyone and many people don’t think she’s as harmful for our young girls as I claim her to be.  During the month of March, the Women’s Center is hosting a series of Barbie events. Next Thursday’s event, Blaming Barbie: has a Doll Become our Feminist Scapegoat? with special guest speaker Courtney E. Martin, will address the feminist inclination to demonize Barbie as I have; however, Martin argues for a renaissance of self-examination instead. Then later at the end of the month, join the Women’s Center at the Toy & Miniature Museum on March 23 for Barbie:  Love Her or Leave Her? This will be an open discussion where people can talk about Barbie, how they played with her growing up, and how they feel about her now.  You know how I feel.  How about you?

Sex Education: Honesty is the Best Policy

According to a recent article in the New York Times, teen pregnancy rates are on the rise after almost ten years on the decline. While the article talks about some of the data related to the rise, including higher abortion rates in teenage girls and how in light of all of the data and statistics, there is still $150 million in Federal funding that is for abstinence-only (no mention of contraceptives) sex education.

I just recently have done a research paper about our country’s need for comprehensive sexual education, which is sex ed that covers not only contraceptives but STDs, healthy relationships, heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and where to go if you need help.  While it would seem that our country, now more than ever, needs to be teaching a complete curriculum of sex education, some are still against teaching contraceptive use and other sex related issues.

In this day and age of instant information and media overload, education needs to catch up with all the images and ideas kids and teens get from not only peers but the media, especially the internet. Not that the internet and TV are entirely to blame for the sometimes sex-obsessed culture we live in but they certainly don’t help anything. Add to all the images and MySpace accounts the lack of all around sexual education and it’s no wonder the statistics of teen pregnancy and STDs are on the rise.

So if there is still a large part of the country opposed to teaching kids about condoms and what to do if they find themselves in unwanted situations, can we realistically expect anything other than higher rates of teen pregnancy and STDs and the commonality of teen dating violence?

While there is no simple answer to the question of sexual education, there needs to be a safe place for teens and young adults to go to ask questions and get help without fear of judgment.  I have seen articles about a texting service where kids and young adults can text questions or concerns and receive nonjudgmental responses. Programs like that and some afterschool sexual education groups can give our youth today a safe place to express themselves and get the information they need to be healthy.

While Obama has made it known that he intends to direct attention and funds to preventing teen pregnancy througheducation, we can expect that it will take time and will encounter its fair share of opposition. In the meantime what can we as Americans do to help educate and keep the youth today safe and healthy?

For starters lets all agree to disagree. Because everyone has their own opinion on the matter of sexual education and we should all respect each other’s rights to those opinions. However, we should also try and find a way to educate today’s youth about sex and relationships in a way that is unprejudiced and comprehensive, which means teaching about abstinence and contraceptives can coexist. So perhaps we should act now and argue later.

How do you define sex and virginity?

While checking out a recent blog at Gloria Feldt’s website , I came across a short entry about a new film by Theresa Shechter on the subject of virginity called How to Lose Your Virginity.

From what I can glean from the preview, it looks like it will be a very interesting film. Even though on the surface one might think defining both sex and virginity seems like it would be fairly simple, it’s actually a confusing concept for most youths. What actually counts as a sexual act? Many of us would likely count anything from heavy petting onward, but others may say it only counts if there is penetration involved.

To me, it seems odd that an act in which most all humans participate is mainly left to be defined by the individual. Is there any wonder, then, that with so many conflicting definitions of what sex actually is, we end up divided along so many fronts? When one adds the concept of virginity into the equation, along with the value many groups place on the concept within our society, we end up with a breeding ground for controversy…no pun intended.

I’ll definitely be keeping a lookout for this film, and hope to be able to post a full review about it once I’ve had a chance to watch it.