I spent my formative childhood years in
Mozambique Africa, where full bodies and “child bearing hips” were celebrated.
When I returned to the US as a pre-teen I was confused to find my friends
obsessed with their weight, counting calories, and saying that they “hated
their thighs”. I admired their magazine collages of models with flat bellies
and joined my peers in the fight to stay slim. But this post isn’t just about
my personal story, it’s about a public health issue.
People living in media-saturated cultures
are exposed to hundreds of idealized images per day through advertising and
magazines; almost all of which have been altered to perfection. According
to a magazine photo re-toucher I interviewed,
“Every picture has been worked on some twenty to thirty rounds,
going back between the re-touchers and the agencies and the clients – they have
been perfected to death. Just look at the magazines, and all that is there to
alter your mind, alter your perception of what physical beauty is, and what the
means of obtaining it are.”
When even the models and actors themselves
don’t “measure up” to their own perfected images, it is crucial for people to
understand how images are constructed, and what massages they are sending.
Providing the tools to examine these media messages, through Media Literacy, is
pivotal at this point in time.
Many problems and poor choices, especially
among teens and pre-teens, can be traced to poor self-esteem and the inability
to reach an unrealizable ideal. These may include the decision to smoke,
participate in unsafe sex and early sexual initiation, academic failure, and
other very risky, often life-threatening, behaviors.
I strive, through the power of film, to tell
stories than can show rather than tell. While mass media is often pegged as a
culprit of social ills, it can also play a key role in education toward
behavioral change. So, I’m currently creating a series of films on media
and physical perfection to be used as powerful public health tools –- to start
often-difficult discussions, raise consciousness, and ultimately empower youth
to make healthy choices. I hope they are used by as many educators as
34x25x36 – A documentary about mannequins and perfection.
Wet Dreams and False Images – Interviews with photo re-touchers expose how much alteration goes on before an ad is released.
The Guarantee – A dancer’s story about his prominent nose and the effect it has on his career.
More information about Jesse’s work: