Saturday, February 18, 2012

An Image-based Culture and the "you can have it all" complex

I found similar themes running throughout the Jahlly, Kilbourne, and Perry articles about how images portray certain ideas, in particular, about females (I will focus on females - namely girls here for the purpose of this post). 

Jhally wrote that "the marketplace cannot directly offer the real thing, but it can offer visions of it connected with the purchase of products" (p. 79). Marketing/media images are constantly bombarding girls with the "you can have it all fantasy," which is limited not only to material goods but also to certain lifestyles. One disturbing trend which has come about is in the past couple of years is the glamorization of the pregnant teenager. For example, take a look at this magazine cover with teen mom, Bristol Palin on it:
While Palin is supposed to be a spokeswoman for the consequences that can come when having sex as a teengaer (or at least not having safe sex), not only has she apparently managed to land on the cover of "People" magazine, but she also has managed to graduate high school, have a healthy baby, and still look like a million bucks. Are young girls really supposed to believe her argument that the consequences of sex are not worth it? (Look at the caption below her photo.) Because she sure is making those consequences look glamorous. While the MTV show, Teen Mom, appeared to be a bit more realistic in what the lifestyle of a pregnant teenager is like, the media went ahead and made that look pretty awesome too, by allowing the girls from that show to gain a celebrity following:
(Wow...they sure do look like they are struggling as the caption suggests - especially with their airbrushed faces and designer matching outfits!)
Another show that was originally created by (ironically) "The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy," called "The Secret Life of The American Teenager," on (ironically) ABC Family channel, which seemed to just further glamorize life as a pregnant teen by showing young girls you can still look awesome, have great hair and clothes and carry on with your everyday life as a high schooler even if you get pregnant:

Part of Perry's argument was the conflicting messages that powerful females send through the behavior and images they put out through media. "When the who articulate subjectivity are increasingly presented in visual media as objects rather than subjects, as they are now, then their statement to the world is ambiguous at best" (p. 140). This "loss of control over one's own image" that Perry refers to is an interesting concept to consider when thinking about how images are constantly seeming to tell girls they can "have it all" through magazine covers that promote impossible thinness, flawless skin, beautiful clothes and accessories, a great lifestyle with an education and a good job and disposable income (to of course, purchase all of those "must have" products they are constantly peddling), and of course, the power to attract the perfect man. Magazines, TV shows, commercials, and online media seem to be more and more promising women that they can do all of these things and be happy. With the media making it look easy for young women today to look glamorous, raise children, get an education, have an awesome job and an awesome wardrobe, what happens when girls try to work towards this and fail? The covers of magazines (in particular) are very contradictory these days, promising girls that they can lose 10 pounds while simultaneously promising the best chocolate cake recipe ever.

Finally, Kilbourne's quote, "powerful women are seen by many people (women as well as men) as inherently destructive and dangerous" (p. 262). This quote really stuck out to me because it reminded me of the media's (often very unkind) treatment of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, who are often both portrayed as dangerous man-eaters. Take these images and juxtapose it to the media's treatment of Michelle Obama - she is seen as less threatening because her HUSBAND is the President and she is the awesome housewife and mother, not the woman in the power suit trying to run as president herself (does the media thus see her as a "safer" powerful woman?).


  1. The Kilbourne reading reminded me of what we talked about last week, about how influential the media is at changing perceptions.
    I am a HUGE Ellen DeGeneres fan. When Ellen first came out back in '97 she was one of the first celebrities to do so and after receiving a lot of negative backlash from society and the media, she "disappeared" from the celebrity scene. Eventually she started her talkshow in '03 and has since won 15 Emmys subsequently earning the media's full support in the process. With Oprah "gone," Ellen has become one of the most influential female role models on television today

    Kilbourne adeptly proved how advertising images influence and perpetuate perceptions but celebrity role models also play a factor today.

    Ellen DeGeneres has overcome many obstacles as an openly gay female celebrity and reinforces the ideals of mainstream femininity on her show. As JCPenney's new spokeswoman she represents the women, mothers, and homemakers who shop there. She stands for traditional values of honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need (which goes back to what Kilbourne talked about how girls are encouraged and taught to be "nice."). She represents effortless beauty by being the face of "Easy, Breezy, Beautiful, Covergirl." She frequently has her consultant, Kym Douglas on the show to give health and beauty tips such as, how to keep thin during the holidays, or different products you can find around the house that will help you look young.

    I love Ellen and I can't imagine anything changing my opinion about her. But I do think it's interesting how she represents being different while being the same.

    And you can see this in all of the images you posted.

    Like the media is saying, "You can be a female and be different (have a baby as a teenager, be a politician, be the first African-American First Lady) as long as you are, for the most part, like "everybody else" (dress pretty, look beautiful, go to school, graduate, be a homemaker, act nice, etc. etc.)

    1. Great post, Stephanie! Women--especially girls who are coming of age--are faced with a myriad of conflicting messages from the media they consume. Women are faced with the challenge of being "feminine" enough, meaning quiet, sweet, and non-threatening, and being taken seriously. I think your example of Hillary Clinton, a woman who has many times fallen prey the the media's harsh light.

      This is going to be fodder for a great discussion in class on Tuesday!

  2. The image of teen moms has certainly been glorified especially with the MTV "teen mom" show. This is sad that America society would rather watch teens with babies than career driven young girls. Also I feel that Michelle Obama is also seen a direct and sometimes strong woman that is not always accepted by everyone.