Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kilbourne's Overkill on Thinness

Jean Kilbourne takes a strong stand in "The More You Subtract, The More You Add; Cutting Girls Down to Size" that advertising and the mass media plays a huge role in the development of adolescents and their insecurities. At a time where teenagers are looking for approval from their peers, and will do just about anything to receive it, they're also faced with the challenge of being accepted in society.

Specifically with females in America, Kilbourne states the problems range from low self-esteem, eating disorders, binge drinking, date rape and other dating violence, teen pregnancy to even a rise in cigarette smoking. "It is important to understand that these problems go way beyond individual psychological development and pathology. Even girls who are raised in loving homes by supportive parents grow up in a toxic culture environment, at risk for self-multination, eating disorders and addictions" (pg. 259)

This toxic Kilbourne speaks of is advertising and it's "potent messengers". I do agree with this article that there is a double standard for females in our society. That most females are to be nice, sweet and polite but at the same time expected to stand up for themselves, speak their minds and fight for power in society. I have witnessed numerous times when a man speaks his mind and no one flinches but when a female does she is called rude names instead of respectful ones.

I also agree with the article that teenage girls are extremely desirable to advertise to as they're developing brand loyalty at this age and will do (spend) whatever it takes to fit in and look cool. The facts of this article are startling when looking at the effects of advertising and the peer pressure to be thin plays in young females lives including:

  • Nearly half of the women who frequently read magazines wanted to loose weight even though only 29% were actually over weight. (Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston) 
  • 70% of college women say they feel worse about their own looks after reading women's magazines. (Stanford University and University of Massachusetts) 
  • 40-80 % of fourth-graders are dieting. 
  • 1/3 of twelve to thirteen-year-old girls are actively trying to lose weight by dieting, vomiting, using laxatives or taking diet pills. 
  • In one high school, 63% of girls were dieting compared to only 16% of men. 
  • The single largest group of students who considered or attempted suicide were girls who felt they were over weight. (Massachusetts survey)
  • After three years of television becoming available in Fiji (starting in 1995), 74% of teens felt "too big or too fat" and 62% said they had dieted in the past month. 
I agree it's tough to be different. I was one of the first pole vaulters in the state of Nebraska growing up and was far from thin. I was also a female power lifter benching 200 lbs and squatting 300 lbs as a high school senior only 17 years old! I embraced my athletic body but it definitely came with the comments. I remember one meet in middle school when I was wearing my track shorts and a guy yelled, "I bet you could squeeze my head off with those huge thunder thighs!" While my first thought was, "What an idiotic thing to say," my second thought was of self-conscious. I was very aware that my body was not the typical figure you'd see in Seventeen but then again, that wasn't a magazine I read growing up. I read Sports Illustrated, Track & Field News and watched sporting competition vs. high school television dramas. 

While I understand Kilbourne's analogy of "cutting down to size" also referring to her sense of self, sexuality and her longing for power and freedom, I feel she places too much importance on television and magazines. Most of her examples are pretty extreme and stereotypes all females to being submissive and brainwashed to be thin. I think we have come a long ways (in certain areas) since this article was wrote in 1999. Female participation in sports is growing, Dove's campaign for Real Beauty makes a strong stand against weight loss and the growing knowledge of what miracles photoshopping can do. I also feel parents can play a huge role that can make a much larger effect on a teenager's image than the negative effects of mass media. 1) They can help by feeding their kids a healthy diet to prevent obesity 2) keep their "screen time" to a limit and make sure they're still being active and 3) talk to them and give reassurance of their self esteem and figure. Sometimes I feel there's a bigger need to address obesity in today's society now than anorexia but that can be left for class discussion or a different math problem of subtracting and adding. 


  1. I agree, Jenn. I don't really think I felt like I was being brainwashed by reading Seventeen magazine. Did I ever feel like I had to run out and buy a mascara the editors were gushing about? No. But, was I always grateful that I had high metabolism as a kid and could eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight? Heck yes.

  2. I agree with you Jenn, I am not a huge fan of reading Cosmo but I've read it sometimes and I just read what I think it is interesting and might help me but I feel like I'm not going to follow all their advices. In fact, I read it for fun because there are articles that are just so dumb. Some examples of this are this article titles:
    "What Guys Secretly Think of Your Hair & Makeup: The truth revealed!"
    "How to be a Total Man Magnet"
    "Meet a New Guy by Summer!"