March 24th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

by Emily Brooks

“Schizophrenic psychosis, cognitive disorganization, impulsive non-conformity, spontaneous anti-social behavior. AKA another day on Twitter.” –tweet

I understand the issue from both sides.

I’ve felt disgusted and misunderstood when others claim they are “OCD” because they enjoy organizing their paperwork, and I’ve gotten upset when I’ve heard people talk about being “depressed” over the chocolate ice cream being gone when I’m too depressed to get out of bed. I have family members, friends, and acquaintances with just about every mental illness in the diagnostic manual, and I care about their feelings.

I’ve also misused mental health terms as descriptors and I regret this mistake and don’t want to make it again.

Undoubtedly, some social media mavens will think I’m being the word police and overreacting. But there are clear repercussions to misusing mental health disorders as adjectives. At a time when “I’m depressed” on social media means “My team didn’t win”, researchers just released a new public health strategy: using keywords and post timing to figure out if internet users are clinically depressed based solely on the contents of their tweets.  Just a little more than a month after  teenager with schizophrenia was allegedly shot to death by police in his own North Carolina home, Representative John Mica, a Republican from Florida, publicly criticized the Obama Administration’s take on pot by saying, “We have the most schizophrenic [marijuana] policy I have ever seen.” 

Where do we go from here? For years now, there have been well-publicized movements against misusing “gay” everyday speak. The “Spread the word to end the word” campaign is gaining constant momentum to respect members of the intellectual/developmental disability community by not saying “retarded”. Why not extend that mission to eradicating all mental health terminology misuses? Our society is so highly influenced by “social media”, the conglomerated public opinions of our peers and idols. Instead of wading through misinformation and stereotypes, let’s use platforms like Twitter to spread truth and compassion about mental illness… and increase, not diminish, understanding for those of us with mental health issues.

This post is part five in a five part series. Visit posts from the previous four Mondays to read more of this discussion. Also, please check out more content by Emily Brooks at her blog Changing Perspectives About Gender, Sexuality, and Disability Through Writing.

March 17th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

by Emily Brooks

Twitter Users’ Mental Health Stereotypes of Schizophrenia and Schizoid Personality Disorder

“Night Owls and Early Risers Have Different Brain Structures… I alternate, guess I’m schizoid…” –tweet accompanying link to article

According to Twitter users, there’s a schizophrenic parking sign in Venice, California. While merging together academic and journalistic styles, one writer laments, “My prose has become fully schizoid.” In global relations and politics, there’s “evidence of an international schizoid approach to Syria war”, while “America’s Asia policy” is definitely “schizophrenic”.

Unlike “depressed”, “bipolar”, and “OCD” descriptors, however, Twitter users are less likely to refer to themselves as “schizoid” or “schizophrenic.” Sure, I ran across musings like the tweet saying “I never realized I was schizophrenic until I looked into my drafts folder”, but much of the misuses of these terms related to technology, the internet, and social media. According to social media users, Intel is “Becoming Less Schizoid” but there’s still “the schizoid duality that is HTML5” and “The Schizophrenic State of Software in 2014” to contend with.  There are “schizoid” playlists and movies, and of course, Twitter itself causes or suffers from schizophrenia: “Nothing like Twitter to make me feel completely schizophrenic jumping from joy to heartbreak and back within the hour”, writes one confused user, while another comments, “Twitter is entirely schizophrenic when the Golden Globes red carpet walk is scheduled during an NFL playoff game.”

Similarly to those who misuse “bipolar”, Twitter users tend to use “schizophrenic” and “schizoid” to mean “opposing” or “confusing”. NAMI explains schizophrenia as a mental health condition “interfering with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others”, involving “unusual, inappropriate and sometimes unpredictable and disorganized behavior” sometimes caused by delusions and hallucinations. According to NAMI, people stereotype and stigmatize those with schizophrenia due to their “unusual, inappropriate and sometimes unpredictable and disorganized behavior”.

It interests me that “schizophrenic” and “schizoid” are used to describe technology more than humans. Are people more afraid of schizophrenia than other mental health issues? Are we simply less knowledgeable about conditions on the schizophrenia spectrum, like schizoid personality disorder? Or do we use our fear to dehumanize people with these conditions and therefore find foreign concepts more applicable to non-humans, like websites, operating systems, and machines? Whatever the reason, it’s not okay.

This post is part four in a five part series. Visit us next Monday to continue the discussion and for Emily’s conclusions about mental health stereotype use. Also, please check out more content by Emily Brooks at her blog Changing Perspectives About Gender, Sexuality, and Disability Through Writing.

 

March 13th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

For today’s Thing Thursday I thought simple might be best. After all Thing Thursday is intended to give me a breather from writing blogs while nonetheless provided content of interest. It’s also intended to provide readers the opportunity to get a break from long winded blogs proselytizing about stereotype related topics that you might come to expect from The Communicated Stereotype and similar sites and bloggers.

So today’s thing is simple. Ted Nugent. I say thing because he has turned himself into just that.

An object of humor and ridicule. He is no longer a complex and unique person as we all should be.

An object representing what America once was. An artifact of long ago through which we can see how people used to express racism with utter confidence and aggression.

Luckily, as an object I can set him aside  never to be thought of again like too many other useless things in the attic of my mind.

Sure some of you may obsess over what he said. But why? It reflects such an obviously archiec viewpoint that it hardly necessitates mentioning. Like the stale clothing of an out-of-touch relative.

As the poem says, “All things shall pass.” It has already passed from my mind and I urge this thing to pass from yours as well.

 

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/closeread/2014/02/ted-nugents-subhuman-mongrel-slur-in-translation.html

March 10th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

by Emily Brooks

Twitter Users’ Mental Health Stereotypes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

“My apartment-sitting friend decided to go full-on OCD and clean & order my place.” –a happy tweet

It’s bizarre to imagine anyone would “decide to go full-on OCD”, to choose obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, if your only reference point is social media, you may be apt to think “OCD” is the best adjective for anybody systematized and well-controlled. People labeling themselves “ocd”, often in all-lowercase letters, are paying themselves a compliment about their positive organization skills, cleanliness, and neat and ideal work. “I swear I have OCD. I color coordinated my apps,” says one Tweet. Another says, “I’m really OCD about making my notes look perfect.” A third asks, “Anyone else really OCD about how their blog looks? I really am. Spacing, colours, photos, layout has to be right!” And one Twitter user even manages to invoke gender and obsessive-compulsive disorder stereotypes at the same time, announcing, “If I was a girl, my nails would be OCD perfect all the time.”

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not a fun compliment; it’s a draining condition characterized by intrusive thoughts—obsessions—and time-wasting rituals meant to alleviate the obsessions—compulsions. Those people whose OCD takes the form of perfectionism and organization find extreme anxiety about doing things just right and often must repeat tasks to the point that it gets in the way of healthy functioning. And while some individuals with OCD have compulsions to clean, organize, and re-arrange, some of us are quite the opposite and end up collecting or hoarding stuff instead. Still others don’t have either of these compulsions. Using “OCD” as a good, fun adjective not just stereotypes the disorder, but also takes away from the real pain from people living with real, clinical OCD.

This post is part three in a five part series. Visit us for the next two Mondays to continue the discussion. Also, please check out more content by Emily Brooks at her blog Changing Perspectives About Gender, Sexuality, and Disability Through Writing.

 

March 5th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

Guest blogger Amanda Watson shares her insights about the consistent use of thin in Disney entertainment.

Communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan said, “all media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”  In other words, the entity of the media has the power to influence the minds of the masses and general public.  With this power, also come the values embedded in society and the portrayals and depictions of people and images.  One of the most popular media entity in the world, The Walt Disney Company, have had a long history of investing into the lives of people, especially younger generations through their movies and animated characters.  There has been a trend for animated Disney characters to go thinner, such as Snow White and Jasmine in Aladdin.

The Walt Disney Company is a leading international family entertainment and media enterprise with five business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment, consumer products and interactive media.  It all started as The Disney Brothers Studio on October 16, 1923 when Walt Disney signed a contract with M.J. Winkler to produce a series of Alice Comedies. Since then, they have been in the business of creating everlasting characters that enters the homes and hearts of children and people from all around the world. Such characters include Snow White, Mickey Mouse, Simba from the Lion King, Peter Pan, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, and Bell from Beauty and the Beast to name a few.

There are ideals and standards of how women should conduct themselves when finding a Prince that Walt Disney Productions portray through their female protagonists characters.  The Disney films gives off the impression that women are supposed to be skinny, beautiful, and perform all housewife duties.  Television plays a major role in how these films influence children, as they are likely to watch videos repeatedly and it helps them construct the social world around them.  Mass media including Television, can act as a teacher of social norms for children. Children may be persuaded to think a certain way after watching something on Television.  Stereotypes and “ideals to live up to” are communicated to them through this medium.  Children also come to understand the role that race and gender plays through television.

Third wave of feminism occurring in the 1990’s brought on critics that said that Disney princesses promote an unhealthy lifestyle and that every princess is anorexic and too thin.  They feel that as young girls watch these movies; these are the images they would look to as being ideal and strive for a similar image. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were both depictions of how an early 20th century housewife was supposed to be with the worth of a princess being based off their appearance and singing ability.

According to The Gaurdian, Disney’s new animation, Frozen is said to be a prime example of Disney heroines not reflecting “real” or believable body shapes and proportions. In Frozen, both Princess Anna and her sister, Elsa is said to have “the kind of body proportions that would make Barbie look chunky.”  They have tiny waists, no hips, long legs, skinny arms, eyes three times the size of the male characters and small feet.  The big eyes feature is seen in other Disney films, such as Puss in the Boots and Jasmine in Aladdin, and sets the standard and brand of beauty that this is what is needed to be a princess.

In a recent event, Merida, an animated female heroine of the film, Brave also fell under this standard.  The film, Brave, was produced by Pixar and released by Disney. In the film, Merida appears to have more realistic body proportions.  However, for a Disney Princess Collection Toy line, she was all glammed up, which sparked some controversy and even a petition.  Merida’s creator, Brenda Chapman said, “by making her skinnier, sexier, and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior.”

Barneys New York was subject to criticism for their holiday window display and short film when Minnie became a long lean high fashion model.  Daisy Duck, Cruella De Vil and goofy also get similar “insta-slim” treatments as CNN would call it.  The makeover even sparked several online petitions targeting Barneys and Disney for reinforcing a skinny model image needed in the fashion industry. Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Executive Director and Founder of SumofUs.org, said “girls are bombarded by impossible physical figures in the media and to have such a familiar face and shape be turned into such a skinny Minnie seems like it could fuel the insecurities young women often have about themselves and their bodies.” On the other hand, some critics may argue that

Minnie is seen very happy at the short film returning to her old self and window-shopping on Madison Avenue just like she was in Paris.  Some people may also say that these fashion illustrations and images are just exaggerations of how people may want to feel but not actually going to kill themselves to look like.

The images that The Walt Disney Company portray through female characters in their films, reinforces a message of a standard or ideal appearance often communicated in the media and society.   With the constant negative criticisms/reactions and backlash from these depictions, would Disney consider reworking their animations and illustrations? Well, we would just have to wait and see.

 

 

 

March 3rd, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

by Emily Brooks

Twitter Users’ Mental Health Stereotypes of Bipolar Disorder

“I barely have a nose and my eyes are bipolar but pretty so here’s this selfie from the wild game tonight.” –tweet posted alongside photo of Twitter user

As confused about depression as Twitter users are, they seem to be at least twice as baffled over bipolar disorder.  It’s not just that one Twitter user’s eyes that have the serious mental health condition—inanimate objects, concepts, and even the natural world are “bipolar” according to recent Tweets. “Is Mother Nature on her period? Because she is acting very bipolar,” joked one user. Besides “bipolar weather”, users commented that Malaysia, fandom, social media, and being single are “bipolar.”

Other “bipolar” tweets intertwine gender stereotypes and mental illness stereotypes in a truly troubling intersection: Lonely straight boys and men use bipolar disorder as a casual excuse for their own romantic problems. “Bi-polar females is the main reason why I’m still single,” decides one Twitter user.  “All females got a hint of bipolar in them,” voices another. “Texas is more bipolar than every girl in the world combined,” rants a third. Female users also added to the stereotype. After posting a picture of a miscommunication in a text message conversation, one user writes, “Hahaha all girls do this. We are bipolar.”

When Twitter users without bipolar disorder label themselves as “bipolar”, our cultural conception of bipolar disorder forms based on negative stereotypes and insulting ignorance. The user who writes “I’m too bipolar for a relationship to be honest. One day I want one, the next day I’m like f— that” perpetuates myths that people with bipolar disorder are incapable of committing romantically. The user who identifies as “probably bipolar” because “I like being nice but I also like being really mean” solidifies misunderstandings that negative behaviors people with bipolar disorder do are within their control. The user who’s “so bipolar” since “one minute I’ll wanna talk to someone then next I don’t want anyone talking to me at all” strengthens stereotypes that bipolar disorder means mood-changes every few minutes.

Many of the users who misuse “bipolar” are really just talking about the human experience of experiencing multiple emotions and dealing with contradicting thoughts and experiences. “I bet my [Twitter] followers think I’m bipolar or something,” guesses another Tweeter, because “my tweets go from happy, to sad, to pissed off, to in the mood.”

Twitter users use “bipolar” as a synonym for “confusing” or “erratic”… but it’s not the same thing. According to NAMI, “Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from one day to months. Cycles of high (manic) and low (depressive) moods may follow an irregular pattern that differs from the typical ups and downs experienced by most people.” Symptoms of mania include irritability, euphoria, excessive talking, reduced sleep, and increased risk-taking, while depression is the hopeless, fatigued sadness discussed earlier.

Bipolar disorder is complex and while it looks different for everybody, it’s definitely never about how “Why am I so bipolar. Like I will be in the best mood and ONE thing can completely piss me off,” rants one user.

This post is part two in a five part series. Visit us for the next three Mondays to continue the discussion. Also, please check out more content by Emily Brooks at her blog Changing Perspectives About Gender, Sexuality, and Disability Through Writing.

 

February 26th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

Today’s guest blog is written by Natasha Shapiro, an ardent reader of The Communicated Stereotype and a frequent guest blogger. Natasha has her own equally insightful blog titled Art Therapy and Related Topics. Here’s what she had to say about a new direction in Disney movies when it comes to gender and fighting against some – though not all – gender stereotypes.

The “New” Fairy Tale: “Brave” and “Frozen”, Finally “Feminist”!

by Natasha Shapiro, ATR-BC, LCAT

The movie “Brave” is the older movie that came out in 2012, awhile “Frozen” is on a long run currently still in theaters and has become a big hit with both boys and girls. In both these movies, I was excited to notice that the relationships that are revealed as most important and the ones connected to the main “conflict” of the story, are between the main female characters, mother and daughter in “Brave” and sisters in “Frozen”. Both movies focus on relational conflicts between the two female characters, with the male characters in supporting roles or pushed very much to the side of the action…

One unfortunate part is that in each one you have the stereotypes of the archetypal females, such as “the ice queen”, the “cold” type of woman who doesn’t seem to have “needs”, the very rigid and insensitive mother in “Brave” and the distant rejecting older sister in “Frozen”. The young girl in “Brave” is actually a well fleshed out character with contradictions, but the young girl in “Frozen” is a little too flat, portrayed as “naïve”…. Unfortunately, I ultimately prefer the earlier movie “Brave” because the main character is much more appealing and “full”.

When I saw “Brave”, I was very excited to finally see a princess movie about a princess not wanting to get married. The main driving force of the plot is Princess Merida’s wanting to escape her mother’s rigid enforcement of her getting married and getting married when she the queen wants. The movie turns the princess meets prince and lives happily ever after on its head in many ways. Merida is the antithesis of the typical Disney princess; her hair is neither blond nor black; it is red and wild. She loves archery and horse back riding. She is smart, adventurous, independent, unique, and, well, brave! Her mother is not dead and not an evil stepmother, but nonetheless not very open-minded. Her father is not dead either, but like most of the males in the movie, he is portrayed as rather impotent and does not “do” anything to help his daughter, as his wife is the one in charge. He also is missing one of his legs due to his fight with a bear. All of the “suitors” are also portrayed as rather helpless and hapless. Merida is the best archer and they are also portrayed as rather unintelligent and slow. Even Merida’s little brothers are not very developed; they mostly want to eat sweets. Even though, these are castrating portrayals of males, it seems ok that Disney does this, as forever, we have been subjected to portrayals of females as weak, innocent, and needing a man to complete their identity.

The main conflict in “Brave” is between mother and daughter, who want different things. The mother does not listen to her daughter’s plea to be left alone and not forced to marry, so Merida ends up turning her into a bear. By the end of the movie, the daughter and mother have both changed, grown and evolved; they now appreciate each other and have become closer. The mother “lets down her hair” and opens up, and the daughter, having saved her mother and got her back to being human, mends “the bond” between them. Instead of the movie ending with a wedding, it ends with the mother and daughter riding off on horseback together, with their hair getting swept and swirled by the wind, both having learned a valuable lesson and become closer in the process.

Hair is a big thing in fairy tales and movies based on them, which is why I focused on it in describing “Brave”. The color and kind of hair, the hairdo, all of it is meaningful. In “Brave”, the mother tries to “tame” her daughter’s red locks but they return to their natural state of wildness and the mother’s hair goes from being tightly controlled and “perfect” to loosening up. In the movie “Tangled”, the most recent portrayal of Rapunzel, I noticed that the wicked person looks like a Polish woman with very dark curly hair, and I think some grey streaks, which struck a cord as it looked like my own hair is currently. Of course, the whole fairy tale Rapunzel is centered on her long hair and a whole blog post could be written about that. Anyway, in “Frozen”, hair is again metaphorical and symbolic. Anna, the narrator and main character, has a white streak in her red brown hair from when her older sister almost “froze” her as a young child. Later on in the movie, her hair turns completely white when her sister has frozen part of her heart. Her hair turns back to its regular color at the end of the movie when the conflict between the sisters is resolved.

“Frozen” is also fascinatingly different from typical princess material in so many ways. It makes fun of the main stereotype of most fairy tales, the idea of “true love” being between a prince and princess and that they fall in love at “first sight”, without knowing anything about each other, that they “complete each other’s sentences and complete each other”. The real “true love” in the movie is that between Anna and her older sister Elsa. Elsa does not know how to control her power to “freeze” things, and at first sees it only as dangerous when she gets scared by what she does to her sister. Her keeping alone and distant from her younger sister is done out of love and fear that she might destroy her with her power. The movie is seen from the point of view of the younger vibrant silly, exciting extrovert Anna who does not understand why her sister has always pushed her away, kept her out, left her alone, rejected and been “cold” to her. Elsa by nature stays alone and avoids people, supposedly due to her powers keeping her literally at arms length from everyone. One thing I noticed in reflecting on this relationship was that the whole event of Anna meeting her “suitor” on her sister’s coronation day and believing she had “fallen in love with him” and deciding to marry him really had nothing to do with her actually falling in love with this man or believing she was infatuated with him. The whole impetus to trust this man came from her I think finally going outside the castle and still feeling rejected by her sister. Her act of coming to her sister with this “fait accompli” and introducing him was more about her relationship with Elsa than any desire to marry anybody. She was essentially saying, “You won’t pay attention to me or let me in or be close to me, so I will go find the first man that is nice to me, spend the evening with him and then tell you that I’m going to marry him because if you really care about me at all you will actually tell me you don’t want me to marry him and ALSO be close to me again in the way that I want you to be.” The fake closeness she has with this stranger is more warmth she has experienced since her sister “dumped” her long ago, so of course she is very open to being with anyone who acts loving toward her. Even her interaction with the other guy, the one she meets when looking for her sister seems related to her sister. He is similar to the cold aloof Elsa in that he is a loner, content to do his work with his deer and not interested in interactions with other humans. He is not very friendly either. Perhaps she is drawn to him not only because he knows how to get around in the cold but because he reminds her of Elsa!

Another funny aspect of this movie is the way it portrays the older sister and younger sister relationship; the older sister stops playing with the younger sister and rejects her. She knows things the younger one does not know or understand. She wants to be left alone, while the younger sister craves her attention, is puzzled by the rejection and saddened by the change from playing together to being left to play by herself. How many sisters have experienced this? Of course there are other kinds of relationships between sisters, but the movie portrays one of the main kinds of older versus younger sister dynamics, where the older sister later comes to see that the younger sister is not as naive and ignorant as she once was; the younger sister has “grown up” and the dynamic shifts in adulthood to a different kind of appreciation of each other’s qualities.

Anyway, there is more to be said about these movies and their attempts to turn the stereotypical princess story on its head, but I must say, I am very pleased to see these mainstream Disney princess movies take on more complex and interesting themes, conflicts and plots, shifting from the unrealistic “true love” marriage tale to some more complicated focus on the family dynamic between two females, mother and daughter and sisters, older and younger and reveal two courageous characters who are fighters in every sense of the word… I wish I could have seen these movies when I was around 5 or 6 and thought marriage and having kids was awful!

 

February 24th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

by Emily Brooks

There’s a trend in the media and pop culture, and while it’s hardly new, it disturbs me nonetheless. Throughout social media, the names of mental illnesses are now accepted as adjectives instead.

When people misuse mental health conditions to describe behaviors and feelings, it’s a problem. It delegitimizes the struggles of those of us who struggle with mental health disorders and disseminates incorrect and harmful stereotypes about these serious conditions. I ventured onto Twitter to find out these stereotypes are.

Depression

“I gambled and went to Wawa last night thinking school was gunna be canceled… Now I’m overweight and depressed.” –tweet following winter storm

Twitter has a lot of “depressed” users in its ranks, according to fervent tweets about MTV, musicians, celebrities, and the Super Bowl results. Seeing conventionally-attractive people is apparently enough to bring on mental illness for Twitter users. “[MTV show] Teen Wolf makes me depressed because all the guys are so attractive, then I look around the halls of my school and I’m like WTF [what the f---],” explains one tweet, while another user asks others to “retweet if you are depressed because you will never be as pretty” as the celebrity whose photo they’ve attached. Sports games results and the end of the football season is also cause for depression, says Twitter users. Because of their Super Bowl loss, “Broncos fans [are] depressed and buying cake to cheer themselves up,” quips one user, while another is “really depressed” because the NFL Network’s RedZone channel is taking an eight-month break.

Happy experiences are also enough to cause “depression”.

One Tweet says that the “bad thing about seeing Taylor [Swift] in concert” is “when it’s all over you get depressed & just wanna re-live it.” Another Twitter user explains that while she’s “happy” for those fans who get to meet Justin Bieber, “I’m also depressed because I don’t know if I will ever meet him.”

It seems that the general population needs a lesson on what depression is before they go and throw the word around. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, symptoms can include extreme sadness, guilt, problems with sleep, eating, and concentration, and thoughts of suicide, and they affect your life. So no, Tweeters, depression is not that brief emotion you get when you find out you still have school or work tomorrow after a blizzard.

This post is part one in a five part series. Visit us for the next four Mondays to continue the discussion. Also, please check out more content by Emily Brooks at her blog Changing Perspectives About Gender, Sexuality, and Disability Through Writing.

 

 

 

February 3rd, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

by Emily Brooks

The fashion doll’s body could never be held up by those legs—those legs that, though plastic, look emaciated, and are scrawnier than the faux fur coat-covered plastic arms. It’s funny because people often pinpoint Barbie-style dolls’ copious breasts or towering height or dangerously-low weight or nonfictional trachea or witchy pointed feet. Yet for this Lot Less Manhattan discount store’s fashion doll body, her legs stand out as the real concern.

thin legs doll

What’s the implication of a doll named “Beauty” with resin toothpickian legs? On some very direct level, it’s stereotyping that being beautiful is looking like her. Her elongated thighs are just as bony as the calves; as a consumer, this repels me. Beauty has legs that take the stereotype of “attractive = thin and tall” to an unhealthy extreme. Twisted and crossed unnaturally, her legs are far too thin to bear her weight. It’s a similar discomfort to that associated with humanoid robots that look not quite, but almost, human, something known as the “Uncanny Valley” theory. A CNN article from a few years back posits that hyper-realistic animation, clowns, robots, zombies, and “photos of people with extreme plastic surgeries who don’t quite look real anymore” can all cause this effect which some brain researchers see as our minds catching a mismatch or error and alerting us.

Maybe this is what’s going on with Beauty for me. Perhaps as viewers, we recognize her leg proportions as impossible.

Sure, we’re already used to being bombarded with fashion models and celebrities with disordered eating and photo-shopped advertisements that take off healthy muscles, skin, and fat in a few clicks. As M. Gigi Durham, Ph.D. notes in The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and Five Keys to Fixing It (2008), “The media have seized on a body type that can be achieved only through artificial techniques and painstaking devotion to creating a certain body image” (p. 98). She writes a lot about Barbie dolls and how despite their impossible bodies, they morphed into the standard of feminine beauty. If Barbie’s stereotyped frame has become the new normal, this Beauty doll has to reach a whole new level of disturbing skinniness to even blip our radars. I looked at the latest of Mattel’s massively-popular Barbies and found that their legs looked more human. When Barbie dolls start to look like a positive role model for healthy weight, muscles, and body distribution, you know the problem is huge.

barbie

What’s the obsession with the legs? When women get complimented on “nice legs”, it’s all about thin and tall. The problem is that sometimes, the overemphasis on unrealistic proportions in the media makes girls and women think “My legs are ugly.” I’ve seen America’s Next Top Model candidates with thighs nearly thinner than their arms, watched a bony teenage dancer barely able to complete her routine from lack of muscles. I recall reading a chapter book as a teen that introduced me to the term “thunderthighs.” Even Emily Elizabeth, the yellow-haired girl who owns the famous giant pet Clifford the Big Red Dog, has problematic limbs. In Normal Bridwell’s original books, published starting in 1963, the eight-year-old’s body looked healthy, average, and strong enough to carry its own weight. By the time the beloved duo scored a spot on PBS as a children’s cartoon in 2000, Emily Elizabeth actually changed shape. Her arms and legs became about half as wide as they were before, and any baby fat or muscles disappeared.

clifford

When kids get a little older, some ditch their dolls, picture books, and cartoon shows for fashion magazines. Seventeen magazine’s website has a lot to say about legs. The magazine, which reached over 1,800,000 girls ages 12-15 in 2012 and surely other girls even younger as well, features articles, blurbs, and exercise videos for “toning” legs to make them “long”, “lean”, “awesome”, “sexy”, “amazing”, and “hot”. Then, says Seventeen, you can “feel confident the next time you wear shorts or a skirt.” Paradoxically, one of these videos about changing your legs is named “Love Your Legs”. Consider the deceptive pink ads for “#1 diet pills” listed under a leg workout article.

Because of stereotyped legs, people are so disappointed when they exercise because they develop muscles—if they look or feel “thicker”, that is easily interpreted as “fat.” On their blog about loving your body, Seventeen has filmed or printed several women who discuss “hating” their legs when they were younger because their legs were “pretty big”, “strong” and “muscular”. “I began to love my thighs when a friend told me they were pure muscle on the tennis courts, not the globs of fat I imagined them to be,” explained one girl in a “Bikini Peace” photo shoot. It’s saddening that stereotyping causes people to hate themselves simply for having healthy bodies, and it’s scary how much influence the media can have over disordered eating and poor body image.

Can there be a connection between the legs of wholesome picture book character, teen magazine personal trainers and celebrities, and a fashion doll named Beauty? The narrative is the same in Beauty’s pipecleaner-like legs, Emily Elizabeth’s television makeover and the faux self-acceptance rhetoric on Seventeen’s leg workouts. Certain legs get you more respect, even if they are unattainable. Perhaps especially if they are unattainable. This message comes from a harmful stereotype that tells us we can’t be beautiful unless we are unhealthy, weak, and unmuscular. The discount store doll’s legs are a big deal because they play into this subtle undermining of us as healthy, confident humans. Personally, I’ll always like any legs—person’s or doll’s—better when they’re comprised of normal, sturdy combinations of muscles and fat… not stereotypes.

January 20th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

Often when I have a conversation about pretty much any topic, I hear someone mention that some behavior is because of gender. Whether it is “boys will be boys” or “that’s because she’s a woman” or another version. It all is so strange for the Stereotype Guru to hear. After all, I wrote the book on stereotypes of this kind and many of the folks who say this to me know that I did. Imagine how much more I would hear of these stereotypes if people didn’t know about my research. Imagine too how much I’d hear these stereotypes if I didn’t live in Manhattan–a socially liberal city.

Of course, I don’t begrudge people their right to free speech. I also recognize that stereotypes are so ingrained in our thought processes that they are an automatic way to respond to difference, to something that stands out as unusual, or to explain behavior. They are like myths that people use to make sense of something unknown. So I don’t hold anything against those I speak with who say these stereotypes.

Still…sometimes it seems I am the only one who notices that these comments are odd. Recently, I was happy to have reinforced that I am not the only one.

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart made a similar point about using gender as a go-to answer to explain something. He didn’t call out the stereotype, but it’s there. Check out this clip to see how Stewart calls out a person who comes to Hillary Clinton’s defense. As the defender accuses people of stereotyping Clinton because she is a woman, the defender ends up stereotyping Clinton because she is a woman.

The first stereotype is that women are petty and vindictive and, so, presumed to have hit lists. The defender comes to Clinton’s rescue by calling the media out on this stereotype. In doing so, she communicates her own stereotype. Stewart caught it and points out its absurdity. But he doesn’t name it as a stereotype. It is a very subtle stereotype. Stewart points out that it is ridiculous to defend Clinton in this way because her behavior does not need to be defended. After all, plenty of other people — men and women — engage in the same behavior. So why does she need to be defended at all? The answer is the stereotype.

Clinton needs to be defended because, stereotypically speaking, as a woman she is powerless to defend herself and needs to be protected.

This argument is similar to one made by Judith Butler in her book Excitable Speech. The idea is that hate speech and words like the n-word are horrible. But the act of banning them in and of itself is an act of stereotyping the ‘victims’ of these words as powerless and unable to defend themselves (i.e., weak).

The n-word is a perfect example. It is a word. It’s not a billy club, or a dagger, or a shotgun. It can’t hurt anyone physically. Yet, periodically supposed champions rise to defend blacks from this word. In 2007, New York City Council members banned the n-word. While this may seem a noble act, it merely reinforces the false perception that blacks are weak and unable to take care of themselves (think welfare stereotypes). The implication of banning the n-word is that blacks are so fragile that the mere reference to a derogatory word would crush them. To defend them, those in power — like New York City Council Members — decide for blacks what blacks would and should find. This presumably heroic act is paternalistic and only serves to reinforce the dominance of an already politically powerful group at the expense of an already less politically powerful group.

Humorously, the New York City Council Members acknowledged “The ban has no legal weight and will not be enforced. Instead, the resolution encourages New Yorkers to voluntarily eliminate the word from their vocabulary.” It strikes me to be a group of people who ‘like to hear themselves talk’ because it reinforces how powerful they think they are.

Despite being the Stereotype Guru, I admit I used this same language recently in a conversation. I said that someone was particularly picked on because he was a man. I said his aggressive behavior would not have been interpreted as negatively as it had if it come from a woman.

Clearly I didn’t think I was stereotyping when I said it. No one does. In retrospect I wonder though. I accused a group of women of stereotyping this particular man as aggressive. I was coming to his defense. Was I doing the same thing that Stewart is accusing Clinton’s defender of doing?

The difference could be that I was using the stereotype to defend someone who isn’t marginalized. He is a white middle aged male in great health. Yet, after watching Stewart’s segment and working on this blog my participation in this type of stereotyping doesn’t sit well with me. As it turns out, in retrospect I was stereotyping a marginalized group. I was stereotyping the women who found this particular man aggressive as being easily intimidated by men, unable to ‘handle it,’ and weak. In doing so, I dismissed their potentially legitimate concerns about his behavior. Shame shame Stereotype Guru. Shame shame. And thanks Jon for setting me straight.