NOW Foundation Says "Love Your Body"

by Elizabeth Toledo, NOW Foundation Vice President Education

Did you know that 80 percent of fourth grade girls are dieting, most in an attempt to reach ridiculous beauty standards set by advertisers, Hollywood and the media?  Today the average model weighs 23 percent less than the average woman in this country; 20 years ago, the differential was only 8 percent. Consider the difference in body type between Marilyn Monroe and Kate Moss, this decade's representation of the waif model.

The NOW Foundation has launched the Love Your Body campaign to deal head-on with images and representations of women that are offensive, disrespectful and unhealthy. On Sept. 25, women around the country are participating in Love Your Body Day actions to demonstrate that it's okay to say no to dieting, smoking, cosmetic surgery and other harmful means of achieving an "ideal" look.

This campaign is part of the NOW Foundation's Women's Health Project that is working to raise awareness on these issues. The project has already produced the "Redefining Liberation" video, which educates people on how commercial marketers have co-opted the feminist message of freedom and power to sell their products.

The relentless number of images creating an unhealthy and unrealistic portrayal of women can ultimately be deadly. Tobacco advertisers have purposefully linked cigarettes with thinness, stress control and liberation ("You've Come A Long Way Baby"), and the result is that more women die from tobacco-related illness than die from alcohol, illicit drugs, car accidents, suicide and homicide combined.  Alcohol advertisers objectify women and use themes of violence ("Hit Me With A Club"). The fashion and make-up industries spend billions each year in an attempt to convince women that everything needs to be fixed, from eyebrows to toenails.

These twisted beauty standards are promoted from babyhood through adulthood. Young girls are given glamorous heroines early on to idolize. Disney's animated female lead characters, such as Pocohantas and the Little Mermaid, are drawn with large breasts, tiny waists, and long slender legs, despite their youthful ages.

Adolescent girls are a growing target for advertisers', television's and movies' harmful messages.  Millions of women and girls have eating disorders, many which begin in adolescence. In addition to promoting an unnatural standard of thinness, the media are finding news ways to shape young women's images. Fetish perfume recently ran an ad campaign with a photo of a teenager and text that read, "apply generously to your neck so he can smell the scent as you shake your head 'no.'"  The company pulled the ad after NOW members and leaders protested the suggestion of sexual harassment and rape. A recent issue of  Teen Magazine featured the diary of a teenager who had a nose job for cosmetic reasons alone.

Television and movie characters are almost all super thin and fall into harmful stereotypes. From the stars of  "Friends" to "Ally McBeal," leading women are rail thin. The hit character Seven of  Nine on "Star Trek:Voyager" chases intruders in spike heels. A thin (and rather manic) Julia Roberts smokes her way through "My Best Friend's Wedding."  Meanwhile, Kate Winslet of "Titanic" was shamed in the press for looking as if she doesn't starve herself.

Discrimination and bias based on physical appearance continue through adulthood. When women don't fit the media's standard of beauty, they often come under attack. Attorney General Janet Reno has been widely criticized for her wardrobe, make-up and overall appearance; can you imagine a feature story about the fashion choices of  Edwin Meese? While these stories are often disregarded as human interest stories, the prejudice behind them can have serious impact.  Size discrimination, for example, can keep qualified employees out of jobs and careers; and race discrimination continues to pervade all areas of our lives. These biases perpetuate stereotypes that people with certain physical features are more qualified for positions of authority and responsibility. And the objectification of women and girls continues to promote violence, harassment and discrimination.

The NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day campaign is designed to challenge the dangerous practices of the advertising, fashion and media industries. Feminists across the country have committed to raising their voices on this subject-planned activities include pickets, house parties, online chats, classroom discussions and speak-outs.

We hope that you will join us or consider planning your own action. Call the NOW Foundation offices at 202-628-8669 to order a Love Your Body Day organizing kit and/or a Redefining Liberation video. Connect to for materials and more information and fill out the online Body Image Survey.

Return to Fall 1998 newspaper / Return to NOW Home Page / Search NOW site / Catalog / Send mail to NOW / Join NOW