Home Video Vault Video Vault: America The Beautiful

Video Vault: America The Beautiful

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Eva said:

I think EVERYBODY should watch “America The Beautiful.” on Hulu (it’s still there, I watched it yesterday).

…and I agree.

Have at it:

America The Beautiful is a product of Darryl Roberts, a man of color, who wrote the following for Huffington Post back in 2008:

I recently had the good fortune of being invited to screen my documentary America the Beautiful, at the Shaped Body Symposium in Vienna, Austria, a global body image conference, which included professors, health professionals, and government representatives from all over the world. This was the European premiere of my film and I was really looking forward to hearing the European perspective on body image issues.

After screening the film for the conference, I sat on an impressive panel with some of Europe’s most outspoken activists on body image issues, and listened to them discuss the issues explored in my film.

German Fashion photographer Inge Prader is on the frontlines of this battle. Prader explained that the pressure on models in Paris is getting worse and noted that some have gone so far as to swallow cotton balls to lose weight.

This got me thinking about the dangerous consequences of the images of air-brushed, too-thin women flashing across television screens and appearing on every other page of magazines which target impressionable teenage girls. Then I thought of the advertising industry dictating to us what we should find beautiful and selling us cosmetics designed to “make” ourselves beautiful.

As economic globalization becomes a reality, it seems that the language of beauty changes along with it. Those air-brushed women now appear on televisions in Toledo, Ohio and Toledo, Spain, and in magazines sold in Paris, Texas and Paris, France.

I don’t know if we can pin it all on advertising and the media, but there is no doubt in my mind that it plays a significant part in hastening the scourge of body image issues and the rise in eating disorders all around the planet at an alarming rate. This brings me to what I like to call the “Fiji Phenomenon.”

You see in Fiji, set apart from Western Society by a large expanse of the Pacific Ocean, television didn’t exist until 1995. Because feeding their communities was of primary concern to Fijians, the culture celebrated larger body types. Those who appeared to be well-fed (and more well-to-do) were looked upon as the most beautiful. To put it simply, “thin was not in.”

Prior to the introduction of television and Western media, a Harvard study led by Dr. Anne Becker, found that eating disorders in Fiji did not exist. But after three years of broadcasting Western programming guess what happened?

Sadly by 1998, over 70% of young women surveyed admitted that they had a negative body image, 60% of the young women surveyed admitted to dieting, and somewhere around 11% admitted bulimic behaviors. I found this phenomenon shocking. Terrifying even.

Does media and advertising really have that strong of an affect on how we see ourselves? It is hard to ignore a study conducted by the vaunted Harvard School of Medicine — especially when the study finds that in a short three years, there was a larger proportion of dieting adolescents in Fiji than in Massachusetts!

While my film America The Beautiful deals primarily with the rise in body image issues and companion eating disorders in the American society, I felt absolutely compelled to include a segment of the film highlighting the “Fiji Phenomenon.” Unfortunately, some of the negative aspects of our society have been exported along with the good.

Attending the Shaped Body conference again reminded me, that it is not just American women who are suffering with body image issues and eating disorders. To be sure, it is not only American women who are bombarded with a notion of beauty that is unrealistic and dangerous.

Fellow panel member, and long-time health expert for the World Health Organization in Switzerland, Professor Ilona Kickbusch noted that in this digital age, pictures travel globally with great ease. She stressed that in order to curb this problem it is imperative to take political action. And you know what? She is absolutely right.

This is a global pandemic. From Japan and China, to India and Iraq, to Nigeria and South Africa, to Vienna to Milan — women from every corner of the globe are fighting this growing problem. And the question is, what are we going to do about it?

Perhaps if we took Professor Kickbusch’s advice and tackled this problem using the political apparatus we could actually make a difference. Remember how people laughed ten years ago at the notion of passing a public smoking ban? Hell, fifteen years ago they even thought banning smoking on airplanes would never fly. With political support and money behind the movement, look how quickly things have changed. Public smoking bans have gone into effect in cities across the United States and abroad. So why can’t body image issues and eating disorders be dealt with in similar fashion?

In fact, that is just what the Italian government had in mind when in March of this year they introduced a $1.5 Million (USD) campaign against eating disorders. This was largely in response to the fact upwards of 3 million Italians are afflicted with eating disorders.

While the modeling industry in Milan has become notorious for promoting images of starving women with invisible waistlines as the pinnacle of beauty, it was the Italian people and government who finally said enough is enough.

In 2006, the Milanese fashion industry, caving to political pressure, agreed to set limits on their models. Models with a Body Mass Index less than 18 are no longer allowed to walk down the runway in Milan. It is also now illegal to model in Milan under the age of 16 and models are expected to show medical proof that they are in good health.

Being on the panel with Anna Maria Fecchio-Comito, a representative of Italy’s Federal Youth Ministry, I heard first hand what kind of political action can be taken. Fecchio-Comito’s Ministry has helped to promote, and now police, a recent ban on newspapers and television stations showing women who are under a size 4-6. Like many of us, she wants the media to be responsible and provide the public with realistic images of women.

In fact, also on the panel was Karin Knufmann-Happe, from the Federal Ministry of Health in Germany. He said that the Italian legislation provided a great model and made passing legislation there in Germany much easier.

So just some food for though — If limits can be set on the modeling industry and media in Italy and Germany, why can’t we propose some limits on advertising and the media right here in the United Sates in the name of public health?

Is it right for a teenage girl, a child, to be inundated with images of unattainable “perfection” that studies have shown encourage body image issues and eating disorders, right in the pages of magazines like Seventeen, that are directly marketed to children? It’s time for someone to sit down and draft some legislation that will tackle this growing problem.

I have come to believe that with enough voices and enough support we can make a difference. Write your congressmen, write your senators — write your new president! Let them know that: A.) this problem exists; and, B.) we need to do something about it! [source]

It’s important for me to cover The Photoshop Diet and Booty Paint because, quite frankly, I run a blog centered around one woman changing her body. I run a blog that attracts women changing their bodies… and some of those women idolize people and photos that have been so thoroughly altered that the only way living people could achieve such a size would be to take drastic measures.

It just feels like if I’m going to host conversations about weight loss, that I should ensure that we all have realistic expectations about our lives and our bodies… and that includes holding up real models of fitness, not altered visuals. So often, we grab magazines, scan the covers and quickly whine “Why can’t I look like that?” before throwing the mag back into its slot and reaching for a candy bar to calm us down. Both situations are wrong for two separate reasons, and both can be easily addressed. Leave the damn candy alone, and look for more realistic models of fitness… and step away from the purveyors of your photoshop diet fix. It ain’t worth it.

You may also like


Eboni July 4, 2011 - 4:25 PM

I just watched this movie the other day and it was pretty disturbing how quickly that bright beautiful girl’s self-image was warped by the industry. It was amazing. You realize that its a problem in your day to day life but when you watch and see how much she transformed over maybe a year….its insane.

Eva July 4, 2011 - 4:49 PM

Thanks for including my quote.

What this documentary really taught me is this is what happens when you allow businesses to run amuck. Businesses don’t care about women’s body image, they’re only in it to make money and if some people are harmed, then so what?

People go on and on about how they don’t want the government in their life, how they want their freedom, how they don’t want to live in a “nanny state.” But sometimes we need a government to come in and say, “you can’t do this. This is harmful to people.” If you allow companies and people to do what they want, people will always get hurt.

JoAnna July 4, 2011 - 6:10 PM

Loved the documentary!

I once had a student who was upset because she “ballooned” up to a perfectly porportioned size 10 in the 8th grade. She called herself fat, didn’t want to eat, until her mother got into her behind that there would be no eating disorders in that family! We laugh about it now (she’s grown and a size 8) but that was a tense 2 years.

As a dark brown complexioned woman, never I looked like the models I saw in the magazines, or in the videoes or on TV/movies unless they were talking about some welfare mother, a civil servant, or someone in the church. At least until Oprah. And then she went thru so much with her weight fluxuations that I tuned that nonsense out!

When people tell me right now that I look so better after losing some of my excess weight, and that maybe now I’ll start dating agin, I tell them the weight loss is for me. I wear make-up for me, clothes for me, shoes for me. No 4″ pointy-toed, stiletto cockroach killers on my feet that will surely twist an ankle after 10 steps! And cosmetics are for special occassions (like formal wear), not everyday. I want a strong toned body that can do whatever I want it to do, not just look good in clothes. (I’m sure no tells Serena Williams she’s fat, or Whoopi Goldberg!). After all, that’s what a tailor and make-up artist are for: to embellish on what Nature gave ‘ya! I think we get so caught in the fantasy of it all that we forget that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.

Gloria July 4, 2011 - 8:14 PM

Thank you for this! I feel like the more people that see this documentary, the better!

marna July 6, 2011 - 1:44 AM

i just watched this documentary and in walks my beautiful naturally thin 10 year old daughter… i showed her just the image of the magazine with all the notations for alterations to alter her image. i tell her she’s wonderfully made by God and that her being naturally thin AND HEALTHY is a blessing, bit nothing should be taken for granted. everyone has to strive for health and that healthy life and image/body doesn’t often co,me in a size 2 or 3 or even 4 all the time… for women like me i once found my perfect size at a 10/12 with no health problems, etc. (working to get back to that again..ugh we won’t even start there) recognize all body shapes are wonderful and each type has its own caveats (so to speak) working towards and maintaining health is the whole point. (excuse any typos please 😉

Kia September 17, 2011 - 12:48 AM

I just finished watching this documentary, and I must give it two thumbs up! I’m a 35 African American (dark skinned) woman who’s battled with issues of weight and self-esteem my entire life. It’s a very hard thing to destroy when the concept of yourself is guided by what you see in magazine and or tv. I commend this site as it is helping me to shape and reform my way of thinking. Now after seeing this documentary which touched a very open wound. It is time that I focus on loving me (all of me) whether big or small. The importance at the end of the day is ensuring that I can maintain and keep a healthly lifestyle to be here to see my children have their children. Thanks for sharing, and continue the fabulous job you’re doing Ericka!

Kelekona November 10, 2011 - 8:59 PM

Gah, I didn’t get five minutes into that video before I got grateful for my man. See, he got interested in me because I would repeatedly drive four miles in the wrong direction just to prove that I could fit his bicycle in the back seat of my car. (Well, someone else was busy proving that he could fit four other nerds into his car.)

Rachel October 29, 2012 - 1:43 PM

There’s an underlying jealousy presented in this documentary. Though this documentary can be disguised as an information piece, there is so much bias present. I love how the model, Gerren, is looked down upon by school authority figures and peers for being exploited as “something that she’s not”. I died when her obviously envious Principal referred to her as, “we don’t see her as that”. Media manipulation is not a new concept. Why is this young girl being questioned when so many young nameless white girls model without scrutiny?

People never question these things. I really dislike the mental and physical laziness of the masses. Exercise and change your diet, and watch the “normal” standards of beauty change. Analyze Japan or Korea. Obesity is a rarity. As a Americans are culture is manipulated, we accept it, and then riot about irrelevant these that might eventually harm us. As Americans, we need to wake up.

Nonetheless, thank you for posting this video. It was extremely thought provoking.

Erika Nicole Kendall October 29, 2012 - 2:00 PM

I have to admit, I didn’t get to see the entire thing, but I’ve seen the filmmaker speak and read his interviews… he’s, um… an interesting character. There was definitely a slant to what he was saying. I’ll put it like that.

AshBash November 30, 2012 - 10:33 PM

im glad that i watched it. i cud really identify with the things that were “brought 2 light” in this film. im 23, just had a baby 6 months ago, 5’2 and weigh 113 lbs and my mom is constantly telling me how fat i am. its really hurtful especailly since im not over weight nor am i unhealthy. i eat clean and exercise twice a day, 6 days a week and meditate on sundays. i never really thought i looked so bad but now im starting 2 feel like i need 2 do more 2 get rid of the remaining baby fat. then seeing all these celebs who are back down to a size 2 only 2 months after having their babies is not very encouraging either.

Comments are closed.