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Do Men Feel Pressure to be Fit?

Last weekend I spent some much needed friend time with two women who are about my age, height and weight. We all wear around the same size clothing and have similar interests in fitness to slightly varying degrees. Yet, when it comes to diet and body image, I was stunned that we all had complaints.

“I should be eating this…”

“My new work out includes…”

“I’m on this diet…”

Image By GoodLife.com, Bola Browne

“I just want to tone my…”

Each one of us, though we are all healthy, felt like we had something to improve about our bodies. I couldn’t help but wonder why so many women who are aware of body image issues and the pressure to be pretty and thin in American culture, are unhappy with the way we look — when most of the men I know, do NOT.

You rarely hear men in their twenties and thirties discussing their need to eat right and work out, or feeling dissatisfied with their looks. And, as this article on magazine marketing points out, you don’t see diet articles geared to men nearly as much as women on the news stand.

So, I ask, what gives? Do men feel pressure to be fit and eat right? Do they obsess over their appearance? Are there things men would like to change about their bodies, but they don’t say it?

Or, is men’s fitness out of style unless you’re an athlete or gay? I know that skinny, hipster chic is popular among some men, but they aren’t talking about trying to be thin, or changing there diet. Are they?

In my opinion, it seems like there’s no pressure for men to be fit because it doesn’t affect their sex appeal. A man can be funny and smart and he’s a catch, even if he’s not conventionally good-looking, but if a woman has the same qualities, she “needs a makeover” so people will be attracted to her “personality.”

I think it’s the “Homer Simpson Effect,” he’s this lazy guy who never works out or eats veggies, but is endearing, so Marge loves him anyway. Meanwhile, Marge is always fit and fussing over her appearance. (I mean, think how long it would take to make your hair look like that!)

Homer is not the only guy who doesn’t care about his looks. In fact, most male characters on TV and in films, don’t talk about their appearance. Except in Eclipse, of course. We all remember Jacob Black‘s famous line to Edward, “I’m hotter than you.”

Image By Men's Health

Image By Men's Health

So,  now we have two men who look completely different– thin, pale and tall, versus muscular, tan and rugged — but both are “fit.” Which one do men want to emulate? Will they follow Taylor Lautner’s work out regimen, or will they look to more athletic types to model like Omar Epps?

And, since there’s been so much publicity over women careening over Team Edward and Team Jacob’s appearance, with Taylor Lautner running around without a shirt, or Robert Pattinson sparkling like diamonds on screen, do men feel the need to hit the treadmill and lay off the burgers?

What do YOU think? Are men pressured by society to be fit too? Or does the Homer Simpson effect just part of America’s obesity problem?

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Clothes Make the Woman?

American Apparel

Image via Wikipedia

There’s an expression, “clothes make the man,” but based on recent events, apparently, they make the woman. As you probably know, I love clothes and fashion. Creating outfits and getting that satisfaction of a well-balanced look are things I enjoy, despite the challenges of a limited budget. However, sometimes I wonder, who am I dressing for and why?

I’d like to think that the exercise is purely for my own entertainment, self expression and self-confidence, but given the pressures women face to be pretty, I’m concerned that it’s more than wanting to express myself and there’s a dress code for women. Whether she’s a young woman applying for a job at American Apparel, or an employee at Citibank, what you wear will determine your “success.”

According to New York Magazine and Gawker, American Apparel has a strict dress code that requires women (and men, though to a lesser degree) to adhere to its very specific guidelines, “some employees have accused AA of telling them to lose weight, and posting photos of their dress-code infractions on the company’s intranet for purposes of mocking.”

NY Mag researched the dress guidelines for 10 clothing retail franchises to see if American Apparel’s desire for employees with little make up, long hair and full eyebrows is out of the norm. They discovered that most companies, particularly in fashion retail have dress codes particular to their style and aesthetic, so American Apparel’s desire wasn’t too weird.

But what about the creepy voyeuristic ads and gossip about mocking women’s weight? (Maybe you should look into working at one of those other retailers if you want to work in clothing sales, just to avoid the chance of sexism in the work place.)

Meanwhile, Debrahlee Lorenzana is in the process of suing Citibank for firing her because her attractive appearance was too distracting for men in her office. “Her bosses told her that ‘as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear,’ she says,” in a report by the Business Insider.

When Lorenzana dressed more conservatively and went to work without makeup, that didn’t work for her boss either, “when she responded by not wearing makeup, they told her she looked ‘sickly’ and when she left her hair curly instead of straightening it, they told her she should go ahead and straighten it every day.

Image via Business Insider

‘I could have worn a paper bag, and it would not have mattered,’ she told the Village Voice. ‘If it wasn’t my shirt, it was my pants. If it wasn’t my pants, it was my shoes. They picked on me every single day.'”

This blatant sexism on the part of Citibank, that fired her for being too attractive, is a symptom of our culture’s pressure to be beautiful and men’s inability to control their sexual desire when women fulfill their role as sex objects. Women can’t win. If you aren’t pretty and do not fill the typical stereotype of what a woman (or girl, in the the case of American Apparel) looks like, then you aren’t employable or professional (evidenced by this list).

Yet, if you are too pretty and “sexy” (which is completely subjective and wholly inappropriate to define) you get fired. What does that say about men’s perception of women and women’s view of their appearances?

In my own experience working in a corporate office, I find if I wear less makeup or dress down for whatever reason, men ask me if I’m tired or if there’s something wrong with me, “Are you ok? You seem really tired?” While I think this is also another issue, I talked about in a post called “The Lookie Loos,” their comments also coincide with my appearance. Meanwhile, women rarely say anything about their looks in my office unless it’s to compliment each other.

In fact, Psychology Today conducted a study about appearance and whether men approach women who wear makeup more than women who don’t. In this same study, they found that: “Attire status had an effect on women’s attractiveness ratings but not on men’s.”

This pressure to look a certain way is exhausting, which is why, I prefer to dress how I want, versus what others expect. Except, how do I know if I’m dressing for me or simply following the gender dress code? And, what if what you think is fashionable or good-looking, doesn’t match up with what others think?

In a recent post by Jezebel, one of my favorite websites, the editors examined fashion trends men find unattractive, titled, “What to Wear When You Want to Repel Men.” MSN surveyed top trends this year like harem pants, gladiator sandals and others. The writer discovered, that men think “Harem pants look like diapers and,” to quote directly, “‘scream fashion victim, rather than sex kitten.'”

I’m sorry, but when do I ever want to look like a sex kitten in public? Eew.  I’m so sick of this pressure for women to be sexy all the time. Look where it leads! It’s a vicious cycle and in some cases, like Debrahlee Lorenzana, you could lose your job! I’m not saying don’t dress nice, or to avoid wearing clothes that men find attractive, but seriously, women do not need to be “hot” or appealing, especially at work.

Dress for YOU and wear what makes YOU feel good. There’s so much value placed on how others see us, but in the end, we all have our own opinion about what looks good, so if you live your life trying to dress to impress others, you will always fail. You can’t please everyone.

And, the degree of sexiness of your clothing and hairstyle, whether it’s in fashion or not, does not define your worth, employment value and femininity. It also does not promote equality in the work place or our society. Do you see men stressing over what they should wear to accentuate their butts and figures?

I’m going to guess the answer is no.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

If you thought Bratz were scary, there’s a new crew of makeup clad monsters creeping in the toy market that will haunt you. Mattel is set to launch a new franchise called Monster High this fall. The company plans to release the first book in the series this September. The toys are already on sale online and the TV series, website, apparel line and feature length movie are all in the works. Each of these products are dedicated to a group of teen monsters going through high school… dressed like hookers.

That’s right. Instead of creating positive and age-appropriate characters for a multi-million dollar new campaign for young girls, these “ghouls” are covered in a frightening amount of makeup, trashy clothes and sky-high platform heels. There’s nothing like a cast of mini-skirts monsters to make a buck and alter the collected perception of sexuality among tweens. Really Mattel?

And you thought toys were becoming more gender neutral. Sorry, but Mattel not only wants young girls to buy lots of dolls, clothes and watch their shows, they want tweens to dress in creepy, sexy Halloween costumes year round! As if the trend toward sexy apparel for teens isn’t bad enough, tweens are now the target with this new cast of saucy socialites.

Check it out — each doll is complete with her own “scary” pet and “fashionable” (read slutty) outfit. Kids can collect Draculaura, Clawdeen Wolf, Frankie Stein and Lagoona Blue. Each teen is the offspring of legendary monsters like vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein and sea monsters. What sucks, is that the idea is cute given all the passion for mythical creatures among youth culture, but the way the girls are dressed is a crime — no, I’m serious, if you dressed like this you’d be mistaken for a prostitute and hauled downtown.

Since I’m the product of the 80’s cartoon and toy marketing, I know this is nothing new, creating toys around entertainment and vice versa, but at least the toys we had growing up back then were empowering to girls and not weirdly sexual. I’m talking about My Little Pony, Rainbow Bright and Care Bears. Each taught lessons about confidence, community, intelligence and being independent — not popularity, shopping and premature sexiness. Where’s the lesson in looking hot?

As a culture, we deem it necessary for young girls to be pretty, hot and always made up. These pressures affect the self-esteem young women, leading to sexting, cyberbullying, hook up culture, sexual harassment and anti-feminist behaviors that are then perpetuated by adults. We need to break children free from the marketed sexism of toys like these. Barbie may have gotten a pass because she was also a doctor, among many diverse roles — and at least Courtney and Stacy dolls had outfits that fit their age — but these little monsters are young and wearing cell phones strapped to their legs like strippers. Too far!

So, how did I find out about these nightmarish toys? A friend of mine sent me an article by Peggy Ornstein in the New York Times. It’s a must read. If you want to read a press release from Matell, visit DreadCentral.

“The Hot Boy”

“The Jaundice Brothers”

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When Real Life is a Firewall

Last week I unplugged from my digital world and stepped out to attend my first blogger event and I’ll admit, it could have gone better. With all of the advances in technology and communication, it seems people have forgotten how to truly connect with real humans sans profiles and status updates.

Since my blog is virtually unknown, aside from a choice (and fantastic) group of you who read it, meeting other bloggers and editors from more well-known blogs seemed like a good idea to freelance, learn more about the blogosphere and meet more writers — in the flesh — a novel notion given that most people are constantly emailing, instant messaging, linking in, tweeting and sending virtual gifts.  So, in preparation for the event I turned to a printing press (how vintage!) to bring my identity and blog to life on paper with business cards designed online that I picked up on my way to the event at Staples.

I also let my book club know I’d be a little late for our monthly meeting, even though it’s one of my favorite in-person engagements.

The event, which was held at a bar, seemed calibrated for real-life networking, a refreshing break from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn: drinks, warm weather, outdoor space, name tags and a mix of young professionals. However, when I arrived, there were no more name tags and it was unclear who was there to grab a drink after work or who was there in a professional capacity.

In an effort to put forth my best networking skills, I searched for the two people I knew to be there. Though I only found one of them, I was relieved to know anyone at all.

However, even after chatting with an classmate who pulled a confused editor my way, it was still hard to feel like it had made a difference. Since most of the bloggers and editors already had many readers and most of them knew each other it was a little tough to approach people whose body language and cliques were like a firewall and I was the only one without the code to get in.

After two hours, I’d met with a couple people in PR and editorial, a comedienne comme comedy writer, two sales guys with websites and a penchant for music and losing interest in my writing abilities after finding out I’m married. It was a disappointment. However, the good news is, I did learn something, other than the fact that sexism against women and men is alive and collecting pageviews in the blog world.

In order for a blog to succeed, one needs to network, connect with other people and ultimately, keep writing — because as long as you continue to hit publish — people will find you. So keep up the good SEO, interesting posts and most of all linking to the best bloggers, blog posts and media online that you can find. And, if we have similar interests, please send me a message and I’ll link you up to my site.

All in all, I felt like a failure after the event, wondering why I left the comfort of my plugged in lifestyle where being over capacity on Twitter is a comfort because it means we’re all seeking the same link to the world. Yet, now that I’ve had a couple days to think about it and I found this list of the 50 Women Bloggers You Should Be Reading, I feel a little better.

I’m not going to let the awkwardness of a unfortunate in-person meet up discourage me. There are other women writers out there too and I’ll be combing through that list of bloggers to add more to my blog roll. And, I’ll be joining some blogging communities.

So, I guess it wasn’t a total loss, I only needed to learn how to climb the figurative firewall to see what was on the other side.

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American Apparel Ad By Don't Buy It

Down with American Apparel Ads?

Many love the eclectic mix and match clothes at American Apparel (myself included), but I think a lot of us are officially OVER those demeaning advertisements where women are reduced to sexual objects by showcasing their body parts, often without their faces.

Take this ad, an example of American Apparel’s provocative and objectifying ads — a woman bent over in front of a computer with her butt exposed. Some are targeted by region. This promo ran in Silicon Valley. Do they really think techies will start wearing 80’s g-string work out gear to work?

In Manhattan, there’s a prominent billboard on Houston near Broadway close to trendy bars and shops, where the clothing company often features a woman who looks post-coital, or just finished with dance rehearsal…half naked. Obviously, the promos get a lot of attention, but it’s not always the kind the company wants.

In 2007, someone tagged “Gee, I wonder why women get raped?” on a billboard (shown right) which featured an image of a woman bending over in American Apparel tights without a shirt. The defaced ad was immediately replaced, according to a report by Jezebel, where they also asked New Yorkers if the ads were “Sexy or Sexist?” You can view the video here.

This year, About Face, an organization dedicated to combating negative images of women, will protest American Apparel’s advertising campaign this Saturday, May 1, 2010 at the Haight Street location in San Francisco tomorrow.

Join fellow protesters for an activist afternoon, where About Face will address the founder of American Apparel, Dov Charney, directly. Since Mr. Charney has come under hot water for many reasons, including the sexual harassment charges by his employees, indecent exposure to reporters and strange, demeaning photo shoots for the company — I hope the event will be nothing short of a roast.

They’re calling it:

An Afternoon with Dov Charney (An About-Face Action)

“American Apparel is famous for its t-shirts and its vertically integrated labor. What it’s more famous for, though, is its advertising: pseudo-candid images of young women, legs splayed open, breasts exposed, butts zoomed in on, all in the name of selling tights and tube socks. We’re sick of seeing these images.

We’re sick of seeing women reduced to their body parts. We’re sick of seeing female sexuality being exploited to sell clothing. And we’re especially sick of how American Apparel attempts to dress up their particular brand of exploitation in a shroud of hipness, edge, or irony — after all, we’d like to think of ourselves as hip and edgy and we certainly aren’t down with these images. American Apparel’s ads contribute to a culture where women are valued for their bodies over their minds, and we’re working to eliminate that kind of thinking.”

To learn more about the event in San Francisco and the mobile protest, check out AboutFace.org for more info. If you don’t believe that American Apparel objectifies women, look at this blog, then tell me what you think.

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Glee Cast on TV Guide

A Glee-ful Moment in the Sun

Glee Girls in Glamour

Yesterday after a long day’s work, the subway gently rumbled up the tracks as the D train chugged into the light of evening on the Manhattan Bridge. I was on my way home to Brooklyn as a view of downtown came into view at sunset.

Crazy For You,” by Madonna began playing on my iPod as I felt a surge of happiness and honor to be a woman. The feeling surprised me. Where did it come from? Coincidentally, a week ago the show Glee reminded women everywhere to believe in themselves, and who they are as individuals, through the power of Madonna’s music.

With songs like “Express Yourself,” and “What It Feels like For a Girl,” I felt strong, I felt empowered and I felt proud that such a pop culture phenomenon could connect with young women in a feminist manner. Even the young women’s feature in Glamour this month, spoke of the power of personality and confidence, in “Glee Gets Glam.”

This week’s episode — which I later watched after that shining moment on the bridge, as the verses of Madonna’s ballad reminded me to cherish what I have — explored the issue of self-esteem among teens in a simple, but effective way.

The character Mercedes felt like she should be thin to fit in as a cheerleader. Feeling pressured to lose weight by coach Sue, Mercedes no longer appreciates her body for what it is, until ex-cheer captain Quinn, shares her insight.

By the end of the episode, the entire misfit cast sings “Beautiful” in an unorthodox pep rally where everyone joins together acknowledging their own insecurities with comradarie. Though this is far from the reality of teen life, I rejoiced in the positive message and attention to women’s issues like sexism, misogyny and (less heavy-handedly) eating disorders.

Last week’s “The Power of Madonna” episode was even better. The young men and Glee Club teacher, Mr. Shu, admitted to treating women poorly, professing their need to change. Part of that change came about when the women took a stand for who they wanted to be: strong, independent and bold about their talent.

To quote Madonna’s lyrics in “What It Feels Like For a Girl”:

“Strong inside but you don’t know it

Good little girls they never show it”

By going against what it means to be a “good little girl,” Glee showed real teens that they don’t have to conform to the standard gender stereotypes and restrictions forced upon them. Over the course of the week the Twitterverse was rocked by this feminist movement, people loved the it. I think Madonna’s music made such an impact because she lives to be unique, tenacious and unafraid to be herself.

If we could all be so brave, even for a moment, to see the bright shining star in ourselves, we could feel good about the women we are, and will be.

Take your moment and hold onto it.

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Trading Equality for a Dollar

Why do women dress virtually naked at concert festivals? Yes, it’s hot outside, and women have struggled for their right to express themselves in clothing, but do they really need to wear a thong bikini, or just pasties over their nipples?

Silhouette from Wikipedia

When a woman presents herself as a sexual object in public, people believe it’s OK for women to be treated as such.

For example, at Coachella this year I saw many young women baring it all — topless with gold pasties and shiny blue plastic pants, or walking around in g-strings and cowboy hats. One particular concertgoer wore a bathing suit top with a thong and no shoes. On her back was an invitation to slap her butt: “Someone stole my money. For $1 smack my ass.” There was a red hand painted on her right butt cheek, a target. As she walked by me, a man she didn’t know handed her a dollar as he rushed by, slapping her rear end.

So, tell me this, how does hypersexuality promote equality? Consider how many women are smacked on the butt, ogled and receive unwanted advances by men in other settings. These forms of sexual harassment are inappropriate, demeaning and sexist. Yet, people think of them as typical experiences young women face.

This hypersexualization of young women is a problem because it perpetuates these sexual relationships in society, I don’t think it gets rid of them. And, in some cases, women encourage these extreme behaviors like the example above.

We could talk about how the dollar butt slap may promote violence against women, or the simple fact that it was gross, but I’m mostly concerned about the prevalence of hypersexuality being masked as equality.

WOMEN SHOULD NEVER BELIEVE THAT:

-Sexual desire determines her self-worth.

-Being sexy is the only way to get help, attention and affection.

-Desirability and beauty is based on the perception of others.

All the world is not a pornographic film and we, as women do not need to play the role of “sex kitten” in public — be that ass or breast baring at a concert, as a Playboy Playmate, or even in reference to those CAT-ASTROPHIC terms like “Pussy,” “Cougar,” “Puma,” or “Cheetah.”

The fact that young women are so quick to expose themselves is an issue based in the ease of hook up culture, people’s need for instant gratification and the severe lack of confidence women have in our culture right now.

While some young women try to avoid hook ups and exposing themselves, others think displays of sexual “prowess” by being practically nude in public, are the real form of equality, but you don’t see guys walking around with their genitals on display.

A general respect in women needs to be restored. We cannot rely on the media to promote equality and empower both sexes, if we do not believe it ourselves. Plus, there is an inherent sexism “in disguise,” as Katie notes in her post about the facade of gender relations on TV as women play the roles of surgeon, doctor and president, but in real life reduce themselves to objects.

So, what do we do? I suggest encouraging people to be strong, dynamic, and intelligent who are in control of our bodies and sexuality in public. And we help teach men and women to respect each other — as equals.

What’s that called? Oh, right, FEMINISM.

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