Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Different Strokes For Different Folks...The Varying Views of Models and the Fashion Industry as Seen in the Film "Gia"

Writing Assignment Number Three

Gia Marie Carangi's entrance into the fashion industry in the early 80's is an intriguing and explosive tale. Gia was not your "typical" model, and she did not so much walk into the modeling world as stumble into it. Yet she became a phenomenon almost instantly, partly aided by her character and personality, which made her resent the very industry in which she was working. Gia's story is documented in the self titled film starring Angelina Jolie. The film is fictional, but it relies heavily on Gia's real life. It was inspired by the people who knew Gia and by her own writing. As one watches the film, they can see how very differently the women in Gia's life viewed her, the way she lived her life and worked in her career, and the fashion industry itself. The varying responses of the women around Gia, and of Gia herself, to these things are representations of the greater responses we as a society have to the modeling industry and the women who partake in it.

Gia's mother Kathleen always held a very positive, almost idealistic view of Gia and her job. Even as Gia was spiraling downward in a whirlwind of drugs and sex, her mother insisted that her life was a fairy tale. She told Gia from the very beginning of her life what a beautiful girl she was, and pushed her to make something of herself, yet she left Gia and her family when Gia was still a young girl. This separation may have been one of the most traumatizing things for Gia, as she felt she had no one on whom she could rely for such a long stretch of her short life. Gia's mother was the first to tell her she was gaining weight, the first to push her back into modeling once Gia had left, and the first to not be there when Gia needed her most. Yet Kathleen adored her daughter, and says that she did it all out of love. In her essay "The Body Politic" Abra Chernik defines this problem. She says: "As long as society resists female power, fashion will call healthy women physically flawed. As long as society accepts the physical, sexual, and economic abuse of women, popular culture will prefer women who resemble little girls (133)." Kathleen represents the idealistic and unrealistic light in which we as a society hold the fashion industry. Modeling was one of the main things (although not the only thing) that pushed Gia into a world of drug addiction and sex, yet her mother always thought it was good for her. So many models today, in an unending desire to be skinny, beautiful, and all around perfect, turn to drugs, and in more recent years things like anorexia and bulimia, as an answer, and many go unattended as we, like Kathleen, continue to say how pretty and perfect these girls are. We turn a blind eye to the problem in order to maintain this unrealistic beauty ideal that we have created and continue to perpetuate everyday.

A slightly more rational and realistic voice can be found in Linda, Gia's one true love. Linda and Gia met on Gia's first fashion shoot, where Linda was a makeup artist. There was an immediate attraction between the two, and the self described "very square" Linda fell openly and intimately in love with Gia. Linda later described Gia as a puppy - saying she cried out for love, and Linda gave it to her, right away. Although Linda, as a makeup artist, was also involved in the fashion world, she maintained a separation from it that saved her from the things Gia went through, and that made her a voice of reason in chaos. Linda was terrified of and saddened by Gia's drug use, and begged her on numerous occasions to either give up the drugs or give up her. Although Gia never could at those moments, Linda may have been one of the main factors that finally helped Gia realize she needed saving, and that she was incapable of doing it on her own, and that the answer was not cocaine or heroine. Linda represents the rare but rational voice that may be found in today's fashion industry. Despite her own involvement in the industry, she was able to see the destructive nature of it and not only remain outside of that but partially save Gia from it. She never tried to push on Gia any impractical ideals, and only wanted to help her get better. More people like this are needed not just in the fashion industry but in every girl's life, people to tell them that they have help and are wonderful just the way they are.

The views Gia held of herself and her job make for a very interesting analysis. To some degree Gia, like her mother, also viewed her own life as a fairy tale. She so badly wanted everything to work out like that, but she was also able to recognize that it was just not going to happen. Susan Jane Gilman, in her essay "klaus barbie, and other dolls i'd like to see" says "...little girls want to be everything special, glamorous and wonderful - and believe they can be (72)." This is such a perfect example of Gia's own life view. She wanted this perfection, and she was willing to seek it later on in life, first in the modeling industry, and later in her love affairs and drugs. Gilman goes on in her essay to explain how most girls realize that this is unattainable and unrealistic in today's society, but Gia never quite came to this discovery. For the years and years in which she had the most problems, she relied on the fashion industry's positive appraisal of her, and on the drugs. Her addiction began partly because of the need to fit in to this role, and partly because of her need to escape it all. It was also her way of trying to discover herself. Gia had a wonderful sense of her own sexuality, and was unafraid to love freely the people around her. Yet she came to rely so heavily on these people that she never learned to help herself. Gia represents the destructive results of life in the modeling industry, and on a larger scale the way these things affect all girls, regardless of their career choices.

Although this story takes place 20 years ago, the problems Gia faced are still very real today. It is not just the models who feel they must be beautiful and skinny, but everyday girls. Gia turned to drugs to save her, just as girls today turn to drugs, eating disorders, and other self- destructive behavior to reach an unrealistic goal. We, like Gia's mother Kathleen, choose ignorance over action in this case. We would rather pretend there is no problem than face the destructive situation that society has created for itself. Tizzy Asher's piece in the Feminist News Journal, entitled "Girls, Sexuality, and Pop Culture" clearly defines the problem and the ways each of the women in Gia's life fall into it. She says "In the present day US, sexual empowerment cannot be separated from media literacy, self-defense, self-esteem, and development of healthy and realistic body image. Girls are not immune to popular culture, nor are they willing to hold themselves outside of it (25-26)." Kathleen and the modeling industry are this destructive power that creates unrealistic and unhealthy body image. Linda is an example of a person trying to hold herself outside of it all, yet who is intrinsically involved anyway. Gia also represents someone trying to remain outside, yet she is the very girl this quote is talking about. She is unable to hold herself outside of the lure of the fashion world, and while she tells herself that she sees no problems with her own behavior, she knows in the back of her mind what she is doing to herself and her life.

Gia's story ends sadly, but it teaches us a lesson as well. Gia was searching for something in life that the fashion industry and drugs would never be able to give her, and would actually remove her further from. She needed help, positive influences, and a life outside of the modeling world, which is full of self-esteem destroyers and negative ideals. These positive reinforcements are something all girls need, and something we as a society must make sure we foster and develop.


Abra Fortune Chernik, "The Body Politic," in Women, Images and Reality: A Multicultural Anthology," Third Edition. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind (New York: McGraw Hill, 2003), 133.

Susan Jane Gilman, "klaus barbie and other dolls i'd like to see," in Women, Images and Reality: A Multicultural Anthology," Third Edition. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind (New York: McGraw Hill, 2003), 72.

Tizzy Asher, "Girls, Sexuality, and Pop Culture," "The Feminist News-Journal," May-June 2002, 25-26.

Gia Movie Poster:

Gia On The Cover of Cosmo:

Gia Picture:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cosmetics for men? Blasphemy!

Kirkham and Weller - "Cosmetics: A Clinique Study Case" (Pages 268-273 of Gender, Race, & Class in Media)

- Companies like Clinique are helping to break down gender barriers by offering formerly "feminine" products to men but they are also reinforcing gender stereotypes by using very gendered and stereotypical advertising for these products (Page 273).
- Color plays a large role in distinguishing between male and female products: male advertisements and products in general tend to be striking, black, white, gray, or very muted shades of blue or tan, while advertisements and products for women are pastel, creamy, and soft looking (Page 269).
- It is not just the language of the advertising industry that distinguishes between masculine and feminine but also the way this language is presented: when looking at a men's advertisement or product you are much more likely to see more information and short, sturdy and dark looking letters, as opposed to the totally devoid of info and scrawly and loose writing in a female ad (Page 272).
- Clinique is very careful to separate men's and women's products by naming them differently and by adding things like "skin supplies for men" to the spot underneath the Clinique name, a comparative addition of which cannot be found on any feminine product (Page 272).
- Not Stated: The authors never expressly say what they want, but since the piece is written to raise awareness of the problem, it is implied that the authors hope this differing treatment of men and women in the beauty product and advertising world will eventually end.
-Not Stated: Again, the authors seem to currently see raising awareness as the best first step to getting rid of the problem.

We need to work on that whole "Be about peace" idea...

Katz - "Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity: From Eminen to Clinique for Men" (Pages 349-358 of Gender, Race, & Class in Media)

- Violence is a pervasive aspect of western society, and recent study has raised attention to how much mass media and advertising help produce, reproduce, and legitimate this violent behavior, especially that perpetuated by men (Page 349).
- Masculinity is like whiteness in the fact that those who are part of it are blind to the privilege of it and all those outside of it are seen as "others" or different and therefore more ok to discriminate against (Page 350).
- Violence in the media has a strong pull for middle class men because it gives them an area in which to validate themselves and assert their power, since they are unable to do so in an economic or work oriented field (Page 351).
- There are several common themes in male advertising that helps reaffirm the idea of male dominance:
1. The idea of the angry, white, working-class male as an antiauthority rebel (ex: Eminem)
2. The idea that violence is genetically programmed male behavior
3. The use of military and sports symbolism to enhance the masculine identification and appeal of products
4. The association of muscularity with ideal masculinity
5. The equation of heroic masculinity with violent masculinity
(Page 352-357)
- The author hopes to develop a more sophisticated and thorough approach to understand cultural constructions of masculinity, much like the one feminists have established to explain feminine constructions (Page 357).
- The author says that it is important to study the construction of masculinity in mainstream magazine ads like he does, but at the same time we must look to the way these same ideals are constructed by things like comic books, toys, the sports culture, pro wrestling, comedy, video games, porn, and music videos to get a full picture and to hopefully then use this knowledge to start more effective anti-violence campaigns (Page 358).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I won't be the girl advertisers want me to be

Blog Assignment Number Two



When companies make products like clothing, hair supplies, makeup, and credit cards, they are working with a very specific buyer in mind: the tall, beautiful, wealthy female (or simply, the perfect consumer). This girl wants to own one of everything, dress in accordance to the latest fashions, be on top of the most popular things at any given moment, and look gorgeous while doing all of it. Although this girl is an advertisement companies dream, she is often very far from the reality of teen girls today. I, and I know many of my friends and fellow students, try to not be this image of perfection, simply because we know it isn't what is real and it isn't what will bring us happiness in the end. Unfortunatly, advertisers and companies keep catering to this ideal by "...filling girls full of fluff and garbage - under the pretense that this is their reality," a move that writer Anastasia Higginbotham claims is "patronizing, cowardly, and just plain laxy" in her piece "Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem." This creation of an ideal, and the way the advertising community feeds it to young girls and forces them to conform to it, are both dangerous and depressing for my generation. It makes girls feel like they cannot be different lest they be shunned and makes them strive for an unreachable state of perfection. In "The Feminist News-Journal" author Tizzy Asher argues that "...we cannot improve the self-esteem of girls unless we attack the infrastructure that hurts them...they must understand that they too are part of this media-driven, abusive culture." A huge part of this infrastructure Asher speaks of is the advertising industry, and like she says it is not until girls become aware of the problem, and the conflicting messages sent forth by the industry, that we will be able to break free of the stereotypes and conformity and be whomever we want to be.


Anastasia Higginbotham, "Teen Mags: How to Get a Guy, Drop 20 Ppunds, and Lose Your Self-Esteem," in Women, Images and Reality: A Multicultural Anthology," Third Edition. Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind (New York: McGraw Hill, 2003), 96.

Tizzy Asher, "Girls, Sexuality, and Pop Culture," "The Feminist News-Journal," May-June 2002, 26.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Now let's be good little gendered boys and girls...

Writing Assignment Number One

The word "toys" instantly conjures images of blocks and Legos, Barbie's dream house, and a few GI Joes into my head. This thought is instantly followed by one saying ToysRUs is a great place to get anything a child could want. And why wouldn't I think this? I was raised on products purchased from this mega store and in a gendered society that makes me understand very clearly what toys I "could" or "could not" play with. I figured that I could find everything Allen, my imaginary ten year old friend, would want, at ToysRUs. As an fan of football, matchbox cars, computer racing games, and baseball, he seemed to fit the bill pretty perfectly for your "normal" 10 year old boy growing up in New Jersey. This generalization on my part clearly fits right into the very thing we are trying to resist: there is a powerful and persuasive assumption that toys are supposed to be gendered because boys and girls like different things, act in different ways, and should be raised differently.

When I started my hunt on the ToysRUs website, I know I went in with a bias. From the way I have seen this toy store and others organized in the past, I know that there are often very clear divisions of the boy toys and the girl toys. When you see any thing heavy duty or even perhaps malicious, you can be pretty certain you have entered the world of boys toys, but when things start to turn pink, frilly, and delicate, you have entered the equally terrifying world of girls toys. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the first thing ToysRUs. com asked you as you narrowed your search was not gender related, but age oriented. I gladly clicked on the 8-11 year old section and the small bubble of hope I had built for the world was shot down again as I saw that it was indeed divided by gender. Still, I hold out hope, as this isn't the only category you can use to help you shop. You can search by category, brand, price, and so on, which makes me think, or perhaps just dream, that maybe people are at least trying to not make the world of toys such a gendered one.

The toys found on the site designated for boys were, for the most part, related to athletics, video games, cars, building, and action figures. Any of the "doll" like toys seen were not really like dolls at all, except in the characteristics that they perhaps stood up on their own or had human faces. They were all male, mostly based on comic book heroes or sports stars, and never soft or cuddly. These figures clearly state some of the most basic "principles" our society promotes regarding boys and their development. They are shown the people they are supposed to look up to, whether it be the wealthy and successful sports star or the almighty and invincible comic book hero. They are shown that male children can only play with dolls that are male, lest they be seen as girly and effeminate. The rough and tough exterior of each of these figurines reflects the rough and tough exterior real life little boys are taught to develop - one that does not let them cry or feel compassion or pain.

This creation of gender stereotypes for toys, and therefore for the kids that play with them, often goes under the radar, as people take it as "normal". The social ideology of hegemony as James Lull defines it fits in well with this normalization of gendered toys. Lull defines hegemony as "the power or dominance that one social group holds over others (Lull, 61). He explains that this power is presented as "normal", much in the way gendered toys are presented as normal, so that no one feels the need to challenge the stereotypes. Logging on to the ToysRUs website and seeing the choice of boy toys or girl toys is just one example of the way that our society puts forth it's ideologies of hegemony even for children to follow. Most boy toys are stronger, sturdier, and bigger than most girl toys, just as grown men are seen as stronger and therefore dominant over women. Toys are also made into symbols of societal beliefs, projecting on to children the ways they should behave and the gender they should fall into. David Newman explains that symbols, although arbitrary and wholly human created, have a very powerful impact on our thinking and emotions (Newman, 74). The fact that boy toys are so rough, meant to withstand harsher play and lacking in the ability to comfortably cuddle with them or treat them in a "feminine" and compassionate way, generates the perception that boys must act this way too. They are, in essence, expected to grow up to be like their toys. These "innocent" symbols that children and parents so callously toss around are actually very representative of the way society makes sure you will grow up gendered.

Since I was disappointed (although not surprised) by the choices of toys for boys, I went instead to the section labeled "both" to find a gender neutral toy that Allen might like. The toy choices here were mostly board games, computer games, or educational material. Very few correlated to a specific topic of interest, like sports or dolls. They were all very gender neutral, relating to TV shows and real life models that both boys and girls could look to without seeming odd or queer. None of the things our society generally correlates with little girls or little boys showed up on this page, promoting the idea that those toys must stay with their particular and predefined gender.

I wonder why I feel so upset with society after doing this project. It is not like I didn't expect to find toys to be gendered. Perhaps I had hoped that the stereotypical ideas of gendered toys were just that - stereotypes, meaning they didn't really exist as forcibly as we think and could be changed. Or maybe I was wishing that the world of toys had evolved some since the time when I was a child to reflect the fact that boys and girls in our society today may not want to be the "perfectly normal" boys and girls we imagine, and instead want to be themselves. Neither of these things turned out to be true. Children's toys are still a horribly gendered arena. Strides have been made since my childhood, but there is much more still to be done if we really want to be able to call ourselves an accepting society and raise our children in a world that lets them play with whatever they want and be whomever they want.


Lull, James. Hegemony. In Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text Reader, edited by Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez, 61-66. California: Sage Publications, 2003.

Newman, David. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2007.

Transformers Action Figure:

Madden Football Game for Nintendo Wii:


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Well this seems like a bit of a vicious cycle, and those are never good...

Friere - "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" (Pages 5-23)

- Oppression is an all too common and powerful tool in our society, deeply embedded in the system and used to dehumanize and discriminate (Page 6).
- The greatest goal of the oppressed is to free not only themselves but those who are oppressing them as well (Page 6).
- It is difficult for the oppressed to begin to fight back because they have adapted to the theories of oppression and are fearful of what may happen should they overthrow it - they want freedom while simultaneously being afraid of it (Page 8).
- When the oppressed begin their revolution to regain their freedom, they must be very careful that they do not themselves become the oppressors (Page 7).
- Implied: The author hopes that the oppressed will realize the problem and find a way to demolish it entirely so that we no longer live in an oppressive world and become fully human.
- Implied: The oppressed must see their oppressors vulnerabilities, analyze their situation, embrace the fact that they are indeed oppressed but that the system is not permanent, and begin to transform their own lives to change society as a whole.

But don't we call this the "land of the free"?

Moschkovich - "But I Know You, American Woman" (Pages 83-89 of This Bridge Called My back: Writings By Radical Women of Color)

- The US tends to be very ignorant society when it comes to other cultures (whether it be due to our education system, the way we raise our children, or the ideals and beliefs we promote), making us a very culturally oppressive group (Page 83).
- The education system and way of life in the US puts forth a sort of "cultural isolationism" so that we grow up with a small bit of respect but not much concern for other cultures (Page 84).
- People of other cultures, when living in the US, are living in an "American culture", one that makes them speak and act in a certain way and does not accommodate for differences (Page 84).
- The problem is not America itself, nor the people in it, but the way these people do not try to reform their ignorance, making them remain imperialistic and racist (Page 85).
- The author hopes that we will some day get to the point where we don't have to explain and defend ourselves or our cultures (Page 88).
- We must utilize education and a shared learning experience, so that no one group is taking full responsibility for changing the system and so that everyone has an equal amount of respect (Page 88).

Sometimes I forget what a gendered individual I am, but it's all okay, because society will be quick to remind me...

Newman - "Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media" (Chapter 3, Pages 71-103)

- While society bases difference on things like race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and class, the language we use and the symbols we employ perpetuate and point out these differences in our daily lives (Page 71).
- Symbols, although arbitrary and wholly human created, can have a very powerful affect on our thinking and emotions (Page 72).
- Language is gendered, sexual, racial, and ethnic, meaning it reflects these different aspects of society and changes according to changes within each category (Page 76).
- The media plays a very significant role in the way we look at things, dividing the world into very "us and them" categories, based on race, sex, sexual preferences, and class (white, middle class, heterosexual, middle class males are the most common actors and audiences, yet they are rarely, if ever, scrutinized and torn apart so thoroughly as those who don't fit into these specifications) (Page 87).
- Implied: The author writes to inform people of the way in which symbols and language (most notably those used in the media) promote racism, sexism, and elitism, in the hopes of making people care more and getting rid of the gendered, racial, ethnic, and sexual language.
- Since the act of naming things is what creates a very divided society, we must learn to stop categorizing based on names and start treating all people equally, whether this means helping those who don't get help (ex: those wielding little or no power) or exposing those who remain hidden behind the media and tricks of language (ex: those who run the media and hold a mass amount of power in society) (Page 103).