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24 May 2012

Trash Bag Fashion Show

There is a syndicated TV show called Live Life & Win! that airs most weekends here. Although it sounds like a title to a Joel Osteen book, it is a news(ish) e/i program for kids/by kids. In one episode, two high school girls are featured who volunteer with elementary and middle school girls, working through body issues and their impact on self-image and self-esteem. The basic message is that beauty is defined in impossible ways by the media and that girls should challenge those definitions and find the beauty within themselves; everyone is beautiful in her own way. Kudos. But, it doesn't end there. The final exercise that the girls lead is a "trash bag fashion show" in which the younger girls are instructed to strut a catwalk wearing a trash bag, attempting to make it look beautiful. (I wish I could find a clip but can't.) The young girls all emulate the contorted poses (e.g. here and here) that are ubiquitous in the world of high fashion. It's tough to be critical of young women volunteering their time to help young girls feel better about themselves, but I was struck how after all of the lip-service that was paid to redefining beauty, the final exercise only reinforced the damaging definitions of beauty that attach self-worth to physical attractiveness, consumerism, and one's ability to feign fierceness. It would be like convincing an otherwise fit "overweight" woman that she was healthy but then forcing her to go on a starvation diet. Values are only legitimate when they correspond to behaviors.

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