To whom it may concern:
In addition to the original decision by Geisinger Medical Center to run an advertisement for liposuction, I am disappointed in the interpretation of the backlash as offered by the editorial entitled “The material included in The Bucknellian should not have to be censored” (Feb. 13, 2013). I am also surprised and slightly disappointed that no one else has written a Letter to the Editor about this, given the reaction it caused.
I have no doubt that The Bucknellian did not knowingly intend to offend anyone or promote our culture’s obsession with thinness by allowing an advertisement offering women an invasive surgical procedure to get the best possible Spring Break body–that is to say, a thin one. Regardless of intent, running the advertisement did exactly that.
I say women because, while men are also explicitly and implicitly told that they should look a certain way, women are targeted by advertisements, magazines and other media significantly more often than men. When men do not fit this ideal, the level of criticism received is nowhere near the level of ridicule faced by women. No woman is immune from critique, and women of color receive even more of this criticism because judgment of their bodies is still strongly rooted in racist stereotypes.
It is not necessarily our fault that we patrol women’s bodies. We have been socialized into the belief that the bigger you are the less worthy you are as a scholar, teacher, parent or person. This belief is one of the pillars of sexism in our patriarchal society. Women are disgusted by their own fat and others’ because we have internalized that message due to years of inundation. The only solution to falling out of favor with society is to obsessively exercise, surgically alter our bodies and starve ourselves. Even when we have reached the “ultimate beach body” we are still not good enough to escape criticism. The conversation shifts from what we must to do to have that beach body to what we absolutely cannot do under any circumstances so we do not lose that beach body. The diet and cosmetic surgery industries rely upon those sexist, societally-enforced fears of being fat and ugly to thrive.
(Pro tip: the best beach body is the body you have. I don’t remember who said that, and I couldn’t find the source because the first 10 pages of search results are all for fitness regimens or crash diets or surgery. Another version of how to get a “beach body:” Go to the beach. Repeat.)
I will offer the Editorial Board some more critical thinking to challenge their assertion that its placement proves its intent was harmless.
Media does not exist in a vacuum. Everything we see and hear informs our beliefs and ideals about the world in which we live. If there were no outside influences on our thinking, it might be logical to assume that a person–generally a woman–who is seeking liposuction is doing so because she would like to change something about her body. Since this is not true, a more critical lens must be employed. Body image is influenced by media telling women that they are ugly or unattractive without the use of thousands of beauty products. These messages can cause a woman who was not insecure about her body to grow to hate it and consider liposuction. For relevant comedic relief, I would suggest watching a satire commercial from BBC’s 2006 show “That Mitchell and Webb Look” highlighting the sexism in advertising. The commentary is this: “Women: You’re leaking, aging, hairy, overweight and everything hurts. And your children’s clothes are filthy. For God’s sake, sort yourself out … Men: Shave and get drunk, because you’re already brilliant.”
In all seriousness, if there was no outside influence on the way we view our bodies, would things like liposuction exist in the first place? I would wager not.
The placement of the liposuction advertisement next to those for the bar and cheesesteak is a result of layout and formatting guides. It exists in the same location because that is where the advertisements go on that page, and those three happened to fit there together. It is not “proof” that there is no sexism behind the liposuction advertisement; it is nothing more than a convenient excuse.
There is a thought-provoking sticker on my adviser’s door of a quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti that reads “It is no measure of health to be well–adjusted to a sick society.”
Justifying the ability or right to run an advertisement promoting invasive surgery as a technique to fit into our society’s narrow definitions of “healthy” or “attractive” by our favorite “you’ll see it in the real world” assertion misses the point that “the real world” (of which we are already a part) is wildly problematic and we should strive to resist it rather than perpetuate it. It is not censorship to ask you to vet your advertisements, regardless of the origins of that request. You do not publish articles or advertisements with racist or homophobic content without expecting backlash; I am surprised at the apparent shock that an advertisement for liposuction would also receive backlash on account that it does, in fact, perpetuate sexist ideals of “acceptable” women’s bodies. I understand that the paper is funded by money brought in from these advertisements, but setting a moral standard to which to hold your advertisers would bring more respect to The Bucknellian. Being asked to not promote or perpetuate sexist ideals isn’t being censored, it’s simply asking for accountability.
A wise man once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I ask you to be proactive in that change and help counteract problematic media on campus in the hopes that Bucknell can shift away from its current obsession with thinness and move toward a less destructive attitude of health at every size.
Alyssa Gockley ’13
Women’s & Gender Studies