Women’s event addresses body image in media


Crowds of students packed into Jones Auditorium late on Sept. 27 to attend the Multicultural Leadership Board’s presentation, “Beauty and the Beast: Women vs. the Media”.  

For weeks, posters featuring a Barbie doll and the title of the event in bold pink letters were scattered around campus. 

“I am not entirely sure what to expect from this event,” sophomore Kat Spalding said. “I honestly just hope they do not forget about how men are also misrepresented.”

As audience members arrived for the presentation, they were greeted with a buffet of jelly beans, cupcakes and gummy candies. 

A variety of stations were situated throughout the lecture hall. These stations included groups from the Health and Counseling Center and an advocacy group for middle and high school age girls called GENaustin. GENaustin has been helping girls across the Austin area with issues of self-esteem and eating disorders either due to influences from media or bullying in schools.

“These issues do not just go away on their own,” freshman Hannah Steffan, an intern at GENaustin, said. “It takes effort and a large number of people to advocate a change.”

There were also activity stations in the auditorium. Some of these stations were quizzes on misrepresentation statistics. Others were anonymous confessions written on strips of paper where attendees could share their fears with others.

“I am afraid of swimsuits,” one anonymous attendee wrote.

“I cannot work out in public gyms without getting dirty looks,” wrote another.

Stations like this one had a resounding effect with some attendees of the event. 

“It was a deeply personal experience,” sophomore Indigo Colton said. 

Another station focused on the construction of a Barbie that was proportionally sized to the height of an average woman. The end product resulted in both gasps of astonishment and chuckles of disbelief from participants.

“It is slightly ridiculous how disproportionate Barbie would be in real life,” sophomore and Multicultural Programming Board member Tony Nguyen said. “If she actually existed she would not be able to walk on her own two feet or even hold up her own head.” 

After these introductory activities, presentations from two guest speakers provided deeper insight on body image and the media issues.

The first guest was Claudia Carroll, the director of the Health and Counseling Center, who primarily talked about eating disorders, their effects and their causes. 

“Body image is psychological and rooted in personal experience,” said Carroll to a gasping audience. “This image is the result of comparing one’s own body type against something or someone else.”

It is this comparison that primarily leads to eating disorders, according to Carroll. She continued by describing how the ideal of a woman provided an impossible comparison that was unattainable by women naturally. 

“Eating disorders have the highest rate of death among psychological disorders, and it is our thin-obsessed media society that is causing it,” Carroll said.

She was followed by Innes Mitchell, professor of media and gender communicationMitchell discussed the primary problem of female misrepresentation in the media and the choice of women between their own sense of femininity and society’s definition of femininity.

“The media wants to portray women as being both innocent and seductive, to be desirable but not desiring,” Mitchell said, flipping through slides of advertisements that kept the audience’s attention. “It is a backward system where no woman can win… I’m not only concerned for women in our society, but for my own daughter’s wellbeing.”

Mitchell concluded with a message that his daughter had left for him after he asked her what a woman was: “Women are the life givers of the world, and we deserve be respected regardless of how we look.”

Missy Chambless, director of Multicultural Diversity Affairs and advisor to the Multicultural Leadership Board was grateful to her team after the event, especially Alejandra Garcia, a junior and the coordinator for the Women’s Events. 

“It is a critical issue for people to consider and think about,” Garcia said about the media’s representation of women. “So many people passively absorb it every day without ever considering the repercussions.”

Chambless and Garcia did not speak of any future plans for another Women’s Event but did speak of other Multicultural Leadership Board events happening in and around campus. More information can be found on the organization’s website.