Today I’m talking to Kat Rezai all about the media and its at times scary impact. To her more from Kat head to her show ‘What Does Sex Sell?’ on Friday 3rd August. 

What’s your favourite women’s magazine?

Goodness, what a question! When I was around the ages of 12-16 admittedly I used to read Cosmopolitan a lot. Even though I used to read them, I was always critical of the ways in which they would communicate to women. Page 1: love yourself for your body; page 2: how to lose 6 lbs in two weeks or ‘how to make your man happy in bed!’. Such an oxymoron. No wonder why so many women have so much pressure in society. We are told one minute to love who we are, and then next minute, told how to improve ourselves! I only buy Cosmo these days to show to students in my Gender Stereotypes in Advertising and Marketing Ethics: Feminism classes as contemporary examples of magazine marketing messages.

But my favourite used to be a magazine and since has become a blog – Parallel magazine. I subscribed a while back and enjoyed all the cool intersectional feminist issues they were discussing, and I look forward to seeing more about what they do. What we need today is more ‘empowering’ magazines – magazines which inspire women to do what THEY want – not what society wants. Sounds rather stereotypical being a feminist, but I like what they stand for – different.

Do you have a favourite ad?

It’s got to be the ‘Like a Girl’ advert from Always . It highlighted those awful stereotypes of women acting ‘like a girl’ (being decorative, flimsy, caring about their looks over action) and the overarching message beautifully presented by those young women really highlighted how much we can change stereotypes if we focus on stopping promoting these barriers for people due to their socially constructed genders. You can be who you want to be – masculine, feminine, or anywhere in-between, just never feel under pressure to be something else. Never feel like you are any less due to social standards of sex and gender.

How do the media and the images we see in these magazines and these ads affect body image?

As a qualitative researcher I can never ‘prove’ anything. But what I can say is if we constantly see images across mainstream media depicting an idyllic body image in outlets from reality TV, to social media and billboard ads – it normalises a particular ideal of what beauty and body images [supposedly] should be. So, with this argument I would say that these images that have a continuous theme of specific images do have some impact on the ways in which we view ourselves in terms of our bodies and our concept of self-image. A personal example was recently when I was watching Love Island. I don’t watch it that often, but after a week of watching it nightly, I remember looking at my body in the mirror with a sense of misery that I had the odd lump and bump. And this is someone who read The Beauty Myth (a highly recommended read from Naomi Wolf!). Why do we do this to ourselves? The more we see depictions of perfection, the less we accept ourselves as beings.

Do they also affect behaviours?

Again, this is something that I can never prove. The more we see images and messages that encourage us to ‘improve’ our bodies through projects of diets, commodity purchases and other body-changing practices, it does indeed encourage people to partake in these activities. Waist-trainers are a perfect example – people are using them to create a slimmer waist when medical professionals have argued the medical implications of wearing them as it squeezes in their organs! I wonder if anyone can really honestly say that they have never been ‘on a diet’ or tried some trend to improve their self-image.

How can we change these behaviours?

It comes down to the social standards. These social standards are implicated from the repetitive images that we see in society. People tell me ‘advertising doesn’t affect me!’ but I think It’s a load of BULL. The reason why we feel this way is because we see so many of these images that it affects the sub-conscious mind. It’s not until we are told to stop, look and analyse these messages that we then question the ways in which our identities are communicated and portrayed. We need to change mainstream media of all outlets. Advertising is no longer a standard bill-board ad of Heinz Beans – it is pasted everywhere. Due to the boom of Internet-based advertising – such as social media – ads have become instantly communicated to our social media apps and they track us everywhere. It is inescapable and shapes the ways in which we view others. So considerable review of depictions of identities of mainstream media is crucial towards changing the ways in which we behave with others and ourselves.

Will changing the media and advertising really have an impact on behaviours in society?

OOFT you got me there. I’m not even sure if the ‘gods’ of my field could answer that. In a utopia I’d like to think so. This is why I am trying these new methods of public engagement with CoDI. The only way we are going to challenge these gendered notions of sex in advertising is to bring it out to the public. Gaining voice from the public is important towards our understanding towards such topical issues. With my show, I aim to raise the conscious mind – get the audience to reflect on these sexualised images to ask themselves: what does sex really sell? Like I said, there are so many images pasted in mainstream media – such as sexualisation in a specific form that we don’t question it. The only way to improve or enhance society is to focus on the people as well as the images and messages in mainstream media. It is a huge task and I for one second do not take this on alone. I definitely don’t think I can do it alone either. It takes a huge crowd of people and this topic has been discussed for years. I recommend Jean Kilbourne’s TedXtalks on the ways in which women are portrayed in advertising. Jean has been researching and voicing these issues for over four decades and even she says more needs to be done!