We constantly call out body-negative messages in the media at Blisstree, which often gets met with equal parts encouragement and disdain. However frivolous it may seem to some, the fact is that the way advertisers, celebrities, and news organizations represent female beauty impacts how we talk and think about ourselves. And when you grow up surrounded by body-negative messages, as many of us have, it’s hard not to pass it on to the next generation. Which is why director Nicole Clark created her award-winning documentary, Cover Girl Culture–to alert young girls and women to the many ways that they’re being told that they are not good enough.
An Elite model who worked internationally and alongside some of the biggest names in the business, Clark says she saw many of her friends and colleagues harmed by dangerous messages in advertising and the media. But, she adds, it’s not just the folks in the business who suffer from a warped perception of how the female body is supposed to look.
“I left the industry because I saw the horrors of the girls in the industry, and also how our pictures influence negativity in other women,” Clark told me in a recent interview.
And the only way to fight back, Clark says, is to take note of it when it occurs–and because it starts so young for many women, it’s difficult to even realize it’s happening. Which is why she focuses on early education and intervention, with her award-winning documentary, lectures, and classroom curricula. But she took some time out of teaching media literacy to explain to me why a critical look at the media is important if we want to end body negativity, snarking, and the pervasive low self-esteem that’s hurting girls and women.
Why did you decide to become a “media renegade” and start teaching media literacy? Why was that important to you?
To me, it was a little embarassing that I’d wasted time in my life modeling. But I met a documentary filmmaker, and he said “You need to make a documentary because you can shed some light on this topic.” It was supposed to be his documentary, but then it became my documentary.
He just kept encouraging me to, and we kept meeting…it evolved organically, as documentaries tend to do.Because I was a model, girls really listen to what I have to say. Being in the industry, my message gets through.
Was the idea of the documentary always to be for younger girls?
It’s always been for girls, and to shed some light on how it’s effecting us, and take responsibility for how we’re promoting products to young girls and women. Advertisers are taking advantage of young girls’ weaknessess, like low-self-esteem and body image. They prey on that.
What is the message that girls are getting? Is it “be skinny” or is it “buy this thing?”
It’s, you know, fill in the blank: be sexy. Be skinny. Be whatever you aren’t or no one will love you. Whatever products that they have, and whatever angles they can take with their products, they’ll take that and make it something that sells that image. You see an image of a beautiful teenager wearing almost nothing and modeling a purse, and what boy is only going to like a girl because of her purse? But that’s what that ad says.
I help decode the ads. And once they’ve been given the tools to decode the image before them, the power is gone.
That’s my job…to get in there and say ‘Alright! Media is great, it’s part of our culture. But here is how it is sneaky and clever, and getting in your sub-conscious mind. They aren’t telling you some great truth about who you are. These advertisers don’t know you–but they certainly make you think they do.’
One thing I wanted to ask you about–recently, some of the backlash against the fashion industry has resulted in skinny-bashing, which I think can be just as harmful. Can you speak to that a little?