Women in Ads and Magazines: An RLB Chat

This morning S and I were chatting via gmail, as we are wont to do, and we decided that our conversation about how women are portrayed in magazines would make a pretty stellar blog post. Herein, a glimpse into the minds of the RLB creators…

(Note: Because I copied and pasted the chat, the “me” that appears is me, Elizabeth, and the “Sha” is S, because I have her listed in my email contacts as Sha Na Na Na. Naturally.)

me:  What I really want to do today is write a blog post about how this happened.

Sha: Hmm what do you think of it?

me: When I first read a quote from it I was pretty uppity, but then
1. I realized he was speaking at a Feminism in Media conference hosted by COSMOPOLITAN magazine and
2. He has some valid points. I won’t say, as many have, “at least he’s being honest” because being honest doesn’t equate integrity. If he followed up with “and I think this is a problem and we all need to work together to fix it,” well then sure. But he doesn’t. He’s all Shrug, this is the way the world works, which is the BS part for me.

Sha: I wouldn’t expect somebody in his position to recognize this as a problem

me: Right.

Sha: Because he sells these magazines

me:  mmhm

Sha: And they do sell. And I also agree with him that women’s magazines are much worse

me: See, I don’t know about Much Worse or The Root of the Problem. They are at fault, surely…

Sha: I see them as worse because they manipulate women directly

me: …but my Vogue doesn’t have ads of women in bikinis pouring milk on themselves. Or whatever.

Sha: Hahaha, unless it’s a new beauty treatment.

me: Haha.

Sha: Women’s magazines and men’s magazines are both guilty of objectifying women, totally. They just have different goals.

me: Exactly.

Sha: Women’s magazines want women to feel like shit so they buy stuff, and men’s magazines want to sell more magazines. And also stuff.

me: So they turn women into objects.

Sha: To sell objects

me: Yes.

Sha: So the images of women are presented differently in each. He’s right that the women in men’s magazines are more diverse, which is interesting, because a women’s magazine would have you think that all women look like 100 lb aliens with no pores, and that that’s what men want, lol.

me: Hahaha, right? When most men in fact prefer women who are human, and even (gasp) a little “flawed.” And he’s also generalizing, about women’s magazines. Glamour has taken leaps and bounds in this arena as of late,

Sha: Oh right I’ve heard about that.

me: whereas Cosmo is offensive just by existing.

Sha: Hahaha. The industry is just really fucked

me: Well yes. Women in media, in general, are not well represented.

Sha:  HENCE the blog. lol

me:  Haha huzzah! And I don’t think you get brownie points just for being “honest” about it.

Sha: No, he’s sleazy. But I would expect him to be, I guess? I don’t expect the editor in chief at Cosmo to be a good person either, or hollywood studio executives. They don’t want to upset the status quo, that’s how they make their money

me:  BUT THEY ARE CREATING THE STATUS QUO. Sorry for the shouty caps.

Sha: Hahaha. I think that we create it, by buying it. The collective we. If we stopped buying it they would stop making it that way.

me: True… I think it’s a cycle, because we are in a consumer culture, and we are desensitized. So yes, I agree with your point, but

Sha:  But we can make choices in what we consume. I don’t know if there’s like a male magazine equivalent to Bust Magazine? Is there?

me: I don’t think so. But let’s take Dove, as a for instance.

Sha:  yes

me: Great Real Beauty campaign, right, but so many women say

Sha:  right

me: “That corporation also owns Axe body spray, so they’re hypocrites, so I won’t buy Dove”

Sha:  ah

me: But by not supporting the campaign that’s great, aren’t we sending a message that it isn’t important to us? Unless you’re writing to them saying “I will not buy Dove until you stop making Axe,” then no one knows about your principled protest. And like you said, our dollars matter. So buy Dove, not Axe. Amiright?

Sha: Right, yeah that does make sense.

me: It’s not productive to say All Women’s Magazines are to blame, because they’re not all the same. We have to support the pieces that resonate with us. I subscribe to Glamour, not Cosmo. Bust is a women’s magazine, and it’s amazing.

Sha: It’s like the indie flick that gets great reviews and makes no money

me: Exactly! It’s why box office earnings are so important. Opening weekend, specifically. But I digress.

Sha: The thing about advertising and magazines, because most magazines are mostly about advertising, is that even if it seems good… like the dove campaign, for example, and even if good things come from it, like the dove campaign, we are still just being sold something (soap), but also a feeling…

me: Of course. I say better that feeling of positivity and acceptance than feelings of worthlessness and insignificance.

Sha: …and I’m sure that even though there are well-intentioned people who worked on the Dove campaign along the way, and they were glad to put it out there, it was backed by people who were like, “You know what women seem to want right now? Acceptance. Let’s sell that to them so they will buy this soap.”

me: Which again, in my opinion is a better message, and a result of what women want right now, what we are demanding, which speaks to your point that our dollars do our talking. So ultimately I think if more media responded that way – “this is what women want so let’s give it to them to sell our product” – that’s essentially a good thing! They’re going to try to sell us shit no matter what. That part isn’t going away.

Sha: Haha that’s true.

me: Personally I’d rather have diversity and acceptance selling me things than Rosie Huntington Whitley draped over a fur rug in her panties. (Added after chat: Omg I just said that off the cuff, but look! It’s almost an actual thing.)

Sha: Well we’re both from a demographic like that and plenty of companies use that on us. But not all. Many of them don’t need to use it. Like men’s magazines!

me: Way to bring it full circle! And I suppose my biggest issue there, is that the kind of objectification in men’s magazines is the sort that leads to perpetuating the treatment of women as objects.

Sha: Yep.

me: And in women’s magazines, the objectification makes women feel like they Should be treated as objects. So all around, things need to change, and if it’s one greedy corporation at a time, so be it.

Sha: It’s a gross business. I don’t know what it would take to change it but talking about it is definitely a start.

Elizabeth’s Summary: Talking about it is absolutely a great start. We can see the ripple effect that these conversations are having – there are countless grassroots campaigns that have set out to spark the necessary discourse, in order to change the way women are portrayed in the media and the way we see ourselves in everyday life.

Together, these campaigns have already had a powerful effect on representations of women in commercial media (as evidenced by the ads below, which were unheard of in popular culture before the body image movements of the last several years), but there is still a long way to go. Our voices, our insistence on respect and real representation, cannot be too loud or too prevalent. This is how we will change the story.

On that note, here are some steps in the right direction: 



Yes! More women of color! More women who are curvy!

Dove-Campaign-for-Real-BeautyYes! Not all women are under 25!

nikethighsYes! Women’s bodies are strong, healthy sources of support for how we live our lives!

And if this:

Leads to this:

real real women
Then let’s demand more of it!

This link is also posted in my summary above, but y’all should check out Beauty Redefined! It was pure coincidence that I stumbled upon these amazing ladies while doing my google search for diverse ads. Show them some love and support. And let’s plaster the world with their amazing post-it notes!


Airbrush Schmairbrush

Happy Friday, RLBers!

Today we will examine everyone’s favorite contentious modern beauty issue: Photoshop. Since the practice has become ubiquitous in the last decade or so, Photoshop has its proponents, its critics, and those of us who fall somewhere in the realm of ambivalence.

Yes, I am ambivalent about Photoshop. The visceral, Real Beauty Champion part of me dismisses it out of hand, as a tool that compromises and distorts our perception of reality. The part of me that appreciates Photoshop is best summarized by your best friend, Tina Fey:

“Feminists do the best Photoshop, because they leave the meat on your bones. They don’t change your size or your skin color. They leave your disgusting knuckles, but they take out some armpit stubble. Not because they’re denying its existence, but because they understand that it’s okay to make a photo look as if you were caught on your best day in the best light.”

It’s why we all Instagram and Infinicam and Photo Splash flattering, flaw-hiding filters to every picture we tweet or post on Facebook. We want to be seen at our very best, and the modern era allows us to do that at every digital turn.

It’s when photo editing goes to extremes that it becomes a fundamental problem in how beauty is presented. Every woman featured in that slideshow looks amazing in her Before picture, but we have been conditioned to think that they don’t look Amazing Enough. God forbid we acknowledge that Jessica Alba has loose flesh on her kneecaps, or that Eva Longoria is Hispanic but she doesn’t have bangin’ hips, or that Kanye West’s girlfriend isn’t actually Jessica Rabbit brought to fleshy life in an impossible combination of buxom/compact, or that – come on now, she’s 54 and has spent half her life on tour – Madonna is aging. (Who else thinks Megan Fox the “actress” actually looks far prettier with her freckles sprinkled across her nose? Why are we so afraid of letting women look human?)

With all of the attention around image retouching, it still makes headlines when models or celebrities ‘allow’ themselves to be photographed without it, or without the benefit of professional hair/makeup stylists. Imagine a world in which women without makeup and  photos of women that haven’t been (or have minimally been) manipulated are unremarkable. Commonplace. The images we see all day every day. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Let’s contribute to making this hypothetical future a reality! Here are some 100% real pictures of me, as I am right now, sitting here writing this post. I have shadows under my eyes and crooked teeth and crows feet when I smile. I also have killer cheekbones and charming freckles and my eyes are a cool shade of gray today.

Photo on 3-15-13 at 11.19 AM #3 Photo on 3-15-13 at 11.20 AM

Share your real pictures with us! Post on our Facebook page, tweet them to us, or share a link here in the comments. Shower the interwebs with real pictures of real ladies looking really lovely. 

xo, E

Texas Forever

However you think of her – Tami Taylor, Rayna Jaymes, or Connie Britton – you love her and you envy her hair. If you don’t love her and envy her hair, it’s only because you haven’t seen Friday Night Lights, Nashville, or American Horror Story. Once you do, there is no going back.

It isn’t only that she’s beautiful, which she very much is. It isn’t only that she’s an actress in her 40’s whose face isn’t frozen into a botox mask, though hot damn how refreshing is that? It isn’t only that she plays flawed, complex women, but she downright Insists on maintaining their integrity along the way. (Considering how disappointed I am in Melissa McCarthy at the moment, it’s extra great that CB bolsters my faith in women). It also isn’t only her Amazing Hair and uncanny ability to make basic gold aviators look like the sexiest accessory on the planet. To wit:


Personally I think it’s all of the above, and then the kicker that drives it all home can be summed up in one word: Effortless. She makes it all look So. Effortless.

I don’t care if you don’t like football or country music and horror makes you squeamish. If you haven’t seen the quiet ferocity that is Connie Britton, you are missing out.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Happy Friday, y’all.


Greater Than the Sum of Our Ladyparts

Well, it took some doing, but the Internet finally filled me with enough umbrage to get me blogging again.

After reading Jezebel’s summation of several critical responses to the latest episode of Girls, here I am, torch in hand, ready to throw down some Realness.

First: I haven’t seen this episode yet. I do watch Girls, and I do enjoy it. However, I am not fangirling Lena Dunham with voracious abandon like so many of my peers. I’m of the opinion that her talent is sometimes a little overrated. Yes, her work is on occasion revolutionary, but at other times the praise she inspires is so… amplified. And I’ll take whatever flak you have to throw at me for saying so.

Still, this post is inspired by the good stuff. Perhaps the best stuff. There are several things that I admire about Ms. Dunham, but so far sparking this conversation is number one on the list. If for some reason you don’t want to read the Jezebel article (though it’s worth a read), here’s the Cliff Notes for what’s happening:

In the latest episode of Girls, the character played by Lena Dunham has a brief, whirlwind love affair with a character played by Patrick Wilson. The critical response has largely been that a girl who looks like Lena Dunham could never – in “real life” – inspire that kind of passion in a man who looks like Patrick Wilson.

Allow me to sum up my feelings about this with my favorite Tavi bitchface.

TG Bface

It has also been argued (by both men and women) that it makes sense because she’s twenty years younger than him, and what guy wouldn’t go for that?

To sum up, the internets are all in a tizzy because ostensibly this could Never Ever Happen in Real Life:

girls-lena-600x-1360597324It is simply too shocking to be believed. Maybe it was a dream sequence??

Since RLB is a blog focused on Positivity, if you need more outrage then I suggest a google search on Girls Season 2 Episode 5 for a healthy dose of righteous indignation. There’s plenty of it out there, and justifiably so. While it’s Sorely Tempting, I also will not rattle on about the double standard that exists in our entertainment culture (LD ≠ PW, but SR = KH?) because again, there are many elaborate and eloquent arguments on that subject that are a mere search engine away.

Instead my plan is to reinforce that Women Are More Than Their Looks, and to do so by countering the disbelief now permeating the Girls Recap Blogosphere with some Truth. In this instance, Truth is known as Pictures of Men Considered to Be Gorgeous With Their “Average” Looking* Partners. Alternate title, Men Who Don’t Need to Date Supermodels to Feel Validated. OR, my new favorite:
Women Are Beautiful In Many Ways For Lots Of Reasons.

*For the purposes of this Truth, “average-looking” will include any woman who falls outside current prevailing stereotypes of what defines female beauty. Women who, like you and me, would never walk a runway or appear in Vogue. For the record, I think every single woman pictured here is Absolutely Beautiful. 

More to the point, thanks to the nature of celebrity, it’s not even up for debate that any one of these men, at any given moment, could up and leave their wife or girlfriend in favor of a smokin’ hot, social-climbing lingerie model or CW TV star. But here they are, loving the women they are with because they are beautiful, and clever, and intelligent, and hilarious, and tenacious, and charming, and dazzling, and loving, and and and and and…






I might get some backlash for including this last one, but here’s some truth from me. In my opinion, Paul Newman is basically the most handsome man who ever lived. He’s at least in the Top Five of All Time. His wife, Joanne Woodward, was a lovely woman. She was also by no means an Elizabeth or Marilyn or Sophia (thought by many to be the most beautiful women of all time). But look at these pictures.

Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman PNandJW2 PNandJW

Look at how much he Loved Her. How much they loved each other. Clearly this love goes beyond the physical, and that’s the kind of love we all want.

Attraction starts with SMELL, people. It’s fucking science. It doesn’t matter where you each fall on some mythical, invented scale of gorgeousness. What matters is how you feel about each other, how you champion one another, and how you LOVE.

End of debate. Drop mic. Lemon out.


Sometimes I read gossip. In truth, I read One Gossip Site, because the women who contribute to Lainey Gossip are smart, clever, and savvy about much more than the entertainment business. Recently, one of the author’s cited a Susan Sarandon interview with Katie Couric, and then went on to talk about the perks of being a woman grown.

This isn’t something we hear about very often. Even here at RLB, our focus is usually on girls, young women, and maybe sometimes women in their 40’s or 50’s. After watching SS in those interview clips, I am abashed about this oversight. What else is all of this self-awareness and confidence-building for, if not to become the best versions of ourselves? What better inspiration than amazing women who are so self-possessed they knock back tequila and play ping-pong for fun at the age of sixty-six?


Obsession with youth has reached ghastly proportions. We live in an age where people in their 20’s are going under the totally unnecessary knife, and ‘age-defying’ is a part of our cosmetic vernacular.

It is with all of this in mind that I urge you to visit Kick Up Your Heels and participate in the latest call to action. Instead of running, screaming, toward a non-existent forever young time machine, veiled with botox and impossible promises, let’s embrace and celebrate aging. I’ve got a ping-pong table, you bring the tequila.


Fresh Face Fridays

MissRepresentation is at it again! This time, they’re promoting a campaign conceived by one of their Action Reps (we’re like grassroots superheros), a teenager wanting to challenge the face-painting status quo. And I don’t mean butterflies and tigers on kids at the state fair. I mean you and your daily face-painting habits that likely began sometime circa junior high.

In all honesty, when I first saw the campaign, my immediate reaction was “Ha. I’m not doing that.”

So of course, here we are.

Here it is in a nutshell:

Never in my life have I been a Major Makeup girl. Day-to-day I have a very simple, basic routine. But it is my routine, and this little challenge made me realize that I cling to it like plastic wrap at a plastic wrap party. You see, dear reader, I have substantial/genetic/doesn’t matter how I eat or live, dark circles under my eyes. Once, in the seventh grade, a kid asked me if I’d been in a fight. His friend laughed, but I don’t think the kid was being snarky – he sounded genuinely concerned. Or at least that’s what my twelve-year-old self chose to believe.

Enter: Concealer. My constant companion since approximately my fourteenth year on the planet. Never foundation, always concealer, and just for my infernal, perpetually raccoony eyes. Even if my only plans involve the couch and a stack of magazines, I almost always wear concealer. Someone could stop by unexpectedly, and like a boy scout, I am always prepared.

The kicker here is that as a working professional, it feels like even a day without makeup isn’t really an option. My particular eye condition* makes people tell me I look tired, even when I’m not. It makes me look like I have a poor diet, even though I don’t. So going without makeup feels somehow… unprofessional. It’s an unfortunate conundrum.

Thankfully, RLB exists. A platform for me and S and sometimes Lou to celebrate, critique, pontificate, and take the occasional risk – all in the name of True Beauty. So while I am too nervous about challenging the world’s obsession with makeup in my workplace, I will instead post it all over the internets. As S once declared: “Here is a picture of me with no make up. On the internet. All in the name of science.”

The best I could do was ride my bike to work, makeup-free, then sit down at my desk and document this process. All photos are 100% untweaked. No Hipstamatic, no Photoshop, no magic wand enhancing. And at first, the photo above did make me flinch a little. And I questioned moving forward. But this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us, and progress, and confidence, and truth, and beauty! (that one was for you, B)

First step: Apply precious concealer to mask fatigue beliers.
Imagine my surprise when these two images turned out to be… really similar. In my mind, my pre-concealer self is very sloth-like. Apparently my mind likes to embellish. Suspicions point to exaggeration as a common problem among most females: we think we’re too fat, too thin, too pointy, too curvy, too this, too that… when in truth we could all use a refresher on the Goldilocks worldview.

Next step: Apply mascara, a little blush, and some lip balm.
And I’m done!

That’s it for me and everyday makeup. Is it a big difference? Not at all! Am I ready to rock my Fresh Face for an entire Friday at work? Probably not as long as I have the fancy job in the fancy office working among lots of fancy, important people. But thanks to this little exercise, I can now honestly say that I wear makeup at work because I feel the need to present a polished and professional persona** not because I think me without makeup = wildebeest.

Perhaps I’ll aim for Fresh Face Sundays… Not as catchy, but hopefully just as effective in starting conversations about the role of makeup in our daily lives.

So what do you think, RLB readers? What is your relationship to makeup? When did you start wearing it and why? Does your job or school or vocation support you rocking a Fresh Face once in a while, or do you feel it’s a key part of your daily persona? How does it make you feel when you venture out in public, Fresh-Faced? Share your thoughts in the comments, or email us at reallivingbeauty@gmail.com

*I almost wrote affliction. Working hard to turn it around, people!
**Yay, alliteration!

Swimsuit Revolution

There’s this woman, Brittany Gibbons, Editor in Chief of the Curvy Girl Guide, and she is braver than me. The first reason she gets a shout out during RLB Shout Out Week is for her online magazine and their manifesto. Make that a womanifesto. I want to organize a group photo of every woman I love (there would be a lot of flights involved), and pair it alongside those words. They make me really, really happy.

She also has a very entertaining blog that I just had to tear myself away from, lest I get sucked into the vortex of amusing blog posts that distract me from ever finishing the post I am attempting to write in honor of her posts.

Brittany Gibbons – Lovely, Clever, and Daring

Reason numero dos that Ms. Gibbons is such a bad ass? She’s started a revolution. By wearing her bathing suit in public. And I do not mean on a beach. I mean in Times Square, y’all. On Television! And then On Stage! At a TED talk. Which is now on the Internet. Meaning the Entire World now has access of footage to her in her bathing suit.

Last fall I was in Hawaii, and I went kayaking in the ocean, and it was quite an adventure, and I felt pretty effing brave. Once safely ashore, the two women I was with wanted a commemorative photo. You know what I did before we took it? I threw on my sundress. Because they were both smaller than me, and I didn’t want posterity to record me looking… well, bigger than them.

So it’s pretty clear what I have to do. Luckily I’m going to happy hour first.

Here it is. For Brittany. For all the women inspired by her. As S once said: For Science.
An image of me, in a bathing suit, facing the mirror, adjusting my ponytail. Taken tonight, by my husband, with my iPhone. No sucking in. No skinny pose. No push-up bra. No mirror face (you know you have one, too). No instagramming, no enhancing, just me. Smudged mirror and all.