struggling with society's expectations, cultural attitudes & then...
what if i'm feeling depressed?
where did that come from?
Media Portrayals of Girls & Women:
all know the stereotypes - the femme fatale, the supermom, the sex kitten, the nasty corporate climber. Whatever
the role, television, film & popular magazines are full of images of women & girls who are typically white, desperately thin & made up to the hilt - even after slaying a gang of vampires or dressing down a Greek legion.
Many would agree that some
strides have been made in how the media portray women in film, television & magazines & that the last 20 years has
also seen a growth in the presence & influence of women in media behind the scenes.
female stereotypes continue to thrive in the media we consume every day.
This section of the site provides
a snapshot of the issues around the media’s portrayal of women & girls - from effects on body image & self-identity to ramifications in sports & politics. It looks at the economic interests behind the objectification
& eroticization of females by the media as well as efforts to counter negative stereotyping.
And it provides the latest
articles & studies that explore the ways in which media both limit & empower women & girls in society.
did anyone every talk to you about being limited? what is being limited? check it out by clicking on the word, "limit." that's what this site is about! interacting with the other sites in the emotional feelings network
of sites, so you can understand not only what's on this page, but the bigger picture!
Media & Girls
"They have ads of how you should dress &
what you should look like & this & that & then they say, 'but respect people for what they choose to be like.'
Okay, so which do we do first?"
Kelsey, 16, quoted in Girl Talk
The statistics are startling.
The average North American girl will watch 5,000 hours of television, including 80,000 ads, before she starts kindergarten.
In the United States,
Saturday morning cartoons alone come with 33 commercials per hour. Commercials aimed at
kids spend 55% of their time showing boys building, fixing toys, or fighting. They show
girls, on the other hand, spending 77% of their time laughing, talking, or observing others.
And while boys
in commercials are shown out of the house 85% of the time, more than 1/2 of the commercials featuring girls place them in the home.
You've Come A Long Way, Baby?
The mass media, especially
children's television, provide more positive role models for girls than ever before. Kids shows such as Timothy Goes to School,
Canadian Geographic for Kids & The Magic School Bus feature strong
female characters who interact with their male counterparts on an equal footing.
There are strong role models for
teens as well. A Children Now study of the media favored by teenage girls discovered that a similar proportion of male
& female characters on TV & in the movies rely on themselves to achieve their goals & solve their own problems. (The one discrepancy was in the movies, where
49% of male characters solve their own problems, compared
to only 35% of their female counterparts.)
like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer & computer games such as Tomb
Raider & Perfect Dark, star girls who are physically assertive & in control. And of course, Lisa has been acknowledged as the brains of the Simpson family since the start.
However, the messages media
send to young girls are mixed. On the small screen, male characters continue to outnumber females by a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1 & 90% of the actors starring in American children's programming
the only medium where girls are over-represented. However,almost 70% of the editorial content
in teen mags focuses on beauty & fashion & only 12% talks about school or careers.
Media, Self-Esteem & Girls' Identities
Research indicates that these
mixed messages make it difficult for girls to negotiate the transition to adulthood. In its 1998 study Focus on Youth,
the Canadian Council on Social Development reports that while the number of boys who say they "have confidence in themselves"
remains relatively stable thru adolescence, the numbers for girls drop steadily from 72%
in Grade 6 students to only 55% in Grade 10.
was the first to highlight this unsettling trend in her landmark 1988 study. Gilligan suggests it happens because of the widening
gap between girls' self-images & society's messages about what girls should be like.
Children Now points out that
girls are surrounded by images of female beauty that are unrealistic & unattainable. And yet 2
out of 3 girls who participated in their national media survey said they "wanted to look like a character on TV."
1 out of 3 said
they had "changed something about their appearance to resemble that character."
In 2002, researchers at Flinders
University in South Australia studied 400 teenagers regarding how they relate to advertising. They found that girls who watched
TV commercials featuring underweight models lost self-confidence & became more dissatisfied with their own bodies.
Girls who spent the most time
& effort on their appearance suffered the greatest loss in confidence.
Eroticization of Young Girls
The pressures on girls are exacerbated by the media's increasing tendency to portray very young girls in sexual ways. Over the past
decade, the fashion industry has begun to use younger & younger models & now commonly presents 12 & 13 year-old
girls as if they were women.
Camera angles (where the model is often looking up, presumably at a taller man), averted eyes, wounded facial expressions &
vulnerable poses mimic the visual images common in pornographic media.
Murray warns that, "Our culture is to a large extent experimenting with eroticizing the child." For Murray, the media frenzy
around teeny-bopper pop star Britney Spears & murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey are examples of how this eroticization
is being turned into a highly saleable commodity.
The most cursory examination
of media confirms that young girls are being bombarded with images of sexuality, often dominated by stereotypical portrayals
of women & girls as powerless, passive victims.
As these girls become
teenagers, many choose to tune out, but others maintain a hungry appetite for these messages. As Shawn Doherty &
Nadine Joseph note, those who continue to consume media images are strongly influenced "by stereotypical images of uniformly
beautiful, obsessively thin & scantily dressed objects of male desire.
And studies show that girls
who are frequent viewers have the most negative opinion of their gender."
and then sometimes i feel depressed....
where did that come from?
Mandy Moore: I struggled
NEW YORK (AP) Mandy Moore has a lot going for her, including a starring role opposite Diane Keaton in the upcoming comedy
Because I Said So. Even so, she says she's grappled with depression.
"A few months ago
I felt really low, really sad. Depressed for no reason," the 22-year-old actress-singer says in an interview in the February issue of Jane magazine,
on newsstands Tuesday.
"I'm a very positive person & I've always been glass-half-full," she continues. "So it was like someone flipped a switch in me."
single after high-profile relationships with actor Zach Braff & tennis standout Andy Roddick, says her recent split with
Braff didn't help matters.
added to what I was going thru, but it's not the complete reason," she tells the magazine. "It definitely doesn't help if
you're already in that place ... ."
started out as a squeaky-clean teen singer & later crossed over into movies with featured roles in such films as A
Walk to Remember,Saved and American Dreamz.
"I feel bad
that people wasted their money on such trite, blah pop music," says Moore about her earlier music.
who is working on a record, has been looking inward a lot of late.
"I've been going
thru this really crazy time in my life - it's what I imagine people fresh out of college go thru," she says. "I'm asking
life-altering questions, like 'Who am I? Where do I fit in this world? What am I doing, what do I want to do? Am I living to my full potential?'"
And a poet said, "Speak to us of Beauty."
Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless
she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your
The aggrieved and the injured say, "Beauty is kind and gentle.
Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among
And the passionate say, "Nay, beauty is a thing of might and
Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky
The tired and the weary say, "beauty is of soft whisperings.
She speaks in our spirit.
Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers
in fear of the shadow."
But the restless say, "We have heard her shouting among the
And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating
of wings and the roaring of lions."
At night the watchmen of the city say, "Beauty shall rise with
the dawn from the east."
And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, "we have
seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset."
In winter say the snow-bound, "She shall come with the spring
leaping upon the hills."
And in the summer heat the reapers say, "We have seen her dancing
with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair."
All these things have you said of beauty.
Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a
song you hear though you shut your ears.
It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached
to a claw,
But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels
for ever in flight.
People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.
from the book: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
What is Perfectionism?
- the irrational belief that you &/or your environment must be perfect
- the striving to be the best, to reach the ideal & to never
make a mistake
- an all pervasive attitude that whatever you attempt in life
must be done letter perfect with no deviation, mistakes, slip ups, or inconsistencies
- a habit developed from youth that keeps you constantly alert
to the imperfections, failings & weakness in yourself & others
- a level of consciousness that keeps you ever vigilant to any
deviations from the norm, the guidelines, or the way things are "supposed to be"
- the underlying motive present in the fear of failure &
fear of rejection, i.e., if I'm not perfect I'll fail &/or I'll be rejected by others
- a reason why you may be fearful of success, i.e., if I achieve
my goal, will I be able to continue, maintain that level of achievement
- a rigid, moralistic outlook that doesn't allow for humanism
- an inhibiting factor that keeps you from making a commitment to change habitual, unproductive behavior out of fear of not making the change "good enough"
i think teens
fear failure just like
anyone else. maybe the worst part of fear is the "uncertainty"
of what could happen. it's the anxious "what ifs" that begin to wear you down. then there's rejection & fear of disapproval...
it's all terribly mind bending. you can get lost for hours in worry, anxiety & fear because you just
don't know what's going to happen - but you're almost always sure whatever happens will be something negative & once
you establish such fears as a teen, it's
going to get worse when you're an adult! - kathleen
the belief that no matter what you attempt
it's never "good enough" to meet your own or others' expectations
first bullet above: the irrational belief that you &/or your environment must be perfect
Handling Irrational Beliefs
What are irrational beliefs?
Irrational beliefs are:
Messages about life we send to ourselves
that keep us from growing emotionally.
Scripts we have in our head about how we
believe life "should'' be for us & for others.
Unfounded attitudes, opinions & values we hold to that are out of synchrony with the way the world really is.
Negative sets of habitual responses we
hold to when faced with stressful events or situations.
Stereotypic ways of problem solving we
fall into in order to deal with life's pressures.
Ideas, feelings, beliefs, ways of thinking,
attitudes, opinions, biases, prejudices, or values with which we were raised. We have become accustomed to using them when faced with problems in our current life,
even when they aren't productive in helping us reach a positive, growth-enhancing solution.
Self-defeating ways of acting. On the surface
they may look appropriate for the occasion, but actually they result in a neutral or negative consequence for us.
Habitual ways of thinking, feeling, or
acting that we think are effective; however, in the long run they are ineffectual.
Counterproductive ways of thinking, which
give comfort & security in the short run, but either don't resolve or actually exacerbate the problem in the long run.
Negative or pessimistic ways of looking
at necessary life experiences such as loss, conflict, risk taking, rejection, or accepting change.
Overly optimistic or idealistic ways of
looking at necessary life experiences such as loss, conflict, risk taking, rejection, or accepting change.
Emotional arguments for taking or not taking
action in the face of a challenge. When followed they result in no personal gain, but rather in greater personal hardship
Patterns of thinking that make us appear
to others as stubborn, bullheaded, intemperate, argumentative, or aloof.
Ways of thinking about ourselves that are
out of context with the real facts, resulting in our either under-valuing or over-valuing ourselves.
Means by which we become confused about
the intentions of others when we are enmeshed in interpersonal problems with them.
Lifelong messages sent to us either formally
or informally by: society, culture, community, race, ethnic reference group, neighborhood, church, social networks, family,
relatives, peer group, school, work, or parents. They're unproductive in solving our current problem or crisis, but we're
either unwilling or unable to let go of them. These messages can be very clear to us or they can be hidden in our subconscious.
Conclusions about life that we have developed
over time, living in an irrational environment not identified as being irrational (e.g., beliefs developed as a member of a high-stress family).
Standards by which we were reared &
from which we learned how to act, what to believe & how to express or experience feelings. When followed, however, these standards don't result in a satisfactory resolution of our current problems.
Ritualistic ways by which we pursue our
relationships with others, resulting in nonproductive relationships & increased emotional stress.
· Outmoded, unproductive, unrealistic expectations exacted on ourselves &/or others, guaranteed to be unattainable & to result in continuing negative self-concepts.
What are some examples of irrational beliefs?
Irrational beliefs (negative)
I don't deserve positive attention from
I should never burden others with my problems
I am junk.
I am uncreative, nonproductive, ineffective
I am worthless.
I am the worst example on earth of a person.
I am powerless to solve my problems.
I have so many problems, I might as well
give up right now.
I am so dumb about things, I can never
solve anything as complex as this.
I am the ugliest, most unattractive, unappealing,
fat slob in the world.
concerning handling irrational beliefs is found on the emotions & feelings page!
Everything in life must be done to your
level of perfection, which is often higher than anyone else's.
It's unacceptable to make a mistake.
last time i looked
at the world, god was the only perfect being in the universe. be real... no one is perfect. your parents aren't perfect either
although you may be blessed with the kind of parents who think they're perfect... well that's a different story on a different
page.... but be yourself - a unique being... believe me - no one is perfect. - kathleen
You must always reach the ideal no matter
If those in authority say this is the way
it's supposed to be, then that's the way it's supposed to be.
You're a loser if you can't be perfect.
It's what you achieve rather than who you
are that's important.
I have no value in life unless I'm successful.
think about how
horrible that sounds.... lots of people are unsuccessful at things... that's why we all have our special talents, abilities
& the earth is an interesting & diverse place... if everyone was successful, what would we ever have to learn? kathleen
There's no sense in trying to do something
unless I can do it perfectly, e.g., "I don't attempt things I can't do well.''
If I have a failure or experience a set
back in my efforts to change then I should give up.
The ideal is what's real; unless I reach
the ideal I'm a failure.
There are so many roadblocks & pitfalls
to keep me from succeeding. It's better just to give up & forget my goal.
Unless I am "Number One'' there's no sense
in trying. Everyone knows what "Number Two" is. To win is the only acceptable goal.
If you screw up in your efforts to achieve
a goal, just give up. It must be too hard to achieve.
You must always strive to reach the ideal
in everything you do because it's in the achievement of the ideal that you give meaning to your life.
Don't ever let anyone know what goal you're
working on. That way they won't consider you a failure if you don't reach it.
If you can't do it right the first time,
why try to do it at all?
There's only one way to reach a goal: the
It takes too much effort & energy to
reach a goal. I save myself the aggravation & discouragement by not setting goals for myself.
I'll never be able to change & grow
the way I want to, so why try.
I'm a human being prone to error, frailty
& imperfections; therefore, I won't be able to accomplish things in a perfect or ideal way. I'll just give up on achieving
any of my goals or desires.
What are some negative consequences of perfectionism?
Examples of the negative consequences of perfectionism include:
- Low self-esteem: Because
a perfectionist never feels "good enough'' about personal performance, feelings of being a "failure'' or a "loser'' with a
lessening of self-confidence & self-esteem may result.
- Guilt: Because a perfectionist
never feels good about the way responsibility has been handled in life (by himself
or others) a sense of shame, self recrimination & guilt may result.
- Pessimism: Since a perfectionist
is convinced that it'll be extremely difficult to achieve an "ideal goal,'' he can easily become discouraged, fatalistic,
disheartened & pessimistic about future efforts to reach a goal.
- Depression: Needing always
to be "perfect,'' yet recognizing that it's impossible to achieve such a goal, a perfectionist runs the risk of feeling down,
blue & depressed.
- Rigidity: Needing to have
everything in one's life perfect or "just so'' can lead a perfectionistic to an extreme case of being inflexible, non-spontaneous
- Obsessiveness: Being in need
of an excessive amount of order, pattern, or structure in life can lead a perfectionistic person to become nit-picky, finicky,
or obsessive in an effort to maintain a certain order.
- Compulsive behavior: Over-indulgence
or the compulsive use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, shopping, sex, smoking, risk-taking, or novelty, is often used to
medicate a perfectionist who feels like a failure or loser for never being able to be "good enough" in life.
- Lack of motivation: Believing
that the goal of "change'' will never be able to be ideally or perfectly achieved can often give a perfectionist a lack of
motivation to attempt change in the first place, or to persevere if change has already begun.
- Immobilization: Because a
perfectionist is often burdened with an extreme fear of failure, the person can become immobilized. With no energy, effort
or creative juices applied to rectify, improve, or change the problem behavior in the person's life, he becomes stagnant.
- Lack of belief in self: Knowing
that one will never be able to achieve an idyllic goal can lead a perfectionist to lose the belief that he will ever be able to improve his life significantly.
What rational behaviors are needed to overcome perfectionistic tendencies?
To overcome perfectionism one needs to:
- accept self as a human being
- forgive self for mistakes or failings
- put self back on the wagon immediately after falling off
- accept that the "ideal" is only a guideline or goal to be worked
toward, not to be achieved 100%
- set realistic and flexible time frames for the achievement
of a goal
- develop a sense of patience and to reduce the need to
"get it done yesterday"
- be easier on oneself; setting unrealistic or unreasonable goals
or deadlines sets you up for failure
- recognize that the human condition is one of failings, weakness,
deviations, imperfections and mistakes; it's acceptable to be human
- recognize that one's backsliding doesn't mean the end of the
world; it's OK to pick oneself up and start all over again
- develop an ability to use "thought stopping'' techniques
whenever you find yourself mentally scolding yourself for not being "good enough"
- visualize reality as it will be for a "human'' rather
than for a "super human"
- learn to accept yourself the way you are; let go of the
ideas of how you "should be"
- enjoy success and achievement with a healthy self-pride
and eliminate the need for self deprecation or false humility
- learn to enjoy success without the need to second guess your
ability to sustain the achievement
- reward yourself for your progress, to reinforce your efforts
to change even when progress is slight or doesn't meet up to your idealistic expectations
yourself; to believe that you deserve good things
- to eliminate unrealistic expectations and the idea that you are infallible
- visualize yourself as "winning'' even when it takes more energy and more perseverance,
than what you had planned
- let go of rigid, moralistic judgments of your performance and to develop an open, compassionate
understanding for the hard times, obstacles & temptations
- be flexible in setting goals and be willing to reassess your plan from time to time
to keep things realistic
- be open to the idea that you'll be successful in your efforts to change, even if
you aren't "first,'' "the best,'' "the model,'' "the star pupil,'' "the exemplar,'' " the finest''
- realize that the important thing is to be going in a positive direction
How can a social support system help in overcoming perfectionism?
Social support systems can help you overcome perfectionism
select realistic people who aren't perfectionistic
in their own life
encourage your support system members to
not be rigid or moralistic in their attempts to keep you on an honest course
have support people who role model forgiving
& forgetting when mistakes, failures, offenses, or backsliding occur
have given them permission to call you
on being "too hard,'' "too brutal,'' "too rigid,'' "too unrealistic,'' or "too idealistic'' in your expectations
have people who'll give positive reinforcement
for any positive change, no matter how small or slight it is
select trustworthy people who are open,
honest & have a sincere interest in your personal growth
How Seventeen Undermines Young Women
By Kimberly Phillips
This article originally appeared in the January/February
1993 edition of Extra!, the bimonthly magazine of media criticism published by the media watch group
. Reprinted with permission.
Harvard professor Carol Gilligan, studying the psychological
development of teenage girls in 1988, found that they experience a major drop in self-esteem as they reach adolescence. Only
29 percent of teenage girls said that they "felt happy the way I am," as opposed to 60 percent of nine-year-old girls. Gilligan
suggests that this adolescent crisis in confidence is due to the conflict between the image that a girl has of herself and
what society tells her a woman should be like.
Seventeen, the most widely read
magazine among teenage girls in the United States, claims to "encourage independence" and help each reader "become this wonderful
person that she dreams she will be." But far from encouraging independence, Seventeen only reinforces the
cultural expectations that an adolescent woman should be more concerned with her appearance, her relations with other people
and her ability to win approval from men than with her own ideas or her expectations for herself.
An average issue of Seventeen contains about
eight to 12 fashion and beauty features, taking up two-thirds of the magazine's editorial content. There is usually one story
about a new exercise or fitness regime, one story in which an "average-" looking girl gets a makeover, numerous pages of makeup
tricks and techniques, mini-stories on what's new in the fashion world, and the feature fashion spreads, which are usually
four to six pages long.
For a magazine aimed at an audience of teenage
girls, Seventeen does a lot of reporting on men. In 1992, 61 of the celebrities profiled in Seventeen's
"Talent" section were men, while only 20 were women. Every issue of Seventeen has a column called "Guy Talk,"
in which a columnist named Robert Love expounds upon the male view of relationships and women. One of only two articles in
1992 about eating disorders among teenage girls was written by a man, giving his perceptions of
"My Sister's Battle with Anorexia." The whole July 1992 issue was devoted to describing "One Hundred Guys We Love." (Perhaps
as a follow-up, the August issue ran an article called "Hello, I Love You: How to Write a Knockout
Even the fashion and beauty stories are
centered around men. A fashion spread in the February 1992 issue called "A Little Romance" featured
a blonde, blue-eyed model wearing stylish clothing trying to "find Monsieur Right in France," which, according to the captions
that accompany the story, is "all about flair -- looking tres cute -- and searching like crazy!" In April 1992, a fashion
spread featuring young women in short bloomers and cowboy boots was captioned "How to Rustle Up a Ranchero..." The August
1992 issue ran a fashion spread called "Romance 101," which had photographs of a young woman gazing adoringly at her boyfriend.
A caption read, "Making the honor roll can have some hidden perks -- like John begging me to cram for the English midterm
In keeping with this trivialization of intellectual pursuits,
an average issue of Seventeen has only two or three full-length articles on non-beauty topics. These articles
almost invariably deal with a teenage girl's relations with other people, rather than ways for her to be happy with her own
life. There are articles about how to find the right boyfriend, whether it's by taking a special Seventeen
quiz ("What's Your Guy Style," 7/92) or by consulting the horoscopes ("The Love Scope," 2/92). Then there are articles about
how to fit into the social structure at school ("Popularity: What's the Secret?" 10/92). The fiction stories that Seventeen
publishes usually deal with the same kinds of topics.
In 1992, there was not one article about the abortion debate.
There were no full-length articles about the "Year of the Woman." Aside from one full-length article about sexual harassment
(9/92), political issues were minimized and crammed into a three-paragraph column, which frequently shared the page with another
column about makeup or trendy clothing. Even environmental issues were turned into beauty issues, as in the opening line of
an article on ozone depletion (1/92): "The environment's in trouble -- and the more it suffers, the tougher it is on your
By assuming that skincare is the first thing on their minds,
magazines like Seventeen are telling young women that their minds are unimportant. By teaching young women
that the most important things in a woman's life should be her looks and her relationships to men, they only serve to reinforce
the drop in self-esteem reported in Gilligan's study.
Complete the Magazine Survey to see whether or not Seventeen has continued
with this formula.
'It's porn, innit?'
What does this
Playboy logo mean to you? To WHSmith, it means one of the most popular range of stationery ever sold. And it's aimed at children.
What's going on, asks Rachel Bell
Last month, seven smartly uniformed
schoolgirls could be seen picketing outside the Croydon branch of WHSmith in south-west London. The protest, which made headline
local news, was against the store selling Playboy-branded stationery, targeted at teenage girls. The protesters, ranging in
age from 11-15, from Coloma convent girls' school, decided to take a stand following class debates with their teacher.
When Eleanor Kirwan saw the Playboy stationery range next to
Disney and Winnie the Pooh in WHSmith and in her classroom, she reckoned her pupils deserved to know exactly what they'd been
sold. "I do not vilify the pupils who own Playboy stationery - my criticism is directed at those who buy the Playboy licence
and target children. Companies must take social responsibility into account as well. Our argument is that they are simply
prioritising financial gain over the moral offensiveness of using children to sell sex. I merely accompanied the pupils to
their picket. They were present because they had made an informed and passionate choice."
Playboy was established as a pornographic magazine in 1953
by Hugh Hefner. Over the decades the brand has extended beyond the magazine into Playboy Enterprises Inc, reaching into every
form of media. Playboy products can now be found in the Argos catalogue. Debenhams stock Playboy women's watches, bedlinen,
cushions and expensive gift chocolates. Even Playboy mobile phone covers are big.
Hefner's LA Playboy Mansion entered the
mainstream by becoming a celebrity party haunt, and MTV snooped around the place for its popular
Cribs series. Justin Timberlake, adored by zillions of pre-teen and teen girls, made the video for his collaborative single
with Nelly there.
So WHSmith has just jumped on the Playboy bandwagon. The difference
is that, unlike other retailers, it is clearly marketing its products to children, not adults. Its Playboy stationery range
which, in my local branch in Wood Green, London, shares a stand with Bratz and Funky Friends, includes pink and glittery pencil
cases, pink ring-binders, mini pads, diaries, zip files, gel pens and eraser sets. I know a five-year-old who'd just love
the set of cute bunny rubbers in a row. Pencil cases are largely used by schoolchildren. Pink and glittery is largely favoured
by girls from 0-16 years. By placing the bunny logo on school equipment, underage children are seduced into buying into the
pornographic brand - an adult, top-shelf brand that sells women as sexual commodities. But WHSmith denies that Playboy means
"Playboy is probably one of the most popular ranges we've ever
sold," says head of media relations for WHSmith, Louise Evans. "It outsells all the other big brands in stationery, like Withit
[a range of cute cartoon animals], by a staggering amount. That should give you an idea of how popular the brand is. We offer
customers choice. We're not here to act as a moral censor."
The pressure group Object, which is also campaigning against
WHSmith's promotion of the Playboy brand to children, says: "Playboy's logo clearly represents pornography. The magazine routinely
features sexualised and full-frontal images of naked young women. It also promotes pornographic videos and strip shows. Playboy
is about men buying women and presents this as natural and normal male behaviour, together with fast cars, football and male
role models (not shown naked). WHSmith is therefore endorsing pornography to young, impressionable and possibly underage girls."
Kirwan says the teenage girls in her school "are aware of what
the Playboy icon is" and "were saying that, even though the pencil cases feature no blatant pornographic images, the bunny
symbol represents pornographic images. The girls are able to acknowledge that symbols have a deeper significance than that
which is on the surface. For stockists and manufacturers to deny this is shockingly disingenuous."
But for WHSmith it's a style choice. "We believe it is a fashion
range," says Evans. "There's no inappropriate imagery. It's just the bunny. It's a bit of fun, popular and fashionable."
While some will always defend the media being saturated with
images of women as sex objects and the mainstreaming of porn as "a bit of fun", others are deeply concerned about the damaging
effects it is having on the perception of women. Kirwan's class debates confirm that children do not always understand that
media representations of women are not real. "The girls do not yet have the mental sophistication to recognise that the Playmates
are not real. They don't realise that the image of female beauty that they see in the media is staged and not something they
can expect to emulate. They really didn't know about the amount of styling that someone like Posh [Victoria Beckham] has.
I do recognise an attitude among the older ones that it's not a problem to be a glamour girl or a playgirl. "
Talking about any kind of sex, particularly in school, is excruciating
for some children. "One 12-year-old told me," says Kirwan, "that since we had started discussing the stationery, she had thrown
her Playboy pencil case away. 'It's gross. I don't want that on my stuff,' she said. These are girls of the age where even
using the words sex or pornography can be embarrassing. Lots of the 11- and 12-year-olds hadn't even heard of pornography
and yet had the porn king's logo on their school equipment and plastered across their chests at weekends."
Earlier this year Mizz magazine, which is aimed at preteens
and teens, promoted Playboy stationery on its cover and as a free giveaway inside. Editor Lucie Tobin defends her choice of
giveaway: "The Playboy brand extensions are one of the most popular with our readers - to them it is a cool stationery and
clothing brand. They love the colours and the logo which is given added cool by its association with American hip-hop stars.
To them, it is a fashion range and they are unaware of its history. We reflect our readers' tastes, not tell them what they
Tobin adds: "Our readers are 10 to 14 and relatively unworldly.
Under my editorship, we do not cover sex in Mizz and pride ourselves on being parent-friendly and responsible."
That responsibility obviously doesn't apply to Tobin's endorsement
of brands, which Object describes as "normalising and marketing pornography to young teenage girls".
Natasha Walter, author of The New Feminism, says, "The use of
the Playboy logo in what would once have been seen as bizarrely inappropriate places is only part of the widespread mainstreaming
of pornography that is pretty characteristic of our culture. Playboy itself, once the target of second-wave feminist rage,
looks so harmless and playful to most people now, especially when compared to the kind of hard, mean pornography that can
be easily seen by anyone over the internet."
The more Playboy is welcomed into the kids' mainstream as harmless
fun, the more insidious it becomes. "This magazine is dangerous as it is perceived to be stylish and is one of the main marketing
tools of the pornography industry," say Object. "It helps to ensure an endless supply of young, naked 'babes' and reinforces
the misperception that young women depicted solely as sexual commodities is a glamorous and natural career option for young
The perverse image of female beauty that Playboy promotes, of
women as Identikit, size-eight, ever available sex toys, all oversized breasts and lips, becomes normalised, too. As does
porn's image of female sexuality. "Pornography has a powerful misogynistic message in that the portrayal and perception of
women and female sexuality is for the consumption and usage of men," says Object. "Pornography reinforces narrow gender roles,
with the result that pre-pubescent and teenage boys learn via pornography that it is their right to use female sexuality for
their pleasure and commodification."
Girls, already bombarded with images of unattainable thinness
and beauty, are given get another fake image of feminine perfection to idolise. Just as they're developing their self-awareness
and sexuality, when their self-esteem is so heavily dependent on body image, it's not just unfair to sell children the ideal
of the Playmate; it's plain grotesque. Witnessing mainstream and teen media embrace the likes of Abi Titmuss, Jodie Marsh
and Jordan, little girls now see becoming a glamour girl as a viable career option. Is porn star next?
"I like the brand because it's posh," explains 14-year-old Tatiana.
"It makes you feel like you're worth something." When I ask her if she knows what the bunny logo means, she giggles and says,
"It's porn innit? But people don't think it's porn. They think it looks nice."
The cute bunny, surely one of the most ingenious ideas in the
history of morally loathsome marketing, is embedded as respectable, normal. It's so subliminal - and all the more pernicious
Walter is heartened by the schoolgirls' protest, saying, "I
think it's possible that one day the tide will turn, and what looks so acceptable in the mainstream public arena might get
pushed back to the fringes again by women - and men - who aren't prudes, but who are tired of seeing sexuality imagined in
such reductive ways."