This assignment is to test your visual media literacy. Please read the article below and answer the questions (located at the bottom of the page).
Glamour magazine has set off somewhat of an Internet phenomenon with a small photo it ran on page 194 of its September 2009 issue. It’s a nearly nude image of model Lizzi Miller sitting on a bench with a great big smile on her face. As photos go, it’s no more than PG. Certainly other photos in the magazine, either editorial or advertising, showed more skin. So why is this photo garnering so much attention? Ms. Miller has a small belly pooch. Glamour Editor-In-Chief Cindi Leive writes on her blog:
It’s a photo that measures all of three by three inches in our September issue, but the letters about it started to flood my inbox literally the day Glamour hit newsstands. (As editor-in-chief, I pay attention to this stuff!) “I am gasping with delight …I love the woman on p 194!” said one…then another, and another, andanotherandanotherandanother. So…who is she? And what on earth is so special about her?
Here’s the deal: The picture wasn’t of a celebrity. It wasn’t of a supermodel. It was of a woman sitting in her underwear with a smile on her face and a belly that looks…wait for it…normal.
The photo goes with a story by Akiba Solomon on women feeling comfortable in their own skin (Links to an external site.). The photo has no caption, no mention of who the model is, no mention of the fact she wears a size 12/14 and weighs 180 pounds.
The response to this small photo – it’s not a cover photo, not promoed anywhere in the magazine – has been big.
There have been at least 770 comments added to Editor Leive’s blog post (Links to an external site.) about the photo, not to mention the e-mails. Many of the comments are laudatory. One woman called it “the most amazing photograph I’ve ever seen in any women’s magazine,” while another wrote, “Thank you Lizzi, for showing us your beauty and confidence, and giving woman a chance to hopefully recognize a little of their own also.”
Miller loves the reaction she’s had to the photo:
“When I was young I really struggled with my body and how it looked because I didn’t understand why my friends were so effortlessly skinny. As I got older I realized that everyone’s body is different and not everyone is skinny naturally–me included! I learned to love my body for how it is, every curve of it. I used to be so self-conscious in a bikini because my stomach wasn’t perfectly defined. But everyone has different body shapes! And it’s not all about the physical! If you walk on the beach in your bikini with confidence and you feel sexy, people will see you that way too.”
Not everyone loved the photo and what it stood for, however. One commenter wrote, “I must say I have to agree that the normalization of obesity is a disturbing trend today.”Another commented,“We have enough problems with obesity in the US and don’t need your magazine promoting anymore of it. Shame on Glamour for thinking this was sexy!”
More interesting was the criticism of Glamour for using an image like the one of Miller as a publicity stunt:
[W]hile I do give Glamour a big thank you for showing us Lizzi at all, it was to create temporary buzz and to give themselves a pat on the back for “doing the right thing” for America’s women and girls, but when it comes down to dollars and cents they aren’t going to change a thing. Not being a cynic here…just a realist. Take care. I wish it could be different too.
Student journalist Rebecca Koons, writing in University of Iowa’s Daily Iowan (Links to an external site.), argues a similar position:
The only problem is, this type of positive attitude toward accepting and being oneself is not marketed nearly as much as it should be. We do have publications such as Self that are taking things in a healthier direction — aside from that whole Kelly Clarkson debacle. (Links to an external site.) One can only hope that Glamour and others will begin to follow suit. While a total upheaval of beauty and fashion may never happen, one can only hope that baby steps like these will only help women find solace in embracing what they were born with.
Of course, none of this addresses the issue that Lizzi Miller at size 12/14 is hardly a plus size, though she is considered a plus size model. Even when there were magazines such as Graceand Mode targeted at size 12 women and larger, there were charges that only “skinny” plus-size models need apply.
Since the photo and article were published in Glamour, model Lizzie Miller’s career has taken off. In this interview with journalist Lydia Slater of London’s Daily Mail (Links to an external site.) Miller says that she initially felt embarrassed when the photo was published because it showed her stretch marks and a tummy roll:
“I said to myself: ‘OK, It’s not the best picture, but it’s not a big deal. And anyway, nobody’s going to see it.’”
But more than a year after “the photo” was published, Miller had become a superstar of the modeling world and says she has become much more accepting of her own size.
“We need to be celebrating skinny girls, curvy girls, tall girls, short girls, black girls, Asian girls and all nationalities,” Miller said. “I think that would make women feel a lot better about themselves. We have a long way to go until a girl who’s curvy can be in a magazine without a lot of attention being drawn to her.”
Please respond to the following questions. Please number your responses and do not re-write the questions.
- How did you initially react to this “unconventional” photo of a model showing a belly pooch? Did you think it is unattractive, a great realistic image, or no big deal? Why do you think you have this instinctive reaction?
- Look at the photo. What makes it different from the typical photo in fashion/beauty/lifestyle magazines for women?
- How does Miller describe her feelings about the photo? What did it do for her career? How did Glamour’s readers react to the story? What do critics of the photo have to say?
- What do you think about the photo? Why do you think the photo drew such strong reactions? Is it important for fashion magazines to publish photos of models of different sizes? Will plus sized models find a place in fashion spreads that aren’t devoted to “curvy” models?
- Advertising tells women that what’s most important is how they look, and ads surround us with the image of ideal female beauty. However, this flawlessness cannot be achieved. It’s a look that’s been created through airbrushing, cosmetics, and computer retouching. How do you think this trend of ads depicting ideal beauty impact women in society?