Ariel Winter and the Sexualization of Teenage Girls
Eighteen-year-old Ariel Winter, best known for her role as Alex Dunphy on the ABC television show Modern Family, recently made headlines for arriving to the Screen Actors Guild Awards in a dress that bared scars from her recent breast-reduction surgery. Fans publicly inquired whether the exposure was accidental, and Winter answered through her Twitter account: “Guys there is a reason I didn’t make an effort to cover up my scars! They are part of me and I’m not ashamed of them at all. :)” Although Winter has cited physical discomfort due to the size of her breasts as a reason for getting the surgery, the reason that she has spoken on most is the overt sexual attention that she has received from the media surrounding her breast size and body. It’s important to note that Winter just turned eighteen at the end of January, which tells us that the majority of the body ridicule and comments that she’s received occurred when she was underage.
In “Nothing Less Than Perfect,” Kirsty Fairclough discusses the way plastic surgery has become a post-feminist sign of female empowerment, and is often understood as a symbol of “femininity as bodily property; the shift from objectification to subjectification; an emphasis upon self-surveillance, monitoring and self-discipline; a focus on individualism, choice and empowerment” (297). This potentially misguided ideology is reflected in the way that media outlets have reported on Winter’s surgery, as well as the way Winter has spoken on it herself. The showcasing of her scars has been championed as a move toward body positivity, and Winter has been quoted gushing about the freedom to be more adventurous with her clothing styles because of her surgery, stating that she’s “excited to finally actually feel confident and not just appear confident”(Yahoo Celebrity). Although body positivity is great, I think we need to question where certain forms of body acceptance stem from. If the only reason you felt bad about a part of your body was because of public ridicule, is this newfound body positivity merely a form of compliance to others’ opinions of how you should look?
Although Winter’s new-found confidence is something to celebrate, it’s important to question what type of media environment we must foster for it to be okay for people to publicly comment and sexualize a teenage girl because of the size of her breasts, so much so that she is inclined to get surgery. Most of the time Winter was mentioned in the media, it was comments about her body as opposed to her talent as an actress. For example, Winter once claimed, “Pretty much all I was known for and that upset me…it made me feel really uncomfortable…Every article that has to do with me on a red carpet always had to do with ‘Ariel Winter’s Crazy Cleavage!’ or ‘Ariel Winter Shows Huge Boobs At An Event!’ That’s all people would recognize me by, not, ‘Oh, she does great work on Modern Family’” (Independent News). Because the famous woman’s body has become the “locus for discussion” in media discourse, it makes sense that Winter’s body parts are talked about more often than her talents as an actress.
A Body for Every Body
By Lauren Robinson (’18)
Recently, Victoria’s Secret changed one of their advertisement taglines from “The Perfect Body” to “A Body for Every Body.” It took over 16,000 signatures on a petition in the U.K. and string of impassioned responses by citizens across the globe to drive this popular lingerie company to oust their intensely body-shaming ad campaign. However, the campaign is not over. The “perfect body” posters still hang in the Victoria Secret stores. Even more, they did not actually change much about the ad. The simply changed the white text on top of the pictures of the stick-thin, glossy models—who remained in the background.
Additionally, Victoria’s Secret entirely disregarded the influence of the citizen’s vigorous campaign on their decision to change the text. They proudly claimed that they were the ones to realize the advertisement was overtly body-shaming many women and that they made the executive decision to change it to something more inclusive. While “A Body for Every body” seems inclusive, it does not match what is behind it: the same perfectly airbrushed women presenting society’s homogenous definition of beauty.
What is Victoria’s Secret trying to convey to its costumers with an advertisement about “The Perfect Body” with ten flawless, playful women in the background? They are presenting a narrow-minded definition of beauty and constituting exactly who is allowed to wear their lingerie. All of these models have similar body types, hair styles, excessively made-up faces, sexy smirks and shiny skin tones. This advertisement lacks diversity, even though the costumers who shop at Victoria’s Secret have an extensive array of body types and appearances. According to Chris Jordan in “Marketing ‘Reality’ to the World: Survivor, Post-Fordism and Reality Television,” media “must be able to attract large numbers of people” (519), and it must “attract the ‘right’ kinds of people” (519). Hence, the average customer would be expected to main this image of “perfection” to be able to shop there.
Victoria’s Secret is limiting their range of costumers by plastering perfect, unattainable bodies onto their ads and claiming that with the “perfect body,” there would be a “perfect fit” with “perfect comfort” that is “perfectly soft.” Having the “perfect body,” of course, is the prerequisite for these luxuries. Instead of attracting costumers—as their intention must be as a large-scale business—Victoria’s Secret is driving the women who do not flaunt this certain type “perfect” body away and perpetuating the idea that women need a “perfect body” to shop for nice lingerie and feel sexy.
Not only will Victoria Secret’s new and old ad campaign drive costumers away, it may influence individuals, such as young women and girls, to conform to their perception of what is beautiful and “perfect.” Projecting this image of unattainable, sexy beauty onto a society of natural-looking women is lethal. It implies that beauty is something that is reserved for a select few individuals, who must work absurdly hard to maintain their physique and appearance. Furthermore, customers should not be working to fit into a “perfect” mold to be able to shop at one store. In “Television and the Domestication of Cosmetic Surgery,” Sue Tait notes that “the implication is that the physical appearance of candidates does not reflect who they “truly” are” (557). Victoria Secret’s ad focuses solely on the aspects of an individual that do not emphasize character, personality, intelligence or any other valuable internal qualities. Although Tait is referring to altering ones body surgically, the same motivation and negative emotions towards oneself can be found in trying to attain a perfect “Victoria’s Secret-esque body.”
In “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media,” Stuart Hall claims that “In modern societies, the different media are especially important sites for the production, reproduction and transformation of ideologies” (105). It is within the realm of advertisements—both the outrageous first body-shaming one and the “more inclusive” second one—in which Victoria’s Secret allows negative ideologies regarding our appearances as females to concretely form.