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Simonton condemns media stereotypes

Ann-Marie Woods | Wednesday, March 12, 2008

After being gang raped, Ann Simonton, a former fashion model who graced the covers of popular magazines and appeared in numerous television commercials, condemned the media’s objectification and abuse of women Tuesday.

Simonton, whose lecture, “Sex, Power and the Media” was a part of Notre Dame’s “Live As You Are: 2008 Health and Body Image Conference,” at McKenna Hall said the media perpetuates objectification of women through the images and messages advertisements send out to women which advocate poor body and self image throughout the world.

Simonton, founder and director of “Media Watch: Challenging Media Oppression,” a leading organization exposing the devastating effects of the media on society, gave up her modeling career in order to dedicate her life to challenging the abusive stereotypes of the commercial media and giving a voice to the marginalized victims of mass media.

When she realized that she “was a part of the system which makes women nothing more than objects and contributes to poor body image, depreciation of females and horrifying acts of violence and abuse,” she refused to keep her eyes closed to the problem, Simonton said.

“My career was based around being masturbatory material for young boys and men,” she said.

Simonton’s lecture utilized images of magazine covers, designer advertisements and pornography to facilitate greater understanding and discussion of the ramifications of accepting and allowing commercial media to pervade our perceptions of the physical body, gender, sex, race and violence.

“Women are chopped up into pieces instead of looking at the body as a whole being,” Simonton said. “Men do this as well, claiming they are ‘leg men,’ ‘butt men,’ and ‘boob men.’

“Women are constantly walking this impossible line. They are too sexy, or not sexy enough, too feminine or not feminine enough, too revealing or not revealing enough.”

Emphasizing the presence of violence in mass media images, films, television, and video games, Simonton identified the “pandemic of violence against women as a result of the imagery we are bombarded with each day.”

“What these images are really telling us is being a victim is sexy,” Simonton said.

Showing photographs of models competing for “best corpse” from the reality television show, “America’s Next Top Model”, Simonton questioned why our culture has chosen to treat women in such a violent way, and what the consequences of this attitude are.

As a victim of a brutal gang rape, Simonton hopes to help women and men recognize the disconnect that has formed between sexual abuse and violence and the commercial media’s portrayals of women. With the staggering but realistic statistic that one out of three women will be beaten, abused, or raped, Simonton wants to change the culture’s thinking about the value of women and their bodies, starting with the media.

In addition, Simonton made direct connections between the images in magazines, on television, and on the internet to the rising numbers of eating disorders, plastic surgery, depression and overall dissatisfaction with body image that plague women and men worldwide. The Dove Global Study of 2005 found that 90 percent of all women ages 15-64 want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest.

Simonton said because “body image comes together through very early experiences,” society needs to examine what types of images and ideals the commercial media present to younger generations.

“The beauty of life is that we all look different,” Simonton said. “Where is the fun in life if you are always worrying about looking a certain way and fitting an ideal? Steer toward the joy and beauty of life.”

Encouraging others to challenge the commercial media through her organization, speeches, and action, Simonton emphasized the importance of educating people about the realities of violence, abuse, body image and the oppressive mass media.

“We have become spectators rather than participants,” Simonton said. “However, we have the opportunity every day to change things and change perceptions.”